Free NFL Pick: Pittsburgh at Cleveland 01-02-2010

January 2, 2011

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Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers

Sunday January 2nd, 2010 1:00 PM EST

Line: Pittsburgh -6

Overview:

The Cleveland Browns showed they still had some fight left in them by coming away with four victories in six outings at one point in the season. It appears that fight has vacated Cleveland however, with the Browns losing three in a row, including losses to the Bengals and Bills. The Browns are looking forward to next season already. While they have virtually nothing to play for, a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers would certainly give them a bright spot to end the season with.

The Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t clinched the AFC North just yet. While home field advantage throughout the playoffs may be out the door, a loss and Baltimore win would mean the Steelers would drop drastically in the seeding and would forfeit their first round bye, becoming the away team on Wild Card weekend. This game might not affect getting into the playoffs for Pittsburgh, but it certainly affects how their road will be once they get there.

Keys to the Game:

  • Will Peyton Hillis play? Hillis has been one of the highlights of the 2010 season for Cleveland. The Browns have a rookie quarterback in Colt McCoy and having a threat in the backfield pays dividends for an inexperienced quarterback. Hillis is listed as questionable. While he probably would see limited success against the number one run defense in the NFL, selling play action and a narrowed playbook makes it even more challenging for Cleveland, should Hillis sit.
  • Ben Roethlisberger has only thrown three touchdowns in his last five games, but the Steelers have still managed to win in four games during that stretch. The passing game with Mike Wallace and Hines Ward has taken a back seat to Rashard Mendenhall and the running game the last few weeks. The offense as a whole has slowed down, which may be a cause for concern as we are in January. Some may say Big Ben needs rest as the Steelers head into the playoffs, but the Steelers would be kicking themselves if they missed an opportunity to lock down home field advantage because they wanted to rest him this week, rather than next week.

Key Matchup:

Colt McCoy Vs. Pittsburgh’s Defense

  • I usually don’t like including an entire offense or defense in the Key Matchup section, but it is warranted in this case. The Steelers have the most intimidating defense in the NFL. A young quarterback running away from a front seven featuring James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons, among others, can easily be a recipe for disaster. Colt McCoy shows promise, but if this game gets out of control it will be because McCoy becomes frazzled in the pocket.

Wrap Up:

Troy Polamalu is questionable, which would usually mean I might go the other way when assessing a Steelers game where they are giving up six. The Steelers are on the road, but they need this victory more than the Browns do. They are playing all of their healthy starters and don’t want to see the ramifications of a loss to Cleveland. Pittsburgh should coast to a victory here, despite the short leash Mike Tomlin is likely to have on his starters, should this game get out of control.

Free NFL Pick: Pittsburgh -6


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