Pittsburgh to Steal Cleveland’s Playoff Dream

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An all-AFC North showdown between rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns is the standout game as the NFL wild card round concludes on Sunday.

Ben Roethlisberger

The NFL wild card round wraps up on Sunday with three more games, including an all-AFC North showdown between bitter rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns.

The Browns are making their first appearance in the playoffs for 18 years but face an uphill battle to avoid being one-and-done in the postseason after being hit by a spate of Covid and injury problems. Not only are Cleveland missing a large number of players but they will also be without head coach Kevin Stefanski after he tested positive for Covid this week.

Despite the odds being stacked against the Browns, who are 23/10 underdogs, Pittsburgh would be wise not to underestimate their divisional rivals having struggled for form since the start of December.

Browns Won’t Go Down Without a Fight

The Steelers had looked set to run away with the AFC North title when starting the regular season 11-0, only to lose four of their final matches as they crawled across the finish line. Their latest defeat came at the hands of Cleveland, going down 24-22 to the Browns in Week 17.

However, Pittsburgh rested a number of their starters for that game having secured their playoff spot the week before and will have taken confidence from running Cleveland so close with their back-ups in a rare loss to the Browns. This is a series the Steelers have dominated for the last 20 years, going 38-7-1 since the turn of the millennium, while they have won 16 of the last 17 games against Cleveland at Heinz Field.

The Steelers looked a class above the Browns when they met for the first time this season back in Week 6, crushing them 38-7. However, Pittsburgh were at the peak of their powers at that point, the defense playing exceptionally well to limit the Browns, while quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the offense were perfectly in sync.

Pittsburgh’s offense has dropped off during the Steelers poor run though, failing to break the 30-point barrier in seven straight games, while the defense has slowed down slightly. Were it not for all of Cleveland’s absentees, they’d have a chance at pulling off the upset but they might still have enough in the tank to cover the six-point handicap at 25/26.

Running-back Nick Chubb took the fight to Pittsburgh last week, rushing for 104 yards and a touchdown, and he’s 20/21 to get in the end zone at anytime for the seventh straight game.

Titans Fear Ravens Revenge

Sunday’s slate of wild card games kick-offs with Baltimore’s trip to Tennessee as the Titans go in search of a third successive win over the Ravens. These two met in the playoffs last year with Tennessee pulling off the upset, while they also won the Week 11 encounter between the pair this season.

Despite their recent record, the Titans are the 27/20 underdogs to advance to the next round with Baltimore coming into the game in red hot form. The Ravens won their final five games to secure a playoff spot, destroying several teams along the way as they ended the regular season with the best points differential in the league.

After a rocky start, Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson looks back to his MVP-level from last season and is 5/6 to have over 76.5 rushing yards, a total he has surpassed in four of the last five weeks. Jackson should enjoy facing a Titans defence that struggles to stop both the pass and the run, giving up over 30 points in four of their last five games.

With the defense struggling, Tennessee have leaned heavily upon their offense, in particular running-back Derrick Henry, who became only the eighth running back in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards this season. He’ll need to have a big game to keep the Titans in contention and if he does perform, look for Tennessee to put up over 25.5 points at 50/59.

Saints Seek Bears Marker

The most one-sided wild card match of the weekend sees the New Orleans Saints play host to the Chicago Bears, who are 10-point underdogs. The Bears scrapped into the playoffs at 8-8 after winning three of their last four matches, a rejuvenated Mitchell Trubisky and an improved running game getting the offense going just when they needed it most.

That new-look offense will be put to the test by a Saints defense that ranked in the top five against both the run and pass during the regular season, giving up the fourth-fewest points per game on average. On the flip side, the offense is set to welcome back star running-back Alvin Kamara after he recovered from Covid, while Michael Thomas will also return from an ankle injury.

That duo are significant upgrades to quarterback Drew Brees’ offensive arsenal and give the Saints a shot at covering the sizeable handicap at 20/21. Brees tends to perform well against the Bears, winning the last five meetings and throwing for 10 touchdowns in the process. The veteran QB threw for 280 yards when these two sides meet in Week Eight of the season and he’s 20/23 to have over 265.5 passing yards against a Bears defence missing a few key pieces.

*All odds correct at time of writing

Chris is broadcast and written journalist with a wealth of experience, across a number of different sports. As well covering football on the radio, he is a regular online and print contributor on the likes of rugby union, American Football and Formula One.

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