Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3) at Cleveland Browns (4-3)
The Browns have had among the worst injury luck in the league. In total, they have been without quarterback Baker Mayfield (one game), running backs Nick Chubb (2 games) and Kareem Hunt (1 game), wide receivers Jarvis Landry (4 games) and Odell Beckham (2 games), left tackle Jedrick Wills (2 games), right tackle Jack Conklin (2 games), Jadeveon Clowney (1 game), and cornerback Greg Newsome (2 games) for differing periods of time. Hunt remains out and top cornerback Denzel Ward will join him on the sideline, missing his first game of the season, but the Browns have enough depth at both running back and cornerback to compensate and, in general, the Browns have much more talent available to them this week than they have had most of the season.
Despite their injury issues, the Browns have been better than their record, as their losses have come to the Chiefs, Chargers, and Cardinals, with two of those games being decided by one score. In total, the Browns rank 11th in first down rate, 9th in yards per play, 8th in first down rate allowed, 2nd in yards per play allowed, and 4th in special teams DVOA, making them one of the most impressive and well-rounded teams in the league from a statistical standpoint, despite all of their injury absences to date.
The most questionable injury situation in this game is how effective quarterback Baker Mayfield will be, returning from a one-game absence to play through a serious injury to his non-throwing shoulder, which could knock him out of the lineup again. However, even with Case Keenum under center, I still have the Browns calculated at 10-point favorites over the Steelers. That’s in part because the Browns are healthier now and have played better than their record despite their injury absences, but also because the Steelers are still a little bit overrated.
The Steelers have managed wins in their last two games but they were facing two teams in the Broncos and Seahawks who are both mediocre without the key players that both are missing due to injury. The Browns, meanwhile, still have one of the most talented rosters on paper even with some significant contributors out. The Steelers still have a good defense, but it’s not nearly as good as it was a year ago when they played well enough to mask a mediocre offense and led this team to an impressive record with a lot of close wins against mediocre opponents.
The Browns are somewhat in a bad spot because they have to turn around and face the Bengals in a tougher divisional game next week and teams cover at just a 41.9% rate all-time at home in a divisional matchup against a team with a .500 record or worse before going on the road and facing another divisional opponent with a record better than .500. However, that should be somewhat offset by the fact that the Browns are in their third of three home games, a spot with a 55.1% cover rate all-time. Even with conflicting trends, there is just too much line value with the Browns to not bet them, as they could beat the Steelers with relative ease even if Mayfield doesn’t play his best football or leaves the game for Case Keenum.
Cleveland Browns 23 Pittsburgh Steelers 14
Pick against the spread: Cleveland -4