The Cleveland Browns (7-8) and Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7-1) are barely hanging on in the AFC playoff race, but the loser on Monday night is eliminated. This is also likely going to be the last home game of Ben Roethlisberger’s career. Roethlisberger is 25-3-1 against Cleveland, but he lost at home in the AFC wild-card round to the Browns last year.
Cleveland Browns vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Monday, January 03, 2022 – 08:15 PM EST at Heinz Field
The Browns (7-8 ATS) are a 3.5-point favorite over the Steelers (6-9 ATS) on the NFL odds board at many of BMR’s top-rated sportsbooks. The Browns have not been favored by this much in Pittsburgh since at least the 1980s. Does Roethlisberger have one last home win left in him, or will the Browns end Pittsburgh’s season at Heinz Field for the second year in a row?
Week 8 Recap: Steelers 15, Browns 10
These teams already played in a low-scoring game back in Week 8 that looked nothing like the wild 48-37 playoff finish from January. The Pittsburgh offense came to life in the second half on two long touchdown drives. Pat Freiermuth caught a game-winning touchdown on the fourth down early in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh’s defense forced Jarvis Landry to fumble in scoring territory, then stopped the Browns on a fourth-and-12 to ice the game.
Pittsburgh’s run defense has been an embarrassment this season, but it was respectable that day in holding Nick Chubb to 61 yards on 16 carries. It took six regular-season starts for Baker Mayfield to have a 200-yard passing game against the Steelers. While he did not throw an interception, he was sacked four times and the Browns were 3-of-10 on third down.
Both teams have had eight games this season where they failed to score 20 points. This game should also be lower scoring despite defensive superstars T.J. Watt and Myles Garrett both playing hurt. Cleveland corner Denzel Ward missed the Week 8 game and will be active on Monday.
The Steelers are hopeful to get Freiermuth back at tight end after a concussion kept him out of the Kansas City loss. The rookie has become a trustworthy target for Roethlisberger.
End of the Road for Roethlisberger?
It is surreal to see the Browns favored by this much in Pittsburgh, but it speaks to how far the Steelers have fallen this season. Pittsburgh’s minus-70 scoring differential through 15 games is tied with 1989 for the second-worst mark in Pittsburgh since 1970.
Things have really fallen apart since the Steelers struggled to get a tie against the Lions in Week 10. Over the last six games, Pittsburgh is 2-4 and has allowed the most points (186) in the league. In the first half of games, Pittsburgh is minus-95 on the scoreboard in the last six games.
No team has done that bad at this point in the season since the 1990 Browns were minus-105. The Steelers have not scored a first-half touchdown in five straight games for the first time since 1940. Pittsburgh just comes out looking lost in games, and this has been going on since November.
The Steelers did come back to win home games against the Ravens and Titans during this terrible stretch. That “keep the score low and come back in the fourth quarter” formula could work again for this matchup. The Browns are 0-6 at game-winning drive opportunities this season while the Steelers are 6-2-1. Cleveland is tied with Detroit and Minnesota for the most blown fourth-quarter leads (four) this year.
After coming off an embarrassing 36-10 performance in Kansas City, you would think the Steelers would show up for an elimination game at home in prime time against Cleveland in what should be Roethlisberger’s last home start.
But it was a very similar situation last postseason where the Steelers imploded and fell behind 28-0 in the first quarter. Getting the first snap to the quarterback and not over his head for a touchdown would be an improvement this week.
However, the Browns have been their own kind of mess this season with Mayfield’s health problems impacting his play. The team is not strong on either side of the ball despite the presence of players such as Chubb and Garrett. Cleveland does not have a 500-yard receiver yet this season.
If the Browns lean on Chubb and ask Mayfield to do very little, this could be a huge game for the back. The Steelers allow the most rushing yards and the highest average per carry this season.
Neither team is really fit for the playoffs this year, but there are big stakes in this one. One quarterback is playing to save his job for next year. The other is trying to finish his career on a respectable note in a sport that rarely allows for a graceful exit.
Maybe it’s too much of a sentimental pick, but I think the Steelers step up for one last time and get Roethlisberger a home win. Pittsburgh is 19-0 at home on Monday Night Football since 1992. I’m taking the Steelers to cover your NFL picks.
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