Now here’s an interesting rematch. It’s been only 15 days since Myles Garrett acted-out in the worst possible way in a prime-time Cleveland vs Pittsburgh contest at FirstEnergy Stadium.
With Garrett out of the picture indefinitely thanks to his selfish actions, it would be a wonder if the Browns hung together and made a charge down the stretch in 2019-20.
But the Dawgs are getting it done, or at least it looks that way. With Cleveland coming in on a 3-game winning streak, gamblers have turned opening lines which gave Pittsburgh a slight nod as the favorite into Las Vegas odds that favor the Browns by a hair.
Who: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
When: Sunday, December 1st, 1 PM EST
Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
Lines: CLE (-2) at PIT (+2) / O/U Total: (39)
The 9-2 Baltimore Ravens are close to wrapping up the AFC North, making this a practical must-win game for the 6-5 Steelers and the 5-6 Browns if a postseason berth is to be had. There’s a case to be made that the sub-40 point Over/Under total is a product of perception – the teams do not like each other and are expected to play all-night physical defense.
But the principle figures in the mid-November dust-up will not be on the football field in the 1st quarter at Heinz. Mason Rudolph, an instigator-slash-victim of Garrett’s violent antics, has been demoted to 2nd-string QB in favor of Devlin Hodges after going 50% with a pick last week:
The Pittsburgh Steelers will bench quarterback Mason Rudolph against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday and start the rookie Devlin Hodges instead, the team announced Tuesday. The decision comes just two weeks after Rudolph was involved in a late-game brawl in which he was struck on the head with his own helmet by Myles Garrett of the Browns. Garrett was suspended indefinitely for the incident, but Rudolph was fined $50,000 for his role. He had tried to remove Garrett’s helmet earlier in the fracas.
The rematch between the two teams, coming just two weeks after the brawl, is expected to be fraught. The Steelers (6-5) and the Browns (5-6) have had somewhat disappointing seasons thus far, but the A.F.C. North rivals still have real playoff chances. Coach Mike Tomlin said of the decision to switch quarterbacks, “He hadn’t protected the ball,” Tomlin said of Rudolph, who has thrown five interceptions in the team’s last two games. “I’ve got a lot of patience for young guys, but one thing we need to do is take care of the ball.” The Steelers coach declined to commit to Hodges beyond this week. “We’ll see where we are after this game,” Tomlin said.
It has been a star-crossed season at quarterback for the Steelers. Their longtime starter, Ben Roethlisberger, was knocked out for the season with an elbow injury in Week 2. Rudolph, the Steelers’ third-round pick in the 2018 draft, stepped in and has led the team to a 5-3 record as a starter, but his passing numbers have been far from impressive.
Hodges was effective-enough to lead a game-winning drive and earn another start while avoiding the ignominy of losing to the 2019 Cincinnati Bengals. Hodges finished 5-for-11 for 118 yards, highlighted by a 79-yard TD strike to James Washington early in the 3rd quarter. Pittsburgh was without 2 key cogs in Juju Smith-Schuster and James Conner last week, and it’s no guarantee that either player will make it back onto the field.
It appears as though we will see at least 1 more week of rookie 4th-round pick Benny Snell Jr. carrying the load for the Steelers, but he was somewhat lackluster against a poor Bengal run defense last week, rushing for 98 yards on 21 attempts.
Cleveland has been stubbornly running the ball and playing defense as recipe for success throughout its hot streak. Nick Chubb continues to carry the rock effectively and is close to 1200 yards-gained on the season.
Losing Garrett will be a huge blow to Freddie Kitchens’ defense in the long run, but ever since the return of starting CBs Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams from injury just over a month ago, the Cleveland D has been quietly solid. Each missed 4 games, and returned in a 27-13 loss to the Patriots in Week 8 in which the Browns held Tom Brady to just 259 yards and 2 TDs.
Cleveland’s ball-hawking secondary could absolutely cause problems for Hodges on Sunday. By the same token, however, Baker Mayfield will run into much-stronger resistance vs the Pittsburgh defense. I’m not fond, however, of taking the “Under” line when it’s already dipping into the 30s and a pair of rivals may be poised for a 60-minute battle. The weather will be bright and mild and the breeze will be easy, conditions that may benefit scoring.
I’m going with Pittsburgh against-the-spread and against the public. There’s a feeling that the Steelers can make the playoffs after all, and revenge could be as sweet as a 7-5 record.