Week 3 of the NFL season kicks off Thursday night with an AFC North showdown between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns (-4.5, 38.5) at FirstEnergy Stadium. With the season now in full swing, there are plenty of opportunities to wager on the game if you so choose. So what plays do our analysts like for this matchup of two of the NFL’s most fierce rivals?
Betting analysts Doug Kezirian, Tyler Fulghum, Joe Fortenbaugh, Anita Marks and Erin Dolan; fantasy and sports betting analysts Eric Moody and Andre Snellings; ESPN Stats & Information’s Seth Walder, ESPN analyst Jason Fitz and Football Outsiders’ Aaron Schatz provide their top plays for Thursday’s tilt.
Note: Lines from Caesars Sportsbook unless otherwise indicated.
The Steelers have played two games settled by a FG and the Browns have played two games decided in the last few seconds, including Sunday’s historic collapse vs. the Jets. What do you make of each team entering Week 3?
Kezirian: Both offenses are extremely limited with pedestrian quarterback play. Cleveland has gotten by with a solid offensive line and inferior opponents. The Browns are still a team I plan to fade this season, once they face a good team. I just don’t think this is the week. The Steelers are a much different team without T.J. Watt. He just changes the entire landscape of a team, so it’s hard to assess them when they had a solid win in the opener.
Schatz: It’s easy to know what to make of the Steelers and hard to know what to make of the Browns. The Steelers have been exactly what we expected. The offense has struggled to move the ball, and people are already calling for Kenny Pickett to replace Mitch Trubisky. The defense has been above average, even without T.J. Watt in Week 2. But the Browns are weird. They’ve scored a lot of points, a lot more than we expected with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. The defense, which was supposed to be good, has given up 55 points to Baker Mayfield and Joe Flacco. I’m very confused by the 2022 Cleveland Browns.
Fulghum: I liked the Steelers over 7.5 wins before the season started, so they’re on track through two weeks, however, it is hard to be inspired by the play of Trubisky on offense coupled with the loss of Watt on defense. Mike Tomlin always figures out ways to steal wins, however. The Browns’ loss in Week 2 against the Jets was thoroughly embarrassing. As long as Brissett is at QB, the Browns will lean on the run game and Myles Garrett creating havoc off the edge to win games. I think they can do that in this matchup since the Steelers defense is missing Watt, and their OL is substandard.
Fitz: The Steelers are a reminder that your record doesn’t always reflect being any good. While the Browns can hold on to hope that all they have to do is tread water until Deshaun Watson comes back, Steelers fans’ best hope is sitting on the bench in the form of Pickett. I don’t know (none of us do) if Pickett can play, but I know that Maserati Mitch looks a heck of a lot more like Mitsubishi Mitch right now and the Steelers offense is brutal to watch.
Moody: The Browns could be 2-0 right now, but a complete defensive and special teams breakdown last week has them 1-1. They need a win Thursday night after last week’s late collapse. Nevertheless, I’m a glass half full kind of person, and the Browns offense put up 1.98 EPA per drive last week. This was the second-best performance of the week. The Steelers would probably be 2-0 if it wasn’t for that improbable Nelson Agholor touchdown. Tomlin has also publicly stated that he wants to open up the passing even more and get dynamic rookie George Pickens more involved — he has only six targets so far. Trubisky is averaging a dismal 5.1 yards per attempt this season. What would Pittsburgh’s offense look like under Pickett?
Snellings: The Steelers have played two playoffs teams from a year ago, and kept both games close to the end with excellent defense and uninspiring offense. The Browns have played two teams that both finished with one of the six worst records in the NFL last season, one of which was playing with their backup quarterback, and have scored a lot of points but managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in a spectacular fashion in one of the games. Both the Steelers and the Browns are currently run by veteran quarterbacks that should be supplanted by more talented, younger QBs before the season ends. But, for now, I think the Steelers know who they are and play to their strengths, making them formidable but with a lower ceiling every game, while the Browns are still a bit more of a mystery that we don’t know what we’ll get from against top competition.
