Handicapping the AFC Race in Advance of the Thursday Night NFL Pick
New England: at Washington, at Denver, vs. Miami, vs. Buffalo.
Baltimore: vs. Indianapolis, at San Diego, vs. Cleveland, at Cincinnati.
Pittsburgh: vs. Cleveland, at San Francisco, vs. St. Louis, at Cleveland.
Houston: at Cincinnati, vs. Carolina, at Indianapolis, vs. Tennessee.
The odd scenario here is that other than Houston’s game against Cincinnati this week and Pittsburgh’s game at San Francisco next weekend, all four of these teams will be favored in their remaining games. (One can even argue that Houston deserves to be favored at Cincinnati and are getting rather short-changed by Vegas for the T.J. Yates situation despite their amazing running game and stout defense.) The NFL made adjustments to their schedule to have divisional teams playing each other in the final weeks of the season and yet Pittsburgh and Baltimore have already played each other twice.
If it comes down to a tiebreaker situation, both Houston and Baltimore hold the advantage over Pittsburgh based on wins earlier this season. The only advantage Pittsburgh holds is over New England due to their Week 8 win. My money is on Baltimore to be the top seed given their schedule and tie-breaker advantages, but that doesn’t necessarily make them the team to beat. It will, however, be a new situation for Joe Flacco to play playoff games at home. Then again, the whole thing could fall apart and Tim Tebow could lead the Broncos to an AFC crown. That’s why they play the games…
Thursday Night Pick:
PITTSBURGH over Cleveland -14
Just when you thought the Browns were on the rise, they regain their turd-like offensive ways. Maybe there's something to be said for them not being able to compete against an elite defense like the Ravens after successfully moving the ball against a Cincinnati defense missing most of its starting secondary and Jacksonville. The Steelers have kept both opponents under 10 points since their bye week, showing they've returned to elite defensive form. Or maybe the issue for the Browns is locker room-related. With Peyton Hillis back in the fold full time, the Browns didn't seem to have the same fire. It seems as if they can't get rid of the man fast enough.
Pittsburgh offense has become more pass-oriented in recent years, so on first look that might worry you this week. Cleveland’s passing defense limits teams to the least amount of yards in the league, but the number is deceiving. The Browns are the second worst in the league at stopping the run, which gives teams license to control the clock and the flow of the game. The Browns have also faced some of the worst passing offenses in the league this season, which has kept their yardage allowed pretty low. Take a look at these opponents in their last 10 games: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Jacksonville, St. Louis, Houston, San Francisco, Seattle, Oakland, Tennessee, and Miami. The best passing offense on that list is Baltimore and the majority of that group is in the bottom 10 in the league.
The Steelers seem to have a clear advantage in all phases. It’s just a matter of how motivated they are to play. The Thursday night national TV showcase should help that case.
Last Week: 9-7
Overall Record: 92-97-4