After two primetime games that went down to the wire, we finished Week 10 1-1, getting our pick of the week in Seattle +6.5 (printed at +6, discussed at +6.5 on the PFF Forecast). This brings us to 17-10 on the season and 110-91-10 (54.7%) since we started picking games in 2017. This is just noise, but Seattle’s outright win brought us to 4-0 on Monday Night Football, while the Chargers' loss brought us to 1-1 on Thursdays (we are 2-3 on Sunday Night Football after a 2-0 start).
Last week was barren in terms of value on the board, while this week has a little bit more in the way of opportunity. We write up our favorite sides each week, but there are often a few left on the cutting room floor that we discuss only on the PFF Forecast, which streams live on Youtube at 10am-ish on Thursdays and is available wherever you get your pods.
Point (Eric Eager): At first blush, this was not a game where I was expecting to be on the Browns. We’ve liked the Steelers long-term this year, thinking that their defense, development at wide receiver and the failure of the Browns to capitalize on early season projections would catapult Pittsburgh further than they were being handicapped by sportsbooks. That has largely materialized since their 0-3 start, with their defense forcing the second-most turnovers in the league (26) and allowing the fifth-fewest yards per play (5.0).
However, living off of turnovers is something Browns head coach Freddy Kitchens is used to, and much like his stint as an up-and-coming coach in the NFL, he’s aware such a life is short-lived. When one takes a look at Pittsburgh’s feast of their opponents' miscues, it becomes pretty apparent that it’s less brilliant defense and more the sum of sputtering offenses faced during their five wins (Bengals, Chargers, Dolphins, Colts and Rams) than anything process-wise that will predict future success.
But the Cleveland Browns are as blundering as they get, you say. Yes, they have been. Baker Mayfield has generated a turnover-worthy pass at a higher rate than he’s produced a big-time throw (but still at a smaller rate than Mason Rudolph). He’s also been the victim of 10 batted passes and had 15 of his passes dropped. The Steelers are as good as any team at capitalizing on these sorts of miscues. However, counting on miscues to repeat themselves predictively is chasing noise, meaning we’re much more likely to see Mayfield be the best quarterback in this game (by a wide margin) than the captain of an offense incapable of outscoring Rudolph and a Steelers offense (3.5 yards per carry) likely unable to exploit Cleveland's biggest weakness defensively (4.9).
Counterpoint (George Chahrouri): Picture yourself sitting on your couch at 11:50pm (8:50pm on the best coast). You’ve already crushed 18 wings and eaten a whole bag of your favorite chips, perhaps paired with a beverage or five, and you haven’t cleaned anything up yet because you can’t tear yourself away from the pain that is this clash of AFC North juggernauts. The Browns are down by four and Baker Mayfield has just completed a shockingly well-timed up throw to Odell Beckham Jr. that puts the ball at the Steelers' three-yard line with 1:34 on the clock. How do you feel? The answer is: very unwell. There is good reason to be fearful: the Browns have gone from running a draw on fourth and a mile, to turning the ball over on three straight snaps, to lining up to punt on fourth-and-11 but then going for it on fourth-and-16 after a penalty, to turning 12 plays inside the five-yard line into ZERO touchdowns. There are only three offenses that have been more repulsive in the red zone — the Browns are ahead of only the Chargers, Jags and Bengals in expected points added per play in the red zone this season. They might even consider opening a Denny’s in their end zone this week in the hopes that Freddie will be able to let his team in.
The natural assumption is that Baker Mayfield and his two stud receivers, Beckham and Jarvis Landry present star power that Pittsburgh simply doesn’t have. But the style points you get for wearing cool cleats or appearing in every single commercial break (which is awesome and I absolutely would have cashed those checks too) doesn’t get you points on the scoreboard, and this trio has learned that the hard way. So far, Mayfield has an abysmal 77.6 passer rating when targeting those two from a clean pocket (the NFL average rating from a clean pocket is over 100). The Browns just saved their season on accident, don’t expect them to be good all of a sudden.