The Browns are 5-point favorites with a total of 38. Which side and total do you like?
Kezirian: I would lean to the under because of the quarterback play and probably prefer the first half, as I expect both teams to play conservatively initially with the hopes of avoiding mistakes. But these teams have actually managed points in three of their four combined games, so it’s not a strong play. I just cannot back Jacoby Brissett in an over play.
Schatz: 38 is a really low total, and Watt ain’t walking through that door. Cleveland has gone over that total in both of its games, and shockingly the Browns rank fourth in offensive DVOA with a small two-week sample. Pittsburgh also went over this total back in Week 1. Division games do tend to be a little bit lower-scoring than other games, but I’m still happy to go over 38 here.
Fitz: 38 actually feels pretty good to me. I know it’s low, but look at last year’s matchups between these two teams and you’ll see one game that hit 25 and one that hit 40. I can’t make the argument that either team is better today, so I don’t expect much more in the way of scoring. I like the Browns -5, and I like the under in a game where defensive players on both teams pad their stat lines.
Moody: I like the Steelers in this matchup at +4.5. Anything can happen on Thursday Night Football. And when you add in the fact that this is a division matchup, I’d rather bet on the underdog. The Browns are 1-6 against the spread in their last seven games against AFC teams. Even though the betting trends do not support the over, I would bet on it. The Steelers offense is only averaging 18.5 points per game so far this season with Trubisky under center. I believe they’ll exceed that number Thursday night. Trubisky’s starting job could be on the line with another suboptimal performance. While the Browns rank seventh with 28.0 points per game. Cleveland’s running game should continue to prosper. The Browns’ offensive line has the advantage over the Steelers defensive front.
Snellings: I like the Steelers +4.5, and the over. The Steelers have managed to keep both of their games close against stronger competition than the Browns have faced thus far, and their defense should be enough to keep the Browns from running completely wild like they’ve done against the Panthers and Jets. With that said, the Steelers have still allowed 204 rushing yards in their first two games, the eighth-most in the league, so their defense isn’t impervious to the Browns’ strength. I could see both teams scoring in the low 20s, which would put the game in the — just — over category.
Marks: Give me the Steelers +5 and the under at 38. Stefanski is (2-11) ATS vs AFC North opponents. Neither of these teams have been impressive sitting at 1-1. Both playing with subpar quarterbacks, and both team’s defensive playmakers out or questionable (Watt, Clowney, & Garrett) expected to be inactive. This will be a divisional battle with few fireworks, and a lot of rushing attempts.
3. The key players on offense for each team can be found in the backfield. Najee Harris’ rushing prop is 55.5 and his rushing/receiving total is 77.5. Nick Chubb, off a three-TD game, has a rushing total of 77.5 and rush/receiving total of 89.5. Do you like any of those numbers or any other prop with the running backs, including Kareem Hunt?
Snellings: I like both Kareem Hunt props, over 44.5 rushing yards and over 64.5 rushing/receiving yards. When healthy, Hunt consistently eclipses those marks. Hunt was injured after Game 6 last season, but at that time he had surpassed 44.5 rushing yards in five straight games and 64.5 combined yards in four straight. This season, Hunt has surpassed both marks in both games.
Schatz: I’ll take that Nick Chubb prop, going with the over on the rushing/receiving combination at 89.5. Chubb has gone over that total in both games this year, and Pittsburgh allowed over 100 rushing yards to the Patriots last week.
Walder: I’ll lay -179 to take Najee Harris over 2.5 receptions. It’s a mark Harris has hit in 15 of 19 career games. Plus, running backs receive more targets and make more receptions per dropback against zone coverages. The Browns have played zone 60% of the time this season (eighth-most) without having played a mobile QB that forced them into zone.
Also, he’s not a running back, but I like Donovan Peoples-Jones over 2.5 receptions (+116), too. Yes, he was held without a catch last game. But we’re still talking about a player who has 12 targets on the year, ranking him second on the team.
