Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) at Cleveland Browns (1-1)
The Browns lost last week to the Jets, but the Jets needed to score twice within two minutes and recover an onside kick to win a game in which the Browns had a 99.9% chance of winning with less than two minutes left and in which the Browns won the first down rate battle by 13.87% and the yards per play battle by 0.23. Including their week 1 win over the Panthers, the Browns rank 3rd in overall efficiency through two weeks and would be 2-0 if they just recovered an onside kick or if Nick Chubb had taken a knee at the 1-yard line instead of scoring.
The Browns have faced a pretty easy schedule, but they also rank slightly above average in my roster rankings, despite starting backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett, as they have one of the most talented rosters in the league around the quarterback position. They’ll be short-handed this week without talented edge defender Jadeveon Clowney, but they will otherwise be healthy, including the return of right tackle Jack Conklin, who missed the first two games of the season recovering from a knee injury suffered last season.
The Steelers, meanwhile, will be without edge defender TJ Watt, probably their most important player. The Steelers’ offense, which ranked 28th in efficiency in 2020 and 30th last season, ranks 31st through two games this season and their defense isn’t nearly as good without Watt. While the Browns could easily be 2-0 right now if they had just recovered an onside kick, the Steelers could easily be 0-2 right now if the Bengals had just made an extra point, in a game the Steelers would have lost despite a +5 turnover margin, which is not a consistent metric week-to-week. The Bengals won the first down rate battle and yards per play battle in that game by 11.36% and 0.22 respectively and that was with Watt playing most of the game.
In terms of overall efficiency, the Steelers rank 30th through two games and, without Watt, they don’t rank much higher than that in my roster rankings. I have these two teams about 5.5 points apart, giving us a calculated line of about Cleveland -7.5 at home, so we’re getting good line value with the Browns as 4.5-point favorites. If the Browns had a 2-0 record and the Steelers were 0-2, I suspect this line would be closer to 7.5, probably around a touchdown and, as I mentioned, that could easily be the case right now, if not for special teams disasters. This isn’t a big play, but I like the Browns enough to bet them this week.
Cleveland Browns 24 Pittsburgh Steelers 16
Pick against the spread: Cleveland -4.5