(11-4, 9-6 ATS)
(5-10, 5-10 ATS)
The storylines will be running deeply in a Week 17 battle between arch rivals, as the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers duke it out in the Dawg Pound.
Pittsburgh knows that it needs a win or a loss by the Baltimore Ravens to get the job done to win the AFC North and to clinch the No. 2 seed in the AFC and the first round bye that goes with it. The Steelers have played well all year on defense, but things just aren’t the same without S Troy Polamalu in the fold. Polamalu hopes to play in spite of the fact that he has a leg injury, but he hasn’t been in the lineup in a month. QB Ben Roethlisberger has thrown for 2,920 yards and 15 TDs since coming back to the lineup after his four game suspension at the start of the year. WR Mike Wallace is one of the top targets of the year in the NFL, and he probably feels like he was snubbed out of the Pro Bowl this year. Wallace might have only caught 57 passes this year, but he averaged 20.2 yards per reception and had nine scores. RB Rashard Mendenhall was a workhorse all season long, running for 1,237 yards and 11 TDs on a stunning 310 carries. Keep an eye on LBs James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, who have 19.5 sacks between them.
Pittsburgh might be playing for its playoff standing, but the Browns might be playing for their coaches’ job. Cleveland knows that a 5-11 season probably isn’t good enough to save Head Coach Eric Mangini, but the truth of the matter is that 6-10 might not do it anyway. Still, there would be no greater accomplishment for the Browns than to put a real damper on their Super Bowl chances. The first game for QB Colt McCoy this year was against these Steelers, and contrary to popular belief, he performed well and now knows what he is up against. McCoy has thrown for 1,367 yards and five TDs in his first season in seven starts. Assuming that RB Peyton Hillis does suit up with his injured ribs, he is going to be up against the dubious task of going against the Pittsburgh rush defense. He has 1,164 yards and 11 trips to the end zone on the season, and he is also the team’s second leading receiver with 60 catches, 474 yards, and a pair of scores. TE Ben Watson is coming on at the end of the year, and he might ultimately be a Pro Bowler by the time the game goes off. He caught 61 passes for 696 yards and three TDs this year.
Pittsburgh has a lot more on the line in this one than the Browns do, but we think that the dogs are going to play well. We’re not so sure that Cleveland ends up winning this one outright, but we wouldn’t be shocked to see it put a real crimp in the season of the Steelers.
NFL Free Pick: Cleveland Browns +6