The NFL season continues as Week 3 opens with the old-fashioned AFC North rivalry on Thursday Night Football. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin brings his impressive 20-6-2 ATS record as a division underdog to Cleveland in a battle of 1-1 teams. After opening as a 3.5-point favorite, the Browns immediately found support in the betting market, widening the spread to -5.5 at its peak before settling back to -4.5. The total remained low (38.5) based on the expected weather and the overall lack of confidence in either offense. Under new QB Mitchell Trubisky, the Steelers could only rush for 152 yards in last week’s 17-14 loss to the Patriots. The Browns’ offense is much better, but it’s hard to gauge how it will respond after last week’s fourth quarter collapse. So it makes sense that bettors would be cautious about laying down the points. However, there are many ways to attack this game from a betting point of view, and here are the three best bets I have locked in at BetMGM.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns -4.5 (-110)
Extending Tomlin in this spot is not the easiest bet to make. But, it’s important to remember that this is the most challenging roster Tomlin has had to work with since arriving in the Steel City. I think the numbers are even, but I have more confidence in Cleveland being enough to put this one away from running back Nick Chubb. The Browns are averaging 28 points per game through two weeks and their offense, under QB Jacoby Brissett, ranks fourth in both DVOA and EPA per game.
The Browns’ defense was a different story. However, with Trubisky at the helm, I don’t see Pittsburgh being able to take advantage. The Steelers’ offensive inefficiencies held their defense on the field for 80 plays in the first two weeks. That’s more than any other team in the league. In a physical game on the road in a short week against a division rival, I can definitely see the Browns throwing this defense down and pulling away in the fourth quarter. Seven of the Steelers’ eight losses last season were by more than a touchdown, and half were by 14 points or more. This isn’t the Steelers we’re used to, so I can’t bet on them keeping this one close regardless of the weather.
Pittsburgh Steelers team overall under 16.5 (+100)
It seems too easy to discount Trubisky right now, but these opportunities don’t last forever. Tomlin is going to face Kenny Pickett at some point, and then we might not see Trubisky start again. This offense did not score more than 16 points in either of its opening two games. Minkah Fitzpatrick’s interception return for a touchdown against Cincinnati in Week 1 was the only reason the team surpassed 17 points. Here’s where the Steelers rank in the key metric, which shows just how bad the offensive production has been so far:
Yards per game (31st)
First down per game (31st)
Reverse success rate (25th)
Yards per pass attempt (32nd)
Yards against rushing attempt (23rd)
I’m betting the Steelers will stay under 17 points again. I’m not even sure if the quality of the defense matters. There’s always a chance that Tomlin moves Pickett to the middle of the game, but I’m not letting that situation hold me back from less strong bets. If you’re worried about a defensive collapse for the Steelers increasing their total, you can hedge it with a bet on Pittsburgh’s defense or special teams to score at +450.
Cleveland money line and under 45.5 points (+110)
Parlays are not usually the best solution, but this is a way to use the expected heavy winds to our advantage. Teams averaged less than 22 points per game in the first two weeks, so getting extra touchdowns on an already low total of 38.5 should be more than enough of a cushion. This season, Brissett and Trubiusky are both outside the top 25 in average yards per pass attempt. That’s not going to improve given the windy conditions. So if you like Cleveland to win but are worried about laying the 4.5, this bet makes a lot of sense.
Stats provided by football outsiders, clevanalytics, rbsdm, and pff.com.