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AFC Wild Card Preview: Steelers vs. Browns

The Pittsburgh Steelers will host the Cleveland Browns as part of AFC Wild Card Weekend on Sunday, Jan. 10, at 8:15 p.m. Here is a preview of the matchup as well as a prediction for our gambling friends out there. Are you wondering about each team’s recent playoff history, storylines to watch for, how the two teams match up, and how to bet this game? Don’t worry, here at Overtime Heroics, we’ve got you covered!

Steelers & Browns Playoff History

AFC Wild Card
PITTSBURGH, PA – DECEMBER 01: Joe Haden #23 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates with teammates after an interception in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Browns on December 1, 2019 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

The Steelers’ last time made the playoffs was three years ago, at the tail end of the “Killer B’s” era. The most recent playoff victory for Pittsburgh came against the Kansas City Chiefs in 2016.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns are making their first playoff appearance since 2002 and have won a postseason game dating back to 1994 when Bill Belichick was their head coach.

Steelers & Browns This Season

The Steelers are 1-1 against the Browns this season, although the numbers do not tell the story. When these two teams met for the first time in Week 6, Pittsburgh absolutely demolished Cleveland by a score of 38-7.

The two rivals met again last week, but each team’s situation couldn’t have been more different. Mike Tomlin’s squad had virtually nothing to play for and therefore elected to rest several key players, with Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey, Cam Heyward, and T.J. Watt not even making the trip to Cleveland. The Steelers’ good news is that they will be getting these four healthy scratches back in action for the AFC Wild Card matchup. However, the bad news for the Steelers is cornerback Joe Haden, who will miss the Wild Card game due to a positive COVID test.

AFC Wild Card Steelers vs. Browns –Critical Matchups:

Alejandro Villanueva vs. Myles Garrett

As much as Alejandro Villanueva is a great person with a fantastic background story, it is also fair to say that he is one of the weaker links on the Steelers offensive line. Villanueva also plays a critical position, with the left tackle being responsible for guarding Ben Roethlisberger’s blindside. On Sunday, Al will be responsible for keeping superstar defensive end Myles Garrett off his quarterback. If Garrett can wreak havoc in the Steeler’s backfield consistently, then it will be a long and ugly night for Pittsburgh.

Ben Roethlisberger vs. Baker Mayfield

Ah, yes! And here we have it: the traditional quarterback matchup. Whichever quarterback plays better, their team will have a better shot at winning. Can Ben regain his touch on his deep passes? Can Mayfield provide enough production to give the Browns a chance? Which signal-caller will do a better job of protecting the football and limiting their mistakes?

Steelers Pass Rushers vs. Browns Offensive Line

Led by potential defensive player of the year TJ Watt, the Pittsburgh Steelers have one of the elite pass rushing corps in the league. This is true even factoring in the loss of Bud Dupree, as Alex Highsmith has filled in admirably.

AFC Wild Card
PITTSBURGH, PA – OCTOBER 18: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns in action during the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on October 18, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

AFC Wild Card X-Factor:

Minkah Fitzpatrick

One of my biggest concerns with the Steelers this week will be the absence of Joe Haden, who tested positive for COVID-19 and will need to isolate for ten days due to the league’s coronavirus health and safety protocols. The Steelers will miss Haden, especially against a talented Cleveland receiving corps. Minkah Fitzpatrick will be vital for the Steelers. They will be counting on the superstar safety to protect the middle of the field and cover any possible mistakes that Haden’s backup(s) may make. 

Fitzpatrick is an incredible player, but I think he will have to elevate his game this week to help make up for the loss of Haden. In this AFC Wild Card game, I envision Fitzpatrick at his best playing a role similar to Earl Thomas-circa 2013, where Fitzpatrick will need to lock down half the field, covering center field and providing assistance to one CB, while Steven Nelson will have to do his part and cover his side of the field.

AFC Wild Card Steelers vs. Browns Prediction:

I think Cleveland will hang tough for the first half, but there will be a critical drive where Pittsburgh will earn a vital stop courtesy of a sack by either T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, or even a well-timed Mike Hilton blitz. The Steelers seem to have a knack for dialing up a blitz from Hilton at the perfect times, and I think he will make at least one momentum-swinging play throughout this game.

Watt and Heyward both have a reputation for coming up big when it matters the most, and I think that there will be at least one critical drive in the AFC Wild Card game where those two defensive anchors will make timely plays. Roethlisberger will then lead the offense down the field for a decisive touchdown drive to ice the game.

AFC Wild Card
PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – OCTOBER 18: James Washington #13 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates with JuJu Smith-Schuster #19 after a 28-yard touchdown against the Cleveland Browns during their NFL game at Heinz Field on October 18, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Betting Lines for AFC Wild Card Steelers-Browns (all odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook & Casino)


Steelers -6 (-112)

Browns +6 (-109)


Over 47 (-110)

Under 47 (-110)


Steelers -275

Browns +235

How to Bet on AFC Wild Card Steelers vs. Browns (all odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook & Casino)

I am confident that Pittsburgh will win the game; however, I have concerns about Tomlin’s squad covering the spread. These concerns are due to both injuries and players missing the game with COVID-19 positive test results and the lesser impact of home-field advantage because of the lack of fans in the stands. Take the points in anticipation of the Steelers in this AFC Wild Card game winning by less than a touchdown.

Thanks for reading my analysis on the upcoming AFC Wild Card game between the Browns and Steelers! Follow me on Twitter @Drooney_TOS for more of my content, and follow @OT_Heroics!

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AFC Wild Card
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – DECEMBER 06: Rashard Higgins #82 of the Cleveland Browns celebrates with quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 after catching a pass for a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans in the second quarter at Nissan Stadium on December 06, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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