Moody: If I were to bet on a running back prop I’d go with Hunt over 63.5 rushing/receiving yards. He had 70 total yards in Week 1 and 69 in Week 2. Like Mr. Walder, I also like Peoples-Jones over 2.5 receptions. When the Steelers play man coverage, he should thrive.
Dolan: Kareem Hunt over 42.5 rushing yards. The Browns are a run-first offense and have Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, but on this short week I am looking at Hunt to go over his rushing yards prop. He has hit over this in both games this season with an average of 52 rushing yards and 12 attempts. The Steelers defense has also allowed 128.5 rushing yards per game, which ranks 22nd in the league. I expect the Browns to run the ball all game.
Marks: Chubb over 77.5 rushing yards, Hunt over 2.5 receptions (+105). Chubb is the best offensive player on the Browns roster. In two games he has over 225 rushing yards, three TDs and has averaged almost six yards per carry. The Steelers defense is one of the worst units in the NFL in allowing explosive rushing plays without T.J. Watt. The Browns have 254 more rushing yards than their opponents through two weeks for one reason… Nick Chubb. Hunt has six receptions for 40 yards this season and has run the second-most passing routes on the team.
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4. The winner of this matchup will be tied for first in the AFC North. The Browns are +380 to win the North and Steelers are +700 with the Ravens leading at +105. How do you see the division settling?
Schatz: Still give me the Baltimore Ravens to win the AFC North this year. They are third in our DVOA ratings through two weeks despite the loss to Miami. They’re not going to be fumbling the ball on fourth-and-goal very often in future games, and they aren’t going to be giving up four touchdowns in the fourth quarter very often either. Their passing game looks much improved, and the running game is likely to turn things around after struggling early, especially once J.K. Dobbins gets back on the field. The Browns will be very dangerous once Watson is back on the field, but I still expect the Ravens to have a division lead of a couple games by Watson’s arrival in Week 13.
Fulghum: This is the Ravens’ division to lose. Obviously, they should be 2-0 and running away with this division. The inexplicable loss to Miami is actually still providing bettors some slight value on a team that I liked to win the division before the season started and through two weeks of the season clearly looks like the most complete squad in the division.
Fitz: Neither of the teams are playoff teams to me, not to mention division champions. The Bengals might be the biggest disappointment through two weeks of the season, but even if they spiral out of control, the Ravens are still in a completely different class than either of these teams. The Browns’ best hope is that they can somehow tread water, and then Watson comes back rust free and electrifies the league. That feels about as likely as me winning the lottery. The Steelers’ defense should be good enough to make them relevant this season, but it’s not at a playoff level. There are just too many holes on both rosters for me to believe they can surpass Baltimore.
Moody: I’m still taking the Ravens to win the AFC North. Baltimore’s Week 2 loss to the Dolphins will give them nightmares for the foreseeable future, but I also see it as a rallying cry. Still, the team has plenty of time to recover and take a more comfortable lead in the AFC North. Jackson has played like a legitimate MVP candidate. As the Ravens get healthier, their defense will only improve.
Snellings: I still expect the Bengals to recover from their rough start and repeat. Despite two brutal performances to open the season, they’re only a game behind with plenty of time left. Joe Burrow missed all of the preseason after an appendectomy, and they’re playing with an entirely rebuilt starting line that needs reps together. Once they find their level, much as they did in the second half of last season, they should be fine. And the early losses have the bonus of giving their odds a bit more juice at +280, which I’ll gladly take.
Walder: I think the market is priced pretty well, but if I were taking one it would be the Ravens at +105. FPI makes Baltimore’s chances at the division 54% so a slight value at that price, and I think they just ran into a much-better-than-expected Miami team on Sunday. There’s still quite a bit of promise here for the Ravens, and they might not have to be that good to take the division: Cincinnati is showing serious weakness, the Browns are a below-average team with Jacoby Brissett under water and the Steelers aren’t a serious threat. And if Baltimore can get Ronnie Stanley back, that could be a big lift.