Pittsburgh (-10.0) 25 CLEVELAND 15
Pittsburgh has lost 4 consecutive games and last week's home loss to the Raiders should have the Steelers not taking this game for granted. Cleveland covered for me as a Strong Opinion last week with a decent offensive performance against San Diego (372 yards at 5.4 yards per play and 23 points), but the Browns are in dire straights defensively. Cleveland went from bad to worse defensively when leading tackler LB D'Qwell Jackson was lost for the season to injury in week 6, but the secondary is now defenseless with their two best pass defenders out this week.
FS Brodney Pool leads the team with 10 passes defended and 4 interceptions and the Browns were torched for 386 yards at 14.3 yards per pass play without Pool in the lineup last week. Pool is out for the rest of the season and will be joined on the sideline this week by top CB Eric Wright, who is the only other player on the team other than Pool with an interception (he has 2 picks) and is second in passes defended with 9.
WR Hines Ward is out for the Steelers this week, but #3 wide out Wallace has averaged 9.3 yards per pass thrown to him, which is slightly better than Ward's 9.1 ypa average. Of course, Ward gets a lot of double-teams so I did downgrade Pittsburgh's pass rating for this game with Ward out. However, Ben Roethlisberger should light up a thin Browns' secondary that was bad even with Pool and Wright.
Not only will Pittsburgh be able to move the ball better than projected but Cleveland's offense is perking up a bit and the Steelers' defense is 0.7 yards per play worse in games without star S Troy Polamalu than they are with him. The adjustment versus their season stats is 0.3 yppl with Polamalu still out and Pittsburgh's league worst kickoff coverage team is up against Cleveland's top notch kickoff return team. Joshua Cribbs has returned 3 kickoffs for touchdowns in his career against Pittsburgh, including a 98 yard return in a 14-27 loss at Pittsburgh earlier this season.
Derek Anderson was quarterbacking the Browns in that first meeting and Brady Quinn, while still bad, is considerably better than Anderson was and Cleveland has a chance to score a decent number of points given the good field position that Cribbs should give them with his returns.
My math model favors Pittsburgh by 12 points in this game, but Cleveland applies to a 102-47-2 ATS situation that plays on bad teams on a long losing streak.
Before any adjustments, I would have made the over/under on this game 38 1/2 points using a compensated points model and the total opened at 38 points. The total has since gone way down due to what is expected to be cold, wet and windy conditions. However, both defenses are worse now than their season numbers suggest, Quinn at quarterback for Cleveland is an improvement, and Ward being out for Pittsburgh isn't likely to be much of an issue. Those adjustments lead to an additional 5.3 points, which would give me a projection of 44 total points before adjusting for wind and snow.
If I assume that the market is correct in lowering the line by 5 points for the weather then I would get 39 points as my projected total, so there is value on the over in this game even with the bad weather factored in. Pittsburgh is 6-1 Over without Polamalu in the lineup, as the defense isn't as good and the offense tends to be more aggressive when the defense isn't as trustworthy. I'll consider the Over a Strong Opinion at 34 points or less.
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