Broncos-Browns best bets: Injuries cloud Week 7's opener
It's a meeting of former Minnesota Vikings quarterbacks to kick off Week 7 in the NFL, as Teddy Bridgewater leads the Denver Broncos - looking to snap a three-game losing skid - into battle with Case Keenum and the injury-ravaged Cleveland Browns.
Here's how we're betting Broncos-Browns:
C Jackson Cowart: Under 41
Most of the attention heading into Thursday's contest revolves around Keenum, and deservedly so. The journeyman QB hasn't started a game since 2019 and posted a sub-50 QBR in each of his last two seasons as a starter, while the Browns scored 14 points a week ago, even with starter Baker Mayfield taking most of the snaps before his injury.
Let's not forget that Cleveland isn't the only team dealing with an injured quarterback, though. Three weeks after getting forced out of the game with a concussion, Bridgewater is also battling a foot injury that could hamper him Thursday, which is the last thing Denver's offense can afford. Since walloping the lowly Giants, Jaguars, and Jets in the first three weeks, the Broncos are averaging 16.7 points per game and are coming off a contest in which they produced four turnovers and converted just 6-of-17 tries on third and fourth down.
I still have faith in Vic Fangio's defense to make life difficult on Keenum in his first start in years, which is exacerbated by injuries to star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and three starters along Cleveland's offensive line. This Browns defense is also better than it has looked in recent weeks against juggernaut offenses and should contain a mostly ineffective Denver offense.
Alex Moretto: Melvin Gordon under 40.5 rush yards
A lot is working against Gordon here to make this an attractive bet, despite him going over this total in three of his last four games. The way to attack the Browns is through the air, and the Broncos - who rank 19th in the league in rush-play percentage - are comfortable going with a volume passing attack to do just that. Cleveland ranks third in the league in yards per rush allowed, so we can expect a healthy dose of Bridgewater in this one, who is supposed to be active tonight.
When the Browns do run the ball, Gordon's best-case scenario is to collect about half of the team's carries. He hasn't received more than 10 carries in a game since Week 3 and continues to trail rushing partner Javonte Williams in terms of efficiency on the ground. Williams has earned more work for himself, and the rookie's role should only grow with each passing week.
The Browns have allowed just one rusher over 40 yards this season when they've gotten fewer than 14 carries - Chase Edmonds went 4-46 in last week's blowout win. Among the notable names to be held under 40 by this Cleveland defense on a smaller workload were Dalvin Cook and David Montgomery, who each finished with 34 yards on nine and 10 carries, respectively.
Matt Russell: D'Ernest Johnson over 59.5 rush yards
This play is all you need to know about this game. We're D'honestly down to D'Ernest when it comes to offensive options to bet on.
This was going to be Broncos +3.5, but Mayfield being officially ruled out moves the line across the key number of -3, and I think this is an overreaction to Keenum getting the start. Part of that feeling is because Johnson, although an unfamiliar name, has shown flashes of brilliance in limited opportunities.
Johnson looked fast and shifty while running for 95 yards on 13 carries against the Cowboys last season in his only game in which he got a decent workload. Understandably, he's buried behind Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, but there's also a reason the Browns haven't made him available to other teams via the practice squad.
As the bell cow, D'Ernest can take some heat off Keenum and clear this relatively low number for a running back in this offense.