Two AFC North forces collide in a pivotal Week 8 battle with Pittsburgh at Cleveland this Sunday.
The current NFL odds have the Pittsburgh Steelers as slight underdogs. The Steelers line currently sits at +3, with the Pittsburgh money line at +125.
Both teams have been up and down so far this season with a combination of injuries and inconsistent play. As a result, a lot is at stake heading into this week. The winner of this game will close ground on division-leading Baltimore and Cincinnati, while the loser will find themselves in last place.
Can Pittsburgh win on the road? Here are some things to consider when analyzing this matchup:
Quarterback Question Marks
Both teams have questions at quarterback heading into this weekend. Baker Mayfield is still questionable to return after missing Week 6 vs. Denver. If Mayfield is unable to go, the Browns will once again turn to veteran Case Keenum. This situation will be worth monitoring throughout the week as it may impact the betting line.
For Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger has been inconsistent all season, struggling to throw the deep ball and lacking the mobility in the pocket he once had. However, after a rough 1-3 start, Roethlisberger has improved over the past two weeks. Regardless, Big Ben looks more like a game manager than a game-changer at this stage in his career.
Both quarterbacks’ key to the game may be as simple as limiting turnovers and leaning on the running game.
Can Cleveland’s Ground Game Be Stopped?
The Browns lead the NFL in rushing, averaging just over 170 yards per game and an impressive 5.26 yards per carry. Despite injuries to Nick Chubb and Kareen Hunt, the Browns didn’t miss a beat in Week 7 with third-string running back D’Ernest Johnson racking up 146 yards. It doesn’t appear anyone can stop this rushing attack.
The Steelers defense has been middle of the pack thus far against the run. Pittsburgh enters Week 8 with the 12th ranked rushing defense, allowing an average of 108 yards per game.
Establishing an early lead will be crucial for the Steelers as it may limit Cleveland’s ability to run the ball and force them to attack through the air.
One potential x-factor is rookie running back Najee Harris. Harris is steadily becoming a focal point of Pittsburgh’s offense both on the ground and through the air. Another big day from Najee will help the Steelers move the chains, eat some clock, and keep the Browns vaunted rushing attack on the sidelines.
Pittsburgh at Cleveland: How Big is Home Field Advantage?
Since 2018, the Steelers and Browns are 3-3-1 against one another, with home-field playing a pivotal role. The Steelers have not won in Cleveland since 2017.
Since the start of last season, the Browns are 9-3 at home as FirstEnergy Stadium has become a difficult place to play. So in a game that looks pretty close on paper, could the home crowd tip the scale in favor of the Browns?
Can the Steelers Pull Off the Upset?
The winner of Pittsburgh at Cleveland will likely be the team that establishes the run and limits mistakes on offense. So far this season, Cleveland has been the more explosive team with a premier ground game.
With that said, Pittsburgh has rebounded nicely from a dismal 1-3 start and now has the look of a live underdog. This game is winnable for the Steelers, but a formidable opponent and hostile environment will make for a challenging task.
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