Frank Doyle previews the 119th playing of the Rust Belt Rivalry this Thursday, a rivalry that Cleveland hasn’t enjoyed in quite some time.
Cleveland returned to the NFL in 1999. There have been 25 games played in the Rust Belt Rivalry since then, and the Browns’ record in those games is a miserable 4-21. That’s depressing.
There was so much hope in Cleveland at the start of the season. Quarterback Colt McCoy reminded Clevelanders of Brian Sipe, the Browns quarterback of the 1970s. Not quite a cannon arm, but moxie to spare. Loads and loads of moxie. And in the backfield, there was Peyton Hillis, cover star of Madden NFL. What could go wrong?
Everything. That’s what could go wrong, and has gone wrong. The Browns are a two touchdown sports betting underdog at Pittsburgh tonight, and it’s only the back door cover that can save them.
Hillis has missed six games this year through injury and sickness (a strep throat apparently diagnosed by his agent, rather than his doctor) and was part of an offense that did absolutely nothing against the Ravens last week.
McCoy is not putting up the numbers, and a niggling knee injury limits him still further tonight. You can have all the moxie in the world but if you can’t move the chains it’s no good to you. To say nothing of needing a little bit of acceleration when James Harrison has busted through the pocket and has set his phaser to kill.
The Browns’ situation is in sharp contrast to the Steelers. The Steelers struggled at the start of the season and have been swept by Baltimore for the first time in five years. But Pittsburgh found its mojo as the temperatures dropped, won eight of its past nine, and is playing as well as ever.
To win, the Browns need to protect McCoy and use Hillis as often as they can, to keep the chains moving and keep Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense off the field. It’s not a likely outcome, because the Browns just aren’t good enough.
Betting over the 39 point total could be the smart play here. The -14 line on the Steelers leaves a bettor vulnerable to the back door cover, but the Steelers could score 39 points on their own against Cleveland. If the Steeler defense takes the fourth quarter off – and those guys aren’t getting any younger, and could do with the rest – Cleveland might get a soft TD to run up the total. It’s something to root for in a game that doesn’t have much going for it otherwise.