PITTSBURGH (3-3) at CLEVELAND (4-3)
Sunday, 1 p.m. EDT, CBS
OPENING LINE: Browns by 3 1/2, according to FanDuel SportsBook.
AGAINST THE SPREAD: Pittsburgh 2-4; Cleveland 4-3.
SERIES RECORD: Steelers lead 77-61-1.
LAST MEETING: Browns beat Steelers 48-37, on Jan. 10 in AFC wild-card game.
LAST WEEK: Steelers had bye, beat Seahawks 23-30, OT, on Oct. 17; Browns beat Broncos 17-14.
STEELERS OFFENSE: OVERALL (27), RUSH (29), PASS (15), SCORING (12).
STEELERS DEFENSE: OVERALL (12), RUSH (12), PASS (15), SCORING (12).
BROWNS OFFENSE: OVERALL (9), RUSH (1), PASS (28), SCORING (17).
BROWNS DEFENSE: OVERALL (2), RUSH (3), PASS (7), SCORING (17).
TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Steelers minus-2; Browns minus-2.
STEELERS PLAYER TO WATCH: RB Najee Harris. The first-round draft pick has seen his production steadily increase through his first six games as a pro, with 30 touches for 127 yards and a touchdown two weeks ago against Seattle. The more effective Harris is, the less the Steelers have to rely on 39-year-old QB Ben Roethlisberger to make things go.
BROWNS PLAYER TO WATCH: RB D'Ernest Johnson. Plugged into the starting lineup last week, Johnson, who was working on a Florida fishing boat before getting his NFL shot, ran for a career-high 146 yards and a touchdown. Even if star Nick Chubb returns after missing two games with a calf strain, Johnson will get plenty of touches.
KEY MATCHUP: Steelers LB T.J. Watt vs. Browns RT Jack Conklin. Assuming he starts, Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield has an injured left shoulder that needs protecting from Watt, who has seven sacks and needs to do even more than usual with Tyson Alualu (ankle) done for the year and Stephon Tuitt (knee surgery) not back yet. Conklin missed the past two games with a knee injury.
KEY INJURIES: Steelers are relatively healthy coming off their bye week. RT Zach Banner will likely be active for the first time since the 2020 season opener now that he's fully recovered from a torn ACL in his right knee. WR Chase Claypool (hamstring) and LB Melvin Ingram (groin) were limited in practice this week but should play. ... Mayfield will start after missing last week due to swelling and limited range of motion. The rest helped and coach Kevin Stefanski said the QB “functionally he's 100%.”... Chubb is also back, but Browns RB Kareem Hunt will miss two more games with a calf issue. ... Browns CB Denzel Ward (hamstring) and WR Donovan Peoples-Jones (groin) are both out. ... DEs Jadeveon Clowney (ankle, groin, knee) and Takk McKinley (groin) and DT Malik Jackson (ankle) all missed time this week and are questionable.
SERIES NOTES: The Steelers have owned the Browns since 1999, going 36-9-1. But Cleveland has won two of the last three including, last season's playoff matchup. The Browns last won three straight in the series 1988-89. ... Browns coach Kevin Stefanski missed last season's playoff game as he was quarantined at home following a positive COVID-19 test.
STATS AND STUFF: Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is one victory shy of tying Hall of Famer Bill Cowher for second on the franchise's all-time win list. Cowher went 149-90-1 from 1992-2006. Tomlin is 148-81-1 since replacing Cowher in 2007. ... Pittsburgh's beleaguered running game is finally gaining traction. The Steelers have gone over 100 yards rushing in each of their last two games after doing it just once in their previous 16. ... Pittsburgh's offensive line could get a boost with Banner's return, which would allow Chukwuma Okorafor to move back to left tackle and replace struggling rookie Dan Moore Jr. ... Pittsburgh typically thrives in October under Tomlin, going 10-2 since 2018. ... The Steelers are still grappling with how to replace WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, lost for the season with a right shoulder injury suffered on Oct. 10. Chase Claypool has been erratic in his second season and caught just two of seven targets against Seattle while also being called for offensive pass interference in the fourth quarter of a tie game. ... Pittsburgh's defense isn't up to its high standards and is struggling to generate turnovers. The Steelers have just five takeaways through six games after producing 27 in 2020. ... Roethlisberger, an Ohio native, has thrived in his home state. Roethlisberger is 25-5-1 all-time Ohio, including 11-2-1 in Cleveland. He hasn't played at FirstEnergy Stadium, however, since 2018. He was injured in 2019 and sat out the 2020 regular-season finale with the AFC North title already secured. ... The Browns are slowly getting healthy after being banged up for weeks. ... This is Cleveland's first AFC North game. Pittsburgh lost to Cincinnati last month. ... Mayfield's streak of consecutive starts ended at 53 when he sat out against the Broncos. ... QB Case Keenum was solid while filling in a week ago in his first start since 2019. He passed for 199 yards, picked up a huge first down with a run and didn't turn over the ball. ... Browns DE Myles Garrett leads the league with 9 1-2 sacks. He has five sacks in six career games against Pittsburgh. He infamously struck Steelers QB Mason Rudolph's with a swung helmet in a 2019 game, drawing a six-game league suspension. ... Cleveland's offensive line is fully intact for the first time since the opener. ... WR Odell Beckham Jr. hasn't had the impact the Browns had hoped. He's been dealing with shoulder injuries since returning from off-season knee surgery. ... Cleveland's kickoff unit is ranked as the league's best with 10 tackles inside the 20 while holding opponents to an average start at the 22-yard line.
FANTASY TIP: With Chubb expected back, Cleveland's potent running game could thrive against Pittsburgh's suspect defensive front. Also, with Hunt still sidelined, Chubb will likely get opportunities inside the 20 that would normally go to his teammate.
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