Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 1:30 PM EST. Odds subject to change.
Cleveland/Pittsburgh under 38 -103
8:15 EST. By now it might be evident which side we're leaning towards in this game because, while the Steelers certainly didn't deserve as much pre-season love as they were getting, there are plenty of reasons to believe they're a much better operation than what we saw last week. The 49ers steamrolled the Steel City squad from start to finish in Week 1, so much so that it's hard to decide which Pittsburgh unit played worse. Their defense permitted 30 points and over 400 yards, both marks that might've been higher if it was a competitive contest, and their offense couldn't produce 300 yards even though they were in comeback mode the entire game. It was the complete opposite result that Pittsburgh fans were expecting, especially considering how tough they can be at Heinz Field (17-9-1 straight up the last three seasons).
We still can't pull the trigger on the Steelers tonight, but it's not their fault. Blame the Browns instead. The Bengals have become perennial title contenders with big-money QB Joe Burrow at the helm and elite weapons around him, yet the Browns completely shut down Burrow and his offense last week in the jungle. The numbers don't even seem possible: 67 yards passing? 75 yards rushing? Did Cincinnati swap out their starters for a high-school team? No - the Browns' defense just looked that good, and that confident, and that aggressive, for all four quarters. It was a markedly different defense than what we saw last year, and the uncommon denominator was probably Jim Schwartz.
Schwartz was released as Philadelphia's defensive coordinator after a poor season back in 2020, but he was also a key part of Philly's first Super Bowl win in 2018. The veteran play-caller has been in the NFL for a staggering 30 years, and for the last two seasons he's been sharpening his craft as a defensive assistant under Mike Vrabel, arguably one of the best defensive minds in the league. One thing's always been evident about Schwartz - he's a big personality, he doesn't get along with everyone, but when players adopt his philosophies it works. And it sure as hell worked in Week 1.
Nothing worked for the Steelers' defense in Week 1, but they'll get a shot at redemption in Week 2, against an offense they've had plenty of success against. DeShaun Watson has been sacked 12 times in his last two games against the Steelers, including 7 sacks late last season against a very similar-looking operation. Making matters worse for the road team, Cleveland's #1 wideout, Amari Cooper, is questionable for tonight's game with a groin injury, which means the Browns will lean heavily on running back Nick Chubb. That’s what they usually do anyway, but perhaps even more so tonight. Their ground-attack is tough to completely stifle, but a hyper-motivated Pittsburgh defense faces an offense without much nuance, and we like that for our angle tonight. DeShaun Watson played okay in Week 1, but he didn't have to do much. In a pressure spot in a hostile environment, we foresee plenty more struggles for a struggling QB who still doesn't look like his old, MVP-caliber self. More running plays means more long, clock-choking drives, too.
The last two totals between Cleveland and Pittsburgh closed at 40 and 38 and they both went over. We expect that to regress tonight. Kenny Pickett is a better QB than pundits give him credit for, but the Steelers only surpassed 200 yards passing in six games in 2022. As an offense they never eclipsed 400 yards in a single game last season, either. Until we see more, we simply can’t expect positive regression in that regard. Two mediocre offenses against two pumped up defenses in an AFC North battle? No need to overthink this - we'll take a shot at the under.
Cleveland/Pittsburgh under 38 -103 (Risking 2.06 units - To Win: 2.00)