After a 2-1 record betting underdogs against the spread in college football’s SEC (this includes LSU’s big win last Saturday) the past three weeks, I am moving back to the NFL this week with Thursday night’s big AFC North clash between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns.
The early betting line had Pittsburgh set as a three-point road underdog, but that has already dropped to 2.5 points at most of the top online sportsbooks. The Steelers are 5-4 straight-up through their first nine games in a season that has been extremely transitional for one of the AFC’s perennial winners over the past several seasons.
The Pittsburgh offense now features Mason Rudolph at quarterback with guys like Jaylen Samuels running the ball and James Washington catching it.
James Connor is still the leading rusher, but he has been hampered with injuries. JuJu Smith-Shuster is the leading receiver, but Rudolph has completed passes to more than 10 different players this season.
The lone constant has been the Steelers’ defense.
This unit has had a few shaky efforts along the way, but it just held the Los Angeles Rams to 12 points while helping the team win its fourth SU game in a row. The defense has allowed an average of just 16.8 points a game during this same span.
Thursday night’s matchup will be the first of two meetings between these two division rivals in three weeks. Pittsburgh will host the Browns on Dec. 1. Defense is expected to dominate the first meeting with the opening total line set at just 40.5 points.
Top Underdog Bet- Take the Steelers (+2.5) at Cleveland
As much as things change in the NFL from one season to the next, some things do not. That is why I am taking the points and Pittsburgh in a game it should win SU. Veteran head coach Mike Tomlin is a proven survivor in this league. He has been able to hold the Steelers together through some rough times to keep them competitive for a playoff spot.
Cleveland has had a revolving door policy for its head coaching position with Freddie Kitchens the current caretaker of this team. This was the year that the Browns were poised to rise to the top of the AFC North behind Baker Mayfield throwing the ball to O’Dell Beckham Jr.
The supporting cast includes Nick Chubb running the ball and Jarvis Landry as the No. 2 receiver.
The end result is a SU 3-6 record that appears to be heading toward yet another losing season. Cleveland has a few moral victories along the way and it did prevail against Buffalo at home in a 19-16 Week 10 victory that ended as a PUSH. Yet, this is still a team that does not know how play four full quarters to win on a consistent basis.
It is no big surprise that the recent betting trends in this division tilt favor Pittsburgh. The Steelers are 7-0-1 SU in their last eight games against Cleveland. They are 5-1-1 ATS over their last seven games overall while Cleveland has posted a 1-5-1 record ATS in that same span.
I am not relying on these recent trends to make this pick, but they do support a straight up Pittsburgh win on Thursday night.
See what Stephen A. Smith said 7 months ago:
The main reason I am going with the Steelers as slight road underdogs is each team’s coaching. These are the kind of games that Tomlin finds a way to win. Kitchens does not have all that much experience in the same role and that is why his team is losing games it actually had a chance to win.