Steelers look to extend winning streak while Browns hope to climb back into AFC North race
AFC North rivals will kick off Week 11 of the NFL season when the Pittsburgh Steelers face the Cleveland Browns for "Thursday Night Football." This will be the first of two meetings between the teams over the next three weeks, as the Browns will pay a visit to the Steel City in Week 13.
Cleveland (3-6) snapped a four-game losing streak this past Sunday with a 19-16 win over Buffalo, who entered the contest 6-2. Pittsburgh (5-4) ran their winning streak to four in a row with a hard-fought, 17-12 victory at home over the Los Angeles Rams. Since losing their first three games the Steelers are 5-1 and currently hold the second wild-card spot in the AFC. Both teams are trailing Baltimore (7-2) in the AFC North standings.
Pittsburgh hasn't lost to Cleveland since the 2014 season, a stretch of eight games. The teams tied (21-21) in Cleveland to open last season and then the Steelers won seven weeks later, 33-18, in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh at Cleveland
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 14 at 8:20 p.m. ET
TV: FOX/NFL Network
Spread: Cleveland -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Minkah Fitzpatrick's turnover streak
Pittsburgh was looking for a player prior to the trade deadline who could help solidify its secondary – and defense in general. Well, it looks like they found him.
Since the trade was made with Miami for the 2018 first-round pick, the Steelers are 5-2 and the Alabama product is a major reason. In seven games, he's hauled in five interceptions, forced two fumbles, recovered one, and scored two defensive touchdowns.
Baker Mayfield has been susceptible to turnovers this season (12 interceptions, one fumble), so it will be interesting to see if Fitzpatrick can make another game-changing play on Thursday night.
2. Will James Conner play — and be effective?
Since being selected in the third round of the 2017 draft, Conner has been an intriguing player to monitor. While his rookie season included sitting behind Le'Veon Bell, his second year in the league was a breakout.
In 2018, the 24-year-old capitalized on Bell's season-long holdout, totaling 1,470 yards (973 rushing, 497 receiving) and 13 touchdowns while averaging 4.5 yards per carry.
So far, Conner's 2019 season has not been as effective. First off, he's missed the last two games due to an injury to his AC joint. The second issue is that he's only averaged 3.9 yards per carry. With that said, the last outing for the Pitt product was his best, as he racked up 145 yards and a touchdown on the ground against the Miami Dolphins back in Week 8.
Conner was able to practice in full on Tuesday, so it's a good indication he will be able to on Thursday. If he does play, it will be interesting to see how many carries he gets and how effective he will be against a Browns defense that is ranked 27th in the NFL against the run (134.9 ypg). Conner figures to at least share the workload with Jaylen Samuels, who is averaging just 2.2 yards per carry and has been more effective as a receiver (29 rec., 5.8 ypr).
3. Baker Mayfield vs. Mason Rudolph
Mayfield was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft. Rudolph wasn't selected until the third round (No. 76 overall) of that same draft. One would not think it by watching how both quarterbacks have performed to this point, however.
While Mayfield has been prone to turnovers and an overall lack of big plays (has a 9:12 touchdown-to-interception ratio), Rudolph has been fairly effective running the Steelers' offense following the season-ending elbow injury suffered by Ben Roethlisberger.
In seven games (six starts), the 6-foot-5, 235-pound gunslinger out of Oklahoma State has completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 1,330 yards, 11 touchdowns and only four interceptions.
Granted, Rudolph's play has been up and down and what he has been asked to do has been limited. But it will be interesting to see how he continues to progress and how he stacks up against the former top pick in his draft when the two go head-to-head.
This is a really tough game to predict. The Browns are currently 2.5-point home favorites, which in some ways makes sense. But the Pittsburgh defense is playing fantastic football right now and is certainly capable of being the difference in this game.
With that said, Cleveland's offense seems to be on the brink of finally "clicking," which hopefully leads to a nice midseason run of victories as the Browns try to make a second-half push for a playoff berth. Getting a home win against a division rival would go a long way towards making that happen.
Prediction: Browns 21, Steelers 20
— Written by Clint Lamb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ClintRLamb.