Beware Public Road Favorites! Why You Should Bet On Cleveland To Cover vs Pittsburgh

Rainman M.

Thursday, September 7, 2017 3:23 PM UTC

Thursday, Sep. 7, 2017 3:23 PM UTC

The projected AFC North Champion Steelers will open their season against the projected bottom feeders of the division, the Browns. The Steelers opened at 9.5 favorites but that number has actually dropped to 8 at some books. The total is still around 47 points.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Cleveland Browns

The list of trends that speak in favor of Pittsburgh is endless: Cleveland has covered only 1 out of their last 10, Pittsburgh is 6-2-1 ATS in their last 9 against Cleveland and so on. The Steelers are the defending division champions while the Browns barely avoided going 0-16. Everything points to Pittsburgh, yet this is a game where bettors should go against the grind.

Cleveland can take advantage of a major weakness in Pittsburgh: the pass defense. The Steelers pass defense was arguably the major reason for their failure to make the Super Bowl.  The Chiefs' Alex Smith is not a big play quarterback and did not give their secondary too many difficulties. But Tom Brady shredded them for 384 yards in the AFC Championship.

Cleveland starter DeShone Kizer is no Tom Brady.  But the rookie has the physical tools and the upside from a positive (despite what some statistics suggest on the surface) preseason to exploit Pittsburgh's secondary.  Kizer has a live arm. While he struggles to consistently hit shorter and intermediate routes, he loves to go deep and he is capable of doing so with his long-pass accuracy. What helps him go deep is his excellent footwork in the pocket and his big, strong body that helps him stay upright in the pocket or outside of the pocket, should he choose to utilize his speed and athleticism and leave the pocket.

The Browns spent the most money in the offseason on their offensive line, which will feature JC Tretter and top-ranked guard Kevin Zeitler. The protection will be there, so will the receivers who should help Kizer make big plays. Kenny Britt was the Rams' top receiver last year.  He had a career season with just over 1,000 yards.  Britt has conquered his prior habit of developing off-the-field issues and has been developing his natural talent. The physical and well-sized receiver provides a nice red zone target and complements Corey Coleman. Coleman enters his second year after a rookie season that displayed amazing promise, but only when he was healthy. The small, but speedy and explosive receiver is healthy now and will take advantage of the weaknesses in the Steelers' secondary partly due to injuries in the safety position, but especially due to lack of quality. The Steelers grew so desperate for help that they signed Joe Haden from the Browns, the fragile and declining former superstar, who has to quickly learn a new defensive scheme.

The Browns feature a dangerous rush attack that will take the pressure off of Kizer. The Steelers rush defense was statistically below average, in terms of yards per rush. They wanted to sign Dont'a Hightower from the Patriots in order to complement Ryan Shazier in the linebacker position. They failed to do so and failed to find a suitable figure to help Shazier. The Steelers will miss Lawrence Timmons at linebacker because even with him, they may not be able to stop Cleveland's duo of Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson. Crowell was excellent last season in terms of yards per carry and Duke Johnson is, like Crowell, an all-around back who also has the speed to succeed even in the slot position. Hue Jackson openly regretted the lack of rush attempts last season and his commitment this season to running the ball should pay off.

Gregg Williams is the new defensive coordinator for the Browns.  Williams is notoriously aggressive and this could cost him against the Steelers. The Steelers are adept at picking up opposing pressure and preventing sacks--in 2016 they allowed the second fewest. The Browns' number one draft pick, defensive end Myles Garrett, is a beast of an athlete with superior speed and is capable of making an immediate impact--if his ankle is healthy enough for him to play.  Still, the Browns feature so much youth in future superstars such as defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, linebacker Christian Kirksey, and corner Jamar Taylor.  All of these guys were strong in the second half last season and will help Cleveland's defense vastly improve under Williams. Williams is so adept at disguising his defense and confusing opposing offenses and his schemes become even more effective with highly intelligent defenders like Jamie Collins. Williams will make the most out of his defense.


The Verdict

While Myles Garrett could be absent for Cleveland's defensive line, Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell and Le'Veon Bell should be at full speed, although the latter two were forced to miss all of preseason. It's questionable how many touches Bell will get. We know about the Steelers' threats in Ben Roethlisberger, Bell (even if he's not completely fit), Antonio Brown, and now Martavis Bryant will complement Brown as a big-play threat. The Browns will want to do everything to slow the game down and create a sloppy affair.  The Browns have the depth in the backfield to utilize a lot of time on the clock and Jackson is determined to foreground the rush attack in the Browns' offensive identity. But I also don't like Pittsburgh's rather steel-less curtain to take advantage of Kizer's proneness to lapses in judgement and errors in shorter throws. Kizer is a prolific athlete with a live arm and the confidence even under pressure to make big throws. I think the Browns have enough tools on offense and enough pieces in place on defense to make this game closer than most people expect on our NFL Picks.

Free NFL Pick: Browns +10Best Line Offered: at 5Dimes

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