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MNF Week 2: Browns-Steelers Preview, Props, Prediction

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) celebrates after running on a 2-point conversion in the fourth quarter of the NFL Week 1 game between the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium in downtown Cleveland on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023. The Browns dealt the Bengals a 24-3 loss to begin the season.
Credit: Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

The NFL’s Week 2 “Monday Night Football” doubleheader concludes when Cleveland travels to take on its bitter AFC North rival in Pittsburgh.

The Browns opened this season with a stunning 24-3 home win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Meanwhile, the Steelers struggled offensively during a 30-7 home loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

QUICK PICK
The Browns are consensus two-point favorites, despite the uncertain status of No. 1 receiver Amari Cooper, who aggravated a hamstring injury in practice on Saturday.

Sunday proved that over-reactions from Week 1 were in full force around the NFL. The Steelers can’t afford to drop their second consecutive home game to open the season, much less against a division rival.

They beat the Browns 28-14 at home to close out the 2022 season.

Prediction: Steelers 23, Browns 20

PROP PICK
The Over/Under opened at 42.5 points at BetMGM, but had shifted to 38.5 by early Monday afternoon. That’s likely due in part to Cooper’s status, and the Under has drawn 63 percent of the money.

There’s enough offensive firepower on both sides – even if Cooper is out for Cleveland and Dionte Johnson for Pittsburgh — to lean toward the Over.

PROP PICK II
The most popular player prop at DraftKings has been Steelers running back Najee Harris to have more than 13.5 rushing attempts at -120. He had only six carries in Pittsburgh’s blowout loss, with Jaylen Warren getting the only other three carries.

Harris topped 13 carries in five of Pittsburgh’s final six games and seven of the final nine last season. The Steelers will lean far more on the ground game in Week 2 in what should be a close battle with both teams fighting for field position, so we like the Over on Harris’ workload.

THE NEWS
The Cleveland Browns haven’t started a season with two straight victories since the franchise returned to the NFL in 1999.

The Browns (1-0) look to end that dismal streak when they visit the Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1) in an AFC North clash on Monday night.

Cleveland didn’t have a team from 1996-98 after the club moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens. The last 2-0 start in Cleveland was in 1993 when Bill Belichick was head coach and Nick Saban was defensive coordinator. That team started 3-0.

Of course, Cleveland traditionally struggles in Pittsburgh and has dropped 23 of its past 25 visits. Ironically, one of the two Browns’ victories during the stretch came in the AFC wild-card game after the 2020 season.

“That’s a very impressive stat for them,” Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson said Thursday. “But when we go in there, we can’t think about that stat.

“It’s the 2023 year and we can’t focus on the past. We got to try to break that tradition they have going. It’s not going to be easy. It’s definitely going to be a tough task. I think we have the team that can go in there and do it.”

Pittsburgh will need to be vastly better against a Cleveland defense that limited Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow to 82 yards passing.

The Steelers didn’t pick up a single first down in their first five possessions over the first 28 1/2 minutes against the 49ers before putting together their lone scoring drive with the hurry-up offense.

“Five three-and-outs is not what we expected,” Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Matt Canada said. “… Once that occurred, probably the only high point of the game for us was the two-minute drive.

“We were always playing from behind, did not get into our routine, our plan. So disappointing. You can’t score seven points, can’t do all those things. No secret about that.”

Second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett passed for 232 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

Watson passed for 154 yards, one touchdown and one interception in his season debut. Nick Chubb rushed for 106 yards on 18 carries.

KEY STAT
80.5 – The number of career sacks for Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt, which is tied for the all-time franchise record with James Harrison. Watt had three sacks and a pair of forced fumbles in the opener.

THEY SAID IT
–“We don’t want to look at our film and think too highly of ourselves and look at their film and think too lowly of them. We have to approach this week as its own week.” –Browns linebacker Anthony Walker Jr.

–“We just didn’t execute, honestly. I think it was more us than them. I felt comfortable with what I was seeing, what they were doing. We just didn’t execute.” –Pickett on the Steelers’ offensive struggles in Week 1.

INJURY REPORT
Both teams had key injury losses in Week 1. The Browns lost two-time All-Pro offensive tackle Jack Conklin (knee) to a season-ending injury, while the Steelers lost six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Cameron Heyward (groin) for approximately six weeks and Johnson (hamstring) for multiple weeks.

The Steelers officially ruled out both Johnson and running back Anthony McFarland Jr. (knee) after the two did not participate in practice for the third straight day on Saturday.

Also on Saturday, Browns wide receiver Amari Cooper aggravated his groin during practice and is questionable to play on Monday. Safety Juan Thornhill (calf) and rookie defensive tackle Siaki Ika (foot) also are questionable to play versus Pittsburgh.

–Field Level Media