Browns vs. Steelers NFL Picks Sept. 7th

Nikki Adams

Thursday, August 7, 2014 6:33 AM GMT

Here’s a preview of the AFC North clash between the Browns and Steelers, delivered with the perspective of each team in mind as well as our betting verdict and choice NFL pick.

Can Cleveland Browns Win on the Road?
Yes. The Browns can win on the road, so long as their strong defense plays to its level, Brian Hoyer leads the offense and they rise above the distractions of Johnny “Football” Manziel that have turned them into a bit of a laughing stock in the offseason.

Since the NFL draft was put into the books and the Browns traipsed away with Johnny “Football” Manziel kitted out in Browns’ colours, wide reasoning assumed the promising rookie quarterback would claim the starting job. He was a new man, after all, or so he claimed to all and sundry in the lead up to the draft. Well, that was then. Since the draft, Manziel has caused quite the media frenzy off the field, grabbing headlines for his wild frat-boy partying ways, uber extravagances and alarmingly controversial actions, some of which included inflatable swans, money phones, a Bieber blowout and...le coup de grâce...bill-rolling photo that sent the social media world a titter.

What quickly followed was a disappointing training camp that revealed Manziel utterly unfit for the starting role; too much partying not enough studying of the playbook does that. Happily, the Browns have Brian Hoyer, healthy and raring to go. Going into preseason, coach Mike Pettine announced Brian Hoyer would get the ball in Cleveland’s clash with Detroit Lions on Thursday, marking the first exhibition game of the preseason and NFL betting finally getting underway full force. He’s not earned the starting role as yet. Not until the third week of the preseason will there be an official announcement, so NFL bettors need to pay particular attention to news coming out of Cleveland’s camp.

Hoyer, an undrafted quarterback who bounced around the NFL league for several years before settling into the Cleveland camp, received his chance in week 3 of last season after the Browns went 0-2 under Weeden. He promptly reeled off two victories in order to assert his claim on the starting role. The feel good story however came to an abrupt and cruel end when he injured his knee (ACL tear) on a scramble in the first quarter of the clash with the Bills in week 5. The injury proved season ending.

Of course, two wins is hardly a resounding endorsement but the fact remains they averaged 28.3 points per game with Hoyer, after just 8.0 without him. Plus, one has to believe he’ll be motivated to prove his worth. Undrafted quarterbacks are always in danger of becoming superfluous in the league. A guy in his position doesn’t get many chances so he’ll not want to waste this opportunity to prove good guys don’t always finish last.

 

Steelers Should Win at Home as the Favourites
NFL betting probabilities lean towards the Steelers winning their home opener and first divisional clash with a Cleveland Browns side that finished bottom of the AFC North pile behind a 4-12 record. The Steelers (second in the AFC North with an 8-8-0 last season) have made some promising changes in the offseason to better equip them in the hunt for the divisional title. The Steelers swept the series last season, winning 27-11 in Cleveland before wrapping up their season with a 20-7 victory at home.

Last season, the Steelers got off to a sluggish start, losing four on the trot before a week 5 bye offered an opportunity to regroup and refocus. Upon returning to action in week 6, the Steelers reeled off eight wins in their last 12 games but it wasn’t enough to salvage their season or earn a place in the postseason. The Steelers will be looking for a much better start this season; the key factors will rest heavily on Ben Roethlisberger’s’ form and health and the famed Steelers defense of old enjoying renaissance.

 

NFL Betting Verdict
Bookies have gone to press with early NFL odds on this clash. Unsurprisingly, the Steelers are matched at favourable -260 odds to win straight up at home with the spread chalked at -5.5 (-110). The Browns, meanwhile, enter as the whopping +215 underdogs for the upset win on the road and they are chalked at +5.5 (-110) on the spread. It’s clear where smart money is according to bookies like Bet365.

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The outcome of this game is going to rest on several strategic decisions. On the Cleveland side, the quarterback question is going to dominate but defense could keep it close. On the Steelers side, home advantage and a well-honed system with a veteran quarterback swings the balance in their favour.

It would appear Steelers are expecting Manziel to start rather than Hoyer, despite all the shenanigans and uncertainty at centre. So suggest training camp reports and projections on week 1 circulating in NFL betting circles online that reveal Steelers practicing just for such an occasion.

If Manziel does start, it’s advantage Steelers big time. Manziel’s grasp of the playbook seems wanting and his fitness can’t possibly be 100% given all his lavish indulgences in the offseason. It’s bad enough the Browns carry the baggage of last season’s abysmal 4-12 mark, they are to deal with his baggage as well. This leads us to wonder how well the Browns play for Manziel, not to mention how well they’ll be able adjust to Mike Pettine’s system in week 1. Both considerations are going to be crucial when making your NFL picks.  On the plus side, it’s quite likely the Browns will have one of the best defenses in the league; that side of the ball alone could keep them in this game, make it competitive against a tough Steelers no matter which quarterback gets the start.

Still, beating the Steelers at home however is easier said than done. The door to another Super Bowl championship is slowly closing on Ben Roethlisberger, so if he wants to step through to the Promised Land, he’ll need to have a remarkable season, beginning with a big home win in week 1 against a side that would appear to be in flux and searching for its identity at centre. (Cleveland is 1-8 ATS in its last nine starts on the season while Pittsburgh are 5-0 ATS in its last five division games and 7-3 ATS in their last 10 home games of this rivalry).

NFL Picks: Steelers to win straight up at -260 and cover -5.5 (-110)