2002 Season NFL Football Past Picks
January 05, 2003
This pick was released to clients on August 13, 2012 at 4:59PM ET.
Cleveland at Pittsburgh
Sunday 01/05 01:00 PM Eastern
4 units on Cleveland +8 (-110) (risk 4 to return 7.64) RESULT: WIN
Nobody’s giving Cleveland much of a chance in this one. Having lost both contests this year to the Steelers, they are the only touchdown-plus underdog this week. That’s a lot of points for this Cleveland team as I will explain.
As I mentioned in last week’s newsletter, the Browns under Butch Davis have had 18 of 32 games decided in the final minute. If that trend plays out here, Cleveland will cover in this game. Both games between these two clubs this year were decided by three points.
The Browns won five of their last seven games to squeak into the playoffs after a 4-5 start. Cleveland will be starting QB Kelly Holcomb who didn’t look great last week but managed to pull out an important victory. He also played well at the beginning of the year and comes into this game with a healthy 92.9 QB rating which dwarfs starting QB Tim Couch’s 76.8 rating. It is even better than his opponent, Pittsburgh’s Tommy Maddox, with a rating of 85.2! By Sunday I believe Holcomb will have shaken off the rust that was evident last week.
I have made a big deal about home field advantage in the playoffs. But the Browns are an incredible 6-2 on the road this year (the two losses came against two playoff teams - Tampa Bay and this Pittsburgh squad). Eight points is a lot. In their seven losses this season, Cleveland’s average loss was by only 5.4 points and they have lost only one game this year by more than 7 points.
Despite the fact that my power ratings tell us Cleveland is underrated here, I am still a bit nervous about picking the Browns. Pittsburgh is far superior on the ground both offensively and defensively. The Steelers averaged 131 ypg on the ground and gave up only 86 per game while Cleveland averaged only 102 ypg offensively and gave up 130 per game. These stats are somewhat mitigated by the fact that both teams are about the same in yards per rush (4.0 for Cleveland vs. 4.1 for Pittsburgh). The point is that Cleveland can have success on the ground if they stay committed to the running game as they have recently with William Green who is averaging 100+ yards per game in the second half of the season.
Underdogs of 7+ points in their first playoff game have done pretty well against the spread and, as mentioned above regarding Atlanta, “new” teams in the playoffs fight really hard and are 86% against the spread in their first game.
I am going to make Cleveland a pick in this one, expecting them to keep it under a touchdown.
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