The Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers were in similar positions for the postseason a few weeks ago — on the outside looking in, but with a prayer of making it — but on Sunday Cleveland will be relegated once more to the role of spoiler against its longtime rival.
The Browns (7-9) have won four of six, including last weekend’s 24-10 victory that ruined the Washington Commanders’ playoff chances, but their Christmas Eve loss at home to the New Orleans Saints cost them any chance of playing beyond Week 18.
The Steelers, meanwhile, have won three straight to get to 8-8. Another win at Acrisure Stadium, combined with losses by the 8-8 New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins, would sneak Pittsburgh into the postseason as the AFC’s seventh seed. Two weeks ago, DraftKings gave bettors 30/1 odds for such an occurrence, a scenario that is now down to +350.
For the 1 p.m. game on Sunday — the second Browns game on which legal sports betting is permitted in Ohio — the major online sportsbooks all have Cleveland as a 2.5-point underdog. DraftKings is offering the best moneyline return for a Browns bettor at +125.
Most of the sportsbooks list 40.5 as the points total over/under, but BetRivers would be a more favorable option for an “over” bettor — it listed 40 Friday morning, with slightly inflated vig of -112.
Browns try for rare sweep in series
While Cleveland in one sense has nothing but pride to play for, that didn’t deter the Browns from a full-throttle performance against Washington. Deshaun Watson had his best game with the team, throwing for three touchdowns with no interceptions, and Nick Chubb rambled for 104 yards on just 14 carries.
Amari Cooper also had another excellent game, with three receptions for 105 yards and two TDs. Against Pittsburgh the first time the two teams played — a 29-17 Browns win on Sept. 22 — Cooper caught seven balls for 101 yards and a TD.
In that game, Steelers rookie Kenny Pickett was watching from the sidelines instead of yet assuming the starter’s role. His statistics are nothing special, but Pittsburgh has a winning record with him as a starter — no easy feat for a rookie — and he led long touchdown drives to close out their last two victories, including 16-13 over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
Pittsburgh has primarily been surging on the strength of a defense that hasn’t allowed more than 17 points in its last six games and a running game that has gained momentum as the season has progressed. Pittsburgh ran for 198 yards against Baltimore’s vaunted defense, led by Najee Harris’ 111 yards on 22 carries.
So while it may seem a little surprising considering both Chubb’s distinguished five-year career and his 1,448 yards rushing this year compared to Harris’ 954, BetMGM actually has Pittsburgh’s second-year back with a higher over/under on his rushing prop for Sunday. Chubb can be bet at o/u 71.5, compared to 73.5 for Harris, though the vig to bet “over” on those is a more costly -120 for Chubb compared to -115 for Harris.
If the Browns do succeed again as a spoiler, it would mark a first in one sense: They have never swept the season series against the Steelers since Cleveland regained its NFL franchise in 1999.
Photo: David Dermer/USA TODAY