NFL Football for Thursday Night: Pittsburgh Steelers host Cleveland Browns

It could be said that today’s Thursday Night NFL Football clash between the Pittsburgh Steelers (9-3) and the Cleveland Browns (4-8) might not be a great reason to pick up the NFL Network as part of your cable package, however for online sports betting fans, any available action in NFL football during the week is cause for celebration, and tonight’s AFC North battle will nonetheless be a good opportunity to jump into some top sportsbook action as a teaser for NFL action to come on the weekend.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are once again turning up the heat on their march towards the playoffs. Despite looking unlikely to clinch the division over Baltimore, who sits tied with Pittsburgh in overall wins and losses, but is 4-0 within the AFC North while Pittsburgh hovers at 2-2, with a 9-3 record and victories in 8 of their last 9 outings the Steelers will be looking to win out the season in order to claim the division crown with the better record. It all starts this evening with a continuance of dominant form over the perennial AFC North whipping boys the Cleveland Browns, who have lost 14 of the last 15 meetings against Pittsburgh overall, and haven’t tasted victory at Heinz Field since the 2003 season. Compounding the Steelers chances of success in tonight’s game is the fact that they are starting to play the expected outstanding defense heading down the home stretch of the season, with the Troy Polamalu-led Steeler D holding the last two opponents to under 10 points, and allowing just 1 team to go over 20 points in a game since Week 1 (Of interesting note, Baltimore, who has beat Pitt twice this year, is the only team to score more than 20 points against them). The Steelers can be thankful of being more healthy at this time of year than in past campaigns, and facing a Cleveland team that struggles to produce offense, a big lead tonight for the home team could see a fair number of starters get rested further, so as to save up for the final three games of the season. Being without star linebacker LaMarr Woodley (9 sacks) in the line-up may be the only crutch for the Steelers on defense heading into tonight’s match-up, but facing a banged up Cleveland running and passing game that ranks 29th in the league overall, we’d say that even if it were simply Steeler D facing the entire Browns team, odds may still favor a Pittsburgh team that knows how to create turnovers and generate points on the defensive side of the football.

There really isn’t much to say about the Cleveland Browns in this match-up, aside from the fact that they’ll get a boost in tonight’s game by the supposed return of lead running back Peyton Hillis. Still listed as questionable ahead of game time however, it’s yet to be seen what last year’s running back sensation can do in this tough draw, as he carries just a 3.5 yards/rush average into tonight’s contest against a defense that ranks 7th in the league against the run (allowing just 96.7 yards/game). No doubt the Browns will look to run in tandem, with Chris Ogbonnaya producing fairly well this season, but with the ground game averaging just 93 yards/game, and the passing game very weak at 197 yards/game, they will find tough going at Heinz Field as they’ll be predictable with their game plan as per usual. As starting quarterback Colt McCoy has also been struggling lately with a lingering knee issue, and hasn’t been able to really establish a balanced passing game with his top receivers (of which there is at least some talent between Greg Little, Josh Cribbs and Mohammed Massaquoi) there’s no mistaking that the Browns’ game plan centers on the run, and that’s a recipe for disaster coming into tonight’s match-up against the Steelers. With likely few options against the league’s 2nd ranked pass defense as well, expect to see lots of 3-and-outs for Cleveland throughout tonight’s contest. Despite having a defensive unit that should play well against Ben Rothlisberger (they’re surprisingly ranked 1st in the league allowing just 173 yards/game through the air), Cleveland should be exposed in this ground-heavy match-up, struggling against Rashard Mendenhall especially as the game wears on and the Browns’ D is on the field for long stretches of time. Allowing 151.3 yards on the ground to opposing running backs this year definitely doesn’t bode well against a Steeler offense that is intent on featuring the run more (18th overall in the league at 111.8 yards/game), and with the passing game for both teams looking to be curtailed, a big night for Mendenhall and plenty of back-up work for Isaac Redman could be in the works for Pittsburgh’s strategy tonight.

What could be interesting in a match-up figured to be ground game-centric is how Ben Rothlisberger (3,246 yards, 19 TDs, 10 INTs, 93.6 rating) reacts to the shutdown passing D of the Browns. Throwing to a talented group of receivers, even Cleveland may struggle to match up well against Mike Wallace (58 catches, 977 yards, 8 TDs), Antonio Brown and Heath Miller, who are seeing the majority of the Steelers offensive plays this year (410 passes vs. 323 rushes). Rothlisberger has found success being very active in the passing game, but also being very selective, with two cases in point being last week’s crushing win over Cincinnati 35-7 (in which Big Ben threw for just 176 yards, 2 TDs, but no picks), and a squeak-by 25-17 victory at home over New England (throwing for 365 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT) on Oct. 30th. What Rothlisberger does very well is adapt to how the game is going. He’s able to take matters into his own hands when the ground game isn’t there, but works very effectively to open up the run utilizing short passes to his bevy of receivers. There isn’t much doubt that against a Browns team that will be forced to run a lot, Pittsburgh will want to establish their own run game early and control the game clock. But don’t count out seeing some downfield attempts by Rothlisberger to mix up the Steelers’ offensive looks, and if the Browns try to over commit defensive assets to the run (an area they are very weak in), the exposure could lead to Pittsburgh putting up points in a hurry this evening.

Betting Lines for Pittsburgh vs. Cleveland

Yeah, it’s ugly on the betting lines for this one, folks. At Sportsbook, one of the best online sportsbooks reviewed on our website, the Pittsburgh Steelers get massive -1,000 odds to win on the money line, as the underdog Cleveland Browns hold +700 odds coming into a match-up at a field they have won at in 8 years. However, even with such a lopsided money line, there is a chance for sports bettors to emerge prosperous from wagering on tonight’s game, as the 14 points against the spread looks very beatable for Pittsburgh in a lopsided contest. With Cleveland likely to struggle to score again in this match-up, Pittsburgh will need to put up at least 24-27 points to win against the spread, as Cleveland likely will muster a touchdown and/or a couple field goals. It helps to know that in the last three meetings at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh has won by an average of 20.7 points. If trends continue, the points spread could be the best online sports betting option for this NFL Thursday Night Football match-up. However, don’t discount the over/under either…with a very ground-heavy game on the horizon, a very low scoring first half could work to contain the bottom line on points, and while the 40 points given is relatively low, in a big defense, ground-based offense match-up, this could be a good wager yet.

Our Pick to Win:

With a healthy and improving Steelers team on a roll heading down the home stretch and needing every win possible to stay on pace with Baltimore in the AFC North, this game will not be one in which head coach Mike Tomlin takes his foot off the accelerator. Getting to play Cleveland once more this year, the Steelers will not want to give the Browns any reason to think they can win either at Heinz Field or back home in a few weeks, and thus should come out swinging hard in tonight’s match-up from the get-go. While we know it’s going to be a run-first type of contest this evening, we should also expect to see Pittsburgh dominate through the air as well, and have a fairly well-balanced offensive attack overall. Against a Cleveland team that will struggle to produce much other than a few good runs, the Steelers are off to the races with tonight’s game, hopefully not letting off the throttle until they reach a 3 touchdown cushion. A proud Steeler D once again helps to shut down the Browns and limit them to single-digit scoring, and Pittsburgh prevails 30-7 this evening, riding a big game from Rashard Mendenhall in the backfield, and a couple deep strikes from Big Ben to Mike Wallace.

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