NFL upset of the week: Browns live to make SNF statement
Hand up, we were just a tad off with our live underdog last week.
It's actually a testament to how well the season is going (plus-6.9 units) when our pick doesn't come close to winning, let alone covering - like the exception that proves the rule. That's especially true when the other three upsets we liked got the money on Sunday.
In hindsight, we should have put the Houston Texans in this space, but even knowing that result after the fact, it still sounds implausible. There aren't any games this week lined above the Cowboys at -7.5, and for those of us with enough riding on Dallas on Thursday, we'll turn to a shorter underdog in an equally big prime-time spot to pull off an upset many likely won't see coming.
The Cleveland Browns are inconsistent, but at least with inconsistency comes the capability for a high-end performance. After a pair of real snoozers (versus the New England Patriots and Detroit Lions), the Browns find themselves in a big-time matchup they need to win - for both their self-respect and standing - against a team that's quietly reeling, with a defense that's shown a tendency to break down.
Browns' offense vs. Ravens' defense
Every Browns game comes down to whether they can play relatively mistake-free on offense and use their vaunted run game to create breakdowns in the secondary. Nick Chubb was back in the lineup last week, and it looks as if his running mate is coming back for Sunday Night Football.
Kareem Hunt has been out for over a month but said he's ready to "bring the fire" against the Baltimore Ravens. D'Ernest Johnson did well in place of Hunt, but there's something neither he nor Chubb can do as well as Hunt: catch the ball out of the backfield. In 19 combined games, Chubb and Johnson have 21 receptions. Hunt has 20 catches in the six games he's played.
When a quarterback is battling an assortment of injuries that have an effect on his accuracy, having his top-notch weapon out of the backfield is a game-changer for an offense that thrives on multiple tight-end and running-back sets.
Though the Ravens don't give up a ton of catches to opposing running backs, they're the worst in the league at containing them when they do, giving up 10.91 yards per catch. In fact, the last time these teams met, Hunt came oh-so close to leading the game in receiving yardage.
The Ravens' defense has been painful to watch lately. It may have gone under the radar Sunday in a win during which Baltimore gave up just 13 points, but the struggling Chicago Bears