Cleveland @ Pittsburgh
Power rankings: Cleveland 18, Pittsburgh 24
The Browns on offense are 14th in DVOA and 15th in EPA/play. Baker Mayfield is 26th in PFF passing grades among 39 qualifiers (65.1) completing 62.4% of his passes (1.8% below expectation) and gaining 7.4 yards per attempt. He plays behind a dominant offensive line, though they took a big hit when they lost RT Jack Conklin to a kneecap injury on December 6th. Mayfield typically distributes the ball relatively easily between slot man Jarvis Landry, TE Austin Hooper, TE David Njoku, outside WR Rashard Higgins, and outside WR Donovan People's Jones. Nick Chubb handles the bulk of the RB carries with Kareem Hunt working as the change of pace/receiving back. Hunt is officially questionable with an ankle injury, but he did get in two limited practices, a sign that he should be good to go. The Browns are significantly better running the ball (2nd in DVOA) than throwing (19th). They are a run-first team, ranking 20th in the NFL in early-down situational neutral pass frequency. The Steelers on defense are 22nd in both DVOA and EPA/play. Led by TJ Watt on the outside and Cam Heyward on the inside, they have a pass rush that generates pressure 25.6% of the time, 7th most in the league. That's all the Steelers are capable of doing at a high level -- they struggle everywhere else on the field. They're particularly bad against the run, ranking 30th in DVOA, and are 18th against the pass. This sets up as a potential mismatch on the ground, depending on game script.
The Steelers on offense are 23rd in DVOA and 22nd in EPA/play. Big Ben is 31st in PFF passing grades (58.5), completing 65.2% of his passes (0.2% above expectation) and gaining 6.5 yards per attempt. He plays behind a horrific offensive line, and compensates via a quick, short passing attack. He gets rid of the ball in 2.27 seconds on average, fastest in the league, and his aDOT of 7.2 is 2nd lowest. The Steelers line ranks 31st in ESPN's pass block win rate metric and 30th in run block win rate. Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, RT Najee Harris, and TE Pat Freiermuth will see the bulk of the targets, and Harris will handle essentially all carries. The combination of the offensive line and a washed QB leads to bad numbers in both the run and pass game -- they rank 21st in passing DVOA and 28th running the ball. The Browns defense is 17th in DVOA and 21st in EPA/play. The pass rush, led by Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney, will be an issue for the Steelers line. The Browns generate pressure 24.5% of the time, 12th highest in the league, but the stat is more impressive when you factor in that they blitz 22nd most often. They rank 4th in ESPN's pass rush win rate metric and 18th in run stop win rate. The pass defense is good-but-not-great, with solid corners (particularly Denzel Ward) and coverage linebackers, but below average safeties. The Browns are 19th in DVOA against the pass and 18th against the run. They are 8th in DVOA defending short passes, which may make life difficult for Roethlisberger.
Spread: When we ran the model last Tuesday, the line was CLE -3. The model thought Pittsburgh was the better side, but not by enough for us to recommend the wager. The line has since shifted to 2.5, which is a perfect number. Don't bet it.
Total: The total is at 43.5. A low number, but it's a divisional matchup with two mediocre/bad offenses. The only true offensive advantage that I see is Cleveland's ground game. I'd lay off.
Jarvis Landry o44.5 receiving yards -110 (FanDuel): This number is simply too low, Landry is projected at 58.6 yards.
Baker Mayfield o6.5 rushing yards -114 (FanDuel): Mayfield is projected at 12.4 yards. He's hit this over in 8/13 games.