Photo Credit: The Washington Post/AP
Co-written by Nick Kerver and Chi Okare
Browns (5-6) vs. Steelers (6-5)
Where: Heinz Field – Pittsburgh, PA
When: 1:00 PM EST – Sunday, December 1st
Weather: Low 50s, Chance of showers, winds 5-10 mph
Last Meeting: November 14th, 2019 – Browns won 21-7
Betting Line: Browns -2; O/U 39
After meeting just 17 days prior in what was one of the craziest endings to a game we will ever see, the Browns and Steelers meet again with even bigger implications this time. Cleveland is seeking their 4th straight win for the first time since 2009 (yes, it’s been that long) and Pittsburgh is looking to pull off a crucial win at home. Both teams are squarely in the Wild Card race, as the Steelers currently hold the 6th seed with tiebreakers over the Raiders, Colts, and Titans. The Browns sit just a game back of all 4 of these teams.
Storyline to Watch: Anyone who predicted prior to September that Devlin “Duck” Hodges would be starting this game should play the lottery this week. The Steelers’ quarterback will be taking the field for his 2nd career start and his 4th career appearance. Mason Rudolph played abysmally last Sunday, to the ire of his coach and to the delight of Browns fans tracking the Steelers-Bengals game at FirstEnergy Stadium. Hodges has been solid up to this point, throwing just 1 interception in his 3 appearances and averaging a passer rating of 97.7. While things just got easier for the Browns on paper, the lack of film and knowledge on Hodges could hurt the Browns’ defense.
Injury Report: For the Browns, S Eric Murray (knee) is ruled out for Sunday along with OT Greg Robinson (concussion), while WR KhaDarel Hodge (Achilles), and DE Olivier Vernon (knee) are questionable. TE David Njoku is working his way back from injured reserve, but will not be playing. For the Steelers, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (concussion/knee) is out Sunday and RB James Conner (shoulder) is doubtful. CB Artie Burns (knee) is questionable as well.
Offensive Line: The Browns’ offensive line has been a spot of concern all year, and will likely be a huge piece to address in the off-season and NFL Draft. Their starting LT, Greg Robinson will be out Sunday, and backup Justin McCray will have to take the reins. How he performs against All-Pro TJ Watt and the Steelers’ pass rush will be huge to the outcome of this game.
Damarious Randall: S Damarious Randall, who was ejected for a helmet-to-helmet hit in the first matchup against Pittsburgh will not be playing or traveling to Pittsburgh this week, per coach’s decision. We currently do not know what decision this made, but is not a good sign for Randall in the back end of a contract year. With Eric Murray already out, rookie Sheldrick Redwine and others will be relied upon to boost the Browns’ defense.
Mayfield Resurgence: There was a lot of talk early on in the year of whether Baker Mayfield was overrated, whether opposing defenses had figured him out, whether his great rookie year may have been a mirage. It turns out, playing better teams may have been the biggest factor and as the Browns schedule has gotten softer, Mayfield has begun to look more and more like last year. He has thrown 8 touchdowns to 1 interception in his last 4 games, and overall the offense has looked much more capable. Look for him to continue this against a Steelers defense that is talented, yet the Browns had a fair share of success against two Thursdays ago.
Offense Heating Up: Last week, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, and Kareem Hunt all scored a touchdown. Landry has been especially hot for the Browns, including a 10 catch, 148-yard outburst last week. He has 4 touchdowns in his last 3 games, clearly building any chemistry lost at the beginning of the season with Baker. Baker has also looked much better since the start of November, cutting down on turnovers and throwing 7 touchdown passes in his last 3 games. His 118.1 passer rating against the Dolphins is by far the best of the season. The Steelers have a strong defense and will test the Browns on Sunday.
Focus: The Browns have adopted a mentality of “1-0 every week” as every game is a playoff game from now on, seeing as they will likely have to win out to get a chance to get into the playoffs this year. That said, with everything that took place between the two teams last time they matched up, it will be crucial for the Browns to keep their focus and not to get caught up in what will undoubtedly be a physical, chippy game.
Score Predictions: Nick: Browns’ defense gets to Hodges early and sets the tone for a convincing win – 27-13 Browns; Chi: Browns run up another solid offensive performance and the banged-up Steelers can’t keep up – Browns 31-17