- Mason Rudolph will start at QB for Pittsburgh, while Cleveland is currently in a tie for the final playoff spot and needs a win
Week 17 always throws some curveballs at us where we have to question how competitive games will be, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value to be found. The Steelers head to Cleveland this week and we know for certain Ben Roethlisberger will be getting the week off, as Pittsburgh has locked up the division and a home playoff game next week. We also have reports that key defensive linemen T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward will sit, as well as center Maurkice Pouncey. That should give the Browns an advantage at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
Beyond those players, it isn’t known who might suit up for the Steelers, and Mike Tomlin has implied that will be decided on a player-by-player basis. Because of schedule quirks, Pittsburgh hasn’t really had a traditional bye week all season, and they seem to be treating this week as an opportunity to get healthy. Already a banged-up team that has lost three of their past four games, Pittsburgh resting some key guys certainly lowers the bar further.
And yet, all of that is baked into the line, as the Browns are favored by more than a touchdown coming off a tough loss to the lowly Jets. Cleveland played that game at less than 100%, without nearly all of its regular wide receiver rotation due to COVID-19 protocols. They were also without two key offensive linemen, tackle Jedrick Wills and guard Wyatt Teller. All are expected back for Week 17.
But one player who won’t be back after missing last week is defensive signal-caller B.J. Goodson. While the Browns were hit harder on offense last week, they still allowed 333 total yards to the Jets, the second-highest total of the season for New York, and Goodson’s absence may have played a role. Cleveland is trending toward full strength on offense for Week 17, but Goodson will miss again, and he’ll be joined by a few other defensive players as Cleveland has had more positive tests this week, leading them to close their facility Thursday.
Among the positive tests is key cornerback Denzel Ward. ESPN’s Jake Trotter notes that in three games Ward has missed this year, the Browns have allowed the league’s second-highest QBR and second-most yards per play. Linebacker Malcolm Smith, safety Andrew Sendejo, and tight end Harrison Bryant are also out this week on the reserve/COVID-19 list after playing in Week 16, while safety Karl Joseph is currently on the list but could return if he continues to test negative.
So while Pittsburgh is resting some key players, the Browns are also going to be pretty short-handed on Sunday. I’m not high on Mason Rudolph, who will get the start for Pittsburgh, but he should have at least some if not all of a deep and talented wide receiver group to throw to against a patchwork Cleveland secondary. This game also has a low total in what looks like a rainy Sunday in Cleveland, and we’re likely looking at a bit more running than usual from both teams. I still like the Browns to win on the strength of their ground game, but this line doesn’t seem to have reacted to the key pieces Cleveland will be missing on the other side of the ball.
The Browns will certainly be more motivated, but if this game plays slow and stays lower-scoring, the Steelers aren’t at such a massive talent deficit that they can’t stay within 9.5 points. Cleveland losing practice time this week and several more key players doesn’t help their cause. I’m taking the points.
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Steelers +9.5 @ -105
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2020 is in the books and we're starting 2021 with the final week of the NFL regular season, as the playoff places and playoff order are finally locked up. Every game is on Sunday this week with Sunday Night Football being the NFC East clash between the Washington Football Team and the Philadelphia Eagles. On Sunday we have a number on win-and-in games, where a victory would see playoff football. Nearly every game has something riding on it, be it playoff seeding, or players playing for their futures. It's a big week.
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