Steelers flip to MNF favorites with Browns eliminated
The Pittsburgh Steelers remain in the playoff hunt entering Monday night’s home game against the Cleveland Browns, who have been eliminated from the AFC picture.
The Steelers (7-7-1) are ninth in the AFC standings and must win their final two games and receive some help to land one of the conference’s seven playoff spots. Meanwhile, the Browns (7-8) were officially eliminated over the weekend.
Making the situation dire for Pittsburgh is that eight AFC teams already have at least nine victories, including the Las Vegas Raiders after their victory on Sunday.
Pittsburgh is a 2.5-point favorite at DraftKings, where 65 percent of the bets and 75 percent of the spread-line bets are backing the Steelers. The spread at BetMGM opened with Cleveland favored by 3.0 points but had moved to Pittsburgh minus-2.0 points by Monday morning with 60 percent of the bets and 68 percent of the handle supporting Steelers.
Adding to the atmosphere is the possibility that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be starting the final home game of his career.
The two-time Super Bowl champion is in the homestretch of his 18th season and can feel the clock ticking on his time in Pittsburgh.
“Looking at the bigger picture, I would say that all signs are pointing to this could be it,” the 39-year-old veteran said Thursday. “Regular season, that is — I know we still have a chance to potentially get a playoff game there if things fall our way and we take care of business and things have to happen.”
Roethlisberger ranks fifth in NFL history with 63,721 passing yards and eighth with 416 passing touchdowns. This season, he has passed for 3,373 yards with 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
With the crucial game looming, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who arrived in 2007, wasn’t ready to take a full trip down memory lane.
“To be honest with you, we don’t have enough time,” Tomlin said. “I mean, I’ve experienced 15 years of Hall of Fame-caliber play as it pertains to Ben. My focus and his focus this week is this game and preparing for this game and performing well in this game.
“I’m sure there will be an appropriate time in the future where I’ll get an opportunity to sing his praises, and I will gladly do so.”
Tomlin’s attention is on getting the Steelers out of a funk that has seen them go 2-4-1 over the past seven games. The Browns can relate, as they have dropped two straight contests and three of their past four.
Each of Cleveland’s last two defeats was by two points — to the Raiders in Week 15 and to Green Bay Packers last week.
Three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Myles Garrett (career-best 15 sacks) is highly aggravated over his team’s plight.
“If you’re a Browns fan, you’re frustrated,” Garrett said. “If you’re a Browns player, you’re frustrated. If you have anything to do with us, you know that. We’ve had chances, we just haven’t converted or capitalized. I can’t tell you how frustrated we are or I am.”
Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield has come under fire for a subpar season in which he has 15 touchdown passes against 11 interceptions. Mayfield was picked off four times in the loss at Green Bay, and his wife, Emily, said her husband received death threats after the contest.
Baker Mayfield also has been booed at home for the first time in his four-year NFL career.
“There have been a lot of firsts for me this year, but that comes with the territory of the position that I’m in,” Mayfield said on Thursday. “I have to handle it the best I possibly can.”
Mayfield passed for 225 yards in a 15-10 loss to the Steelers on Oct. 31, when Pittsburgh scored the final 12 points. Roethlisberger passed for 266 yards and the go-ahead touchdown.
Cleveland activated four players from the COVID-19 protocol on Thursday, including center JC Tretter. Garrett (groin) was a limited practice participant while running back Kareem Hunt (ankle) was among the Browns who sat out.
Hunt was officially listed as questionable on Saturday along with defensive tackle Malik Jackson (knee). Cleveland will be without starting safeties Ronnie Harrison and John Johnson III (hamstring) and cornerback Troy Hill (knee).
For Pittsburgh, linebacker Buddy Johnson (foot) was the only player ruled out. Center Kendrick Green (calf) and punter Pressley Harvin III (personal/illness) are questionable.
–Field Level Media