The NFL season continues as Week 3 opens with an old-fashioned AFC North rivalry on Thursday Night Football. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin brings his stellar 20-6-2 ATS record as a divisional underdog to Cleveland in a battle of 1-1 teams. After opening as 3.5-point favorites, the Browns got immediate support in the betting market, extending the spread to -5.5 at its peak before settling back to -4.5. The total has remained low (38.5) based on the expected weather and overall lack of confidence in either offense. Under new QB Mitchell Trubisky, the Steelers could only muster 152 passing yards in last week's 17-14 loss to the Patriots. The Browns' offense has been much better, but gauging how it responds after last week's fourth-quarter collapse can be tricky. So it makes sense that bettors would be cautious about laying the points. However, there are plenty of ways to attack this game from a betting perspective, and here are my three best bets that I locked in at BetMGM.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns -4.5 (-110)
Fading Tomlin in this spot is not the easiest bet to make. But, it's important to remember this is likely the most challenging roster Tomlin has had to work with since he arrived in the Steel City. I think the number is fair, but I have more confidence in Cleveland having enough to put this one away behind running back Nick Chubb. The Browns have averaged 28 points per game through two weeks and their offense, under QB Jacoby Brissett, ranks fourth in both DVOA and EPA per play.
The Browns' defense has been a different story. However, with Trubisky at the helm, I don't see Pittsburgh being able to take advantage. The Steelers' offensive inefficiencies have led to their defense being on the field for 80 plays in the first two weeks. That's more than any other team in the league. In a physical matchup on the road in a short week against a divisional rival, I can certainly see the Browns wearing 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 are used to, so I can't bet them to keep this one close regardless of the weather.
Pittsburgh Steelers team total under 16.5 (+100)
It seems too easy to fade Trubisky right now, but these opportunities don't last forever. Tomlin is going to turn to Kenny Pickett at some point, and then we may never see Trubisky starting again. This offense hasn't accounted for more than 16 points in either of the first 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 key metrics, illustrating how bad the offensive production has been so far:
Yards per play (31st)
First downs per game (31st)
Dropback success rate (25th)
Yards per passing attempt (32nd)
Yards per rush attempt (23rd)
I am betting the Steelers stay under 17 points again. I am not even sure if the quality of defense matters. There is always a chance Tomlin moves to Pickett mid-game, but I am not letting that scenario back me off an otherwise solid bet. If you are concerned a defensive touchdown for the Steelers inflates their total, you can hedge it with a wager on the Pittsburgh defense or special teams to score at +450.
Cleveland moneyline and under 45.5 points (+110)
Parlays are not typically 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 an extra touchdown on an already low total of 38.5 should be more than enough cushion. This season, Brissett and Trubiusky both rank outside the top 25 in average yards per pass attempt. That's not going to get better in the face of windy conditions. So if you like Cleveland to win but are apprehensive about laying the 4.5, this bet makes a lot of sense.
Stats provided by football outsiders, clevanalytics, rbsdm, and pff.com.