Waiting For Next Year
Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4) vs Cleveland Browns (3-6)
Where: FirstEnergy Stadium – Cleveland, OH
When: 8:20 PM EST – Thursday, November 14th
TV: FOX, NFL Network
Weather: About 32 degrees, Clear, Winds 12 MPH
Last Meeting: October 28, 2019 – Steelers won 33-18
Betting Line: Browns -2.5; O/U 40
As they enter FirstEnergy Stadium on Thursday, the Steelers are one of the hottest teams in football, winners of 4 straight. They picked up their biggest win of the season on Sunday against the Rams, 17-12. Backup quarterback Mason Rudolph is 5-2 since taking over for Ben Roethlisberger has pushed Pittsburgh into a playoff spot going into Week 11. Meanwhile, the Browns picked up a win on Sunday against Buffalo, setting up an important matchup against their archrivals. If this is truly a new era of Browns football, expect some more victories against the black and gold in the coming years. Right now, Cleveland sits on the fringe of playoff contention and a win on Thursday could propel them back into the Wild Card race, especially with an easier schedule to finish the season.
Storyline to Watch: Despite the victory on Sunday, the Browns’ goal-line offense was downright painful to watch. Nine plays were ran at the goal line in the 1st half, plus another 2 that led to defensive penalties, but none led to touchdowns for the Browns. Reporters believed that the Browns had used every goal-line play in the playbook before they finally scored at the goal-line in the 4th quarter. Whether the Browns can capitalize on their opportunities will be the key factor in this game.
Injury Report: For the Steelers, WR Ryan Switzer (back), RB Benny Snell (knee), and FB Roosevelt Nix (knee) are out Thursday. LB Anthony Chickillo (ribs) and former Browns CB Joe Haden (Illness) are questionable. Haden was recently added to the injury report. For the Browns, LB Olivier Vernon (knee) and DB Eric Murray (knee) have been ruled out for Thursday. TE Ricky-Seals Jones (knee) is a game-time decision but was a full participant in Wednesday’s walkthrough. David Njoku is eligible to return off injured reserve next week against the Dolphins. OT Kendall Lamm (knee), who has not played since Week 1, is also listed as questionable.
Hollywood?: Rashard Higgins caught the game-winning pass for the Browns to beat Buffalo, but that was only his 4th catch of the season. Higgins and Baker had a lot of chemistry last year, and his lack of involvement in the offense has been disappointing. Freddie Kitchens should integrate Higgins more if he wants the Browns to make a playoff push to end the season.
Kareem Hunt’s Role: Kareem Hunt only rushed 4 times for 30 yards on Sunday, but was much more involved as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, even playing wide receiver in some formations. Hunt caught 7 passes for 44 yards against the Bills, and with Nick Chubb looking like a one-man wrecking crew in the backfield, Hunt may assume the role of Baker’s checkdown in the near future.
Steelers’ Defense: Pittsburgh’s defense has been much improved as compared to years past, giving up 20.1 points per game (10th-fewest in NFL) and allowing 332.2 yards per game (12th-fewest in NFL). The defense only gave up 3 points to the Rams last week. Minkah Fitzpatrick has 4 interceptions in his last 3 games, and has 5 total in 2019.
Get to Rudolph and Conner: Mason Rudolph is not a quarterback that will light up the stat sheet. He only throws for 190 yards a game yet has thrown for 11 touchdowns this season. However, he has only taken 9 sacks this season, as the Steelers’ offensive line remains one of the best in the NFL. James Conner only rushes for 54.3 yards per game (25th) and 3.9 yards per carry (22nd). Early pressure and stuffing the run will be key for the Browns.
Seibert’s Perfect Start: Austin Seibert is a perfect 16-for-16 on field goal attempts this season, an impressive start to his NFL career. With last year’s kicking woes, Seibert’s efficiency has been a welcome relief for Browns fans.
Score Prediction: I see a pair of even teams on paper, but I think a loud and packed FirstEnergy Stadium helps propel the Browns to a 27-24 victory.
Staff Picks: Chi Okare – 31-10 Browns; Jakob Rosati – 24-10 Browns; Braden Wagle – 21-16 Steelers; Evan Rasor – 21-20 Browns