What could be more exciting than the Browns on national TV? Well, I could list a thousand things but, by that point, you’ll have dozed off and won’t get the great information below. So, let’s just cut to the chase in the Art Modell Bowl.
LINE: Baltimore – 13 (-105); Cleveland +13 (-115) OVER/UNDER: 44; Over -115, Under -105
With Cleveland’s futility in what seems like the past millennium one thing is generally overlooked: The Browns play pretty solid defense year after year. The unit isn’t one of the league’s best, but it’s not one of the worst and, more times than not, it’ll find a way to stifle a potent offense. Going back to last season the Browns have slowed 20 or fewer points four times (Cleveland allowed 24 and 34 in the other two games). It held Baltimore to 20 points late last season and Pittsburgh to 13 in the 2011 season finale. The Eagles, you know, the 2011 Dream Team, scored a measly 17 points against Cleveland in this year’s opener.
Now, don’t take this to mean Cleveland’s defense could pitch a shutout tonight. That’s not going to happen. But if weather conditions aren’t great this could be a slug-it-out game played in the teens.
In this series the road team is 5-0 ATS in the last five meetings. The Browns are also 4-0-1 ATS in their last five as a road ‘dog. It’s just another example of how Cleveland’s recent struggles carry a heavy underdog perception, especially on the road. And, as mentioned above, the Browns defense usually keeps them in the game and away from blowouts.
Some Ravens trends to digest: Baltimore isn’t often a double-digit home favorite. Usually that was because the Flacco-led offense scores nearly 20 points per contest. With an opening-night offensive outburst (44-13 vs. Cincinnati) oddsmakers have been forced to respect the Baltimore O a little more. That being said, the Ravens are 0 for their last five ATS as a 10.5 or greater home favorite.
The other interesting note with Baltimore is how the usually-stout defensive Ravens have been riding the over on the total all season. If you include the preseason (just for kicks), the Ravens have gone over the total in 6 of 7 games – the lone under was 39 points scored with a total set at 39.5.
Baltimore has won the last eight games in the series, dating back to 2008. The last two games played in Baltimore have been 7- and 6-point Baltimore victories. Ironically, both spreads were similar to tonight’s (12 and 12.5, respectively).
Baltimore’s offense has been carrying the team this season and that will likely be the case tonight, even against the struggling youthfulness of Cleveland. Outside of that early-season dismantling of Cincinnati the Ravens have played in a pair of one-point games. Even a 24-23 loss, while it’s not on indictment on the defense, looks bad when it came one week after Cleveland lost to the same team 17-16. And last week’s win against New England, a 31-30 winner at the buzzer, was all thanks to the offense. How many times in the past decade has Baltimore surrendered 30 points and won?
Cleveland’s star CB Joe Hayden is out for tonight’s game, which will be a huge void Joe Flacco will try to exploit. Don’t be shocked, however, if another Brown steps up in this type of situation. But, to keep the ball out of Flacco’s hands, look for Cleveland to turn this into a low-possession game by using Trent Richardson to pound the rock between the tackles. If Cleveland can keep Baltimore to some early field goals and avoid a big hole the running game will be the great equalizer here. When you’re down two touchdowns early it’s tough to stay committed to the run. That would explain why T-Rich only had 12 carries last week. If he can get closer to 20-25 tonight that’ll bode well for Cleveland for many reasons.
As Jamie pointed out in his player props post this morning, Ray Rice is a solid bet to rush near 100 yards against the Browns. He’ll do most of his work, however, on the ground as he’s not a big receiving threat against Cleveland (20 catches for 138 yards in eight games). Still, Rice will be a big key if Flacco looks closer to the 2011 version than the 2012 version he’s resembled so far.
When you find an underdog you like you have to take the bait. That’s what we have here in Cleveland. This is a big spread and one that, based on the numbers, is well deserved. That doesn’t mean the Browns will play along with national perception. It’ll be a chilly night in Baltimore and that will keep the scoring lower than expected. Cleveland won’t win this game – it could, but that would be the biggest upset to date in the NFL – it should be within a touchdown most of the night. Take the Browns +13 and the under in a Thursday Night Double Book It!