Another week of NFL begins with the Thursday Night Football which this week takes us to the dog pound as the Cleveland Browns play host to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the latest clash in the competitive AFC North.
Both these teams come into this battle off the back of tough losses last week and the beauty for each of them is that they get an almost immediate chance to put that behind them. Whoever wins here will assume the early lead in the division.
The Cleveland Browns were rocked heading into the season by the suspension of DeShaun Watson which left them on the back foot immediately and they are under pressure for the opening 12 weeks of the campaign to hang tough and give themselves a chance of reaching the playoffs when the suspension of their star quarterback is over. That leaves a lot on the shoulders of Jacoby Brissett, who to be fair to him hasn’t been terrible in the first two weeks.
The problem Cleveland have here is they must know that they should be going into this game 2-0 for the season but they allowed the New York Jets to hang around last week and paid the price late on. Worse still for the Browns is they lost a couple of key cogs from their defensive line so they might not have the personnel to put the quarterback under pressure and that will test out a secondary which Joe Flacco just took to the cleaners.
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This always felt like it was going to be a tricky season for the Pittsburgh Steelers as they look to transition away from the now retired Ben Roethlisberger and a tough campaign got a whole lot harder in the first week of the season when TJ Watt went down and the difference in their pass rush from the opening game to the second was chalk and cheese. The Steelers had Joe Burrow on toast in the first game but barely laid a glove on Mac Jones last week.
Pittsburgh showed in that first week of the season that they can still deliver big results. They beat the beaten Super Bowl team from last term in Cincinnati Bengals but then couldn’t get anything going on offense against the New England Patriots last week. That defeat probably generated more questions than answers, not least is Mitchell Trubisky really the man to take them forward. I’m not convinced he is but he is going to get another chance to prove himself here.
For all that these two teams are operating with middle of the road quarterbacks at best at the present time, I do still think there is the potential for points in this match. The Cleveland running game is operating to a high level but their defence isn’t playing all that well and without a couple of missing pieces from the defensive line it might be that they struggle to get to Trubisky in this match and while he is unlikely to gash them with big plays, he could mount enough short plays up to make a difference.
Pittsburgh aren’t defending a great deal better and with no TJ Watt in the side they are not guaranteed to get near Brissett either. While Brissett clearly isn’t anything too special, he is going to spend most of the night handing the ball off to his running backs or taking what the Steelers give him to the likes of Amari Cooper and the running backs in the receiving game. You can get 4/5 on over 37 points here and while both offenses can’t be played in the elite category for power the defences might be weakened sufficiently enough to allow the over to land.
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