Author's Note: Two stats that I will be referencing throughout this weekly matchups column are Yards Per Point (YPP). and DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average). The goal of YPP is for an offense or defense to make the most of their opportunities when it comes to scoring points, but there are some important things that YPP doesn’t account for that DVOA does. In fact, DVOA accounts for everything YPP does plus important factors like turnovers, field position (where your drive starts) and special teams.
These stats not only play a big part in scoring/preventing points, but they also play a big part in winning/covering spreads. With these statistics, my goal is to help us figure out which are the teams that are the most efficient at scoring AND at preventing points. A quick primer on YPP and its importance in our handicapping: One of, if not THE most powerful measuring statistics in football, to measure how great an offense or defense is (or isn’t), in my opinion, is Yards Per Point (YPP). Yards Per Point is effective because it measures how many yards an offense gains before they score a point. A different stat that is regularly used by handicappers isYards Per Play, which only takes into account how many yards an offense gains and not its scoring. Gaining yards is a good thing to measure, sure, but in this world, we need to score points, and it does us no favors if a team gains yards without producing those points.
This is where YPP will come into play for us. For an offense, the lower the YPP is, the better. Between 10-13 is a very good YPP number for an NFL offense, while 14-15 is average and 16 or lower I consider to be below average for an NFL offense. For defenses, the higher the YPP number is, the better. A defense with a high YPP doesn’t give up a lot of points for the yards that are gained against them. Throughout our weekly matchups column I will reference this stat quite often here.
Browns (+6) @ Steelers
In Week 17 the Cleveland Browns beat the Pittsburgh Steelers by just two points in order to make the playoffs as a wild card, but the win came against a majority of Pittsburgh backup players as the Steelers rested a lot of key guys with a home playoff game already wrapped up. I believe that the Steelers will benefit from that decision greatly, as they were one of the only teams that didn’t have a true bye week during the regular season. The lack of a bye week showed in a handful of their regular season games, too, especially against the Washington Football Team, Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals. Pittsburgh's offense couldn’t get in any type of rhythm in those games, with its wide receivers constantly dropping routine passes and its defense looking slow in making key adjustments. All in all, the decision that head coach Mike Tomlin made to rest a lot of his players this past week should do this Pittsburgh team some good.
Even in a losing effort in Week 17, the Steelers still managed to out-gain the Browns by 36 yards overall and even averaged more yards per play despite being led under center by Mason Rudolph. The difference in that game was Cleveland winning the turnover battle, which led to running the ball for 192 yards and 6.2 yards per carry. Again though, that rushing production mostly came against backups for this Steelers defense for the majority of the game. In these teams' first divisional matchup, the Browns only rushed for 75 yards on 3.4 yards per carry, gaining just 220 yards of total offense and scored only seven points. This should be a great spot for a rested defense re-inserting its starters against their AFC North division rivals.
On the other side of the ball, the Browns' top strength remains in their running game, one that ranks third in the league IN gaining 148.4 yards per game behind Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The loss of starting left guard and three-time pro bowler Joel Bitonio (COVID-19) will cause a major blow to the Cleveland Browns' offensive line, however, and that's without mentioning the wild card weekend loss of head coach Kevin Stefanski due to COVID. After years of searching for the right head coach to turn their team around and help guide them back to a winning franchise, the Browns finally found the right guy in Stefanski as he led them to a 10-6 record and helped Baker Mayfield become a more consistent quarterback in his system. The pairing of Stefanski and Mayfield has been a great fit, and I expect the Browns to be at a big disadvantage if this game continues as scheduled with both Bitonio and Stefanski not being present.
This line opened around Steelers -4, and it has since been bet up to -6 once the COVID news started to come out. I still see value in this number all the way up to Steelers -9, however, so I’d still lay the points and look for a rejuvenated Ben Roethlisberger to play well coming off a nice week of much-needed rest.
Like: Steelers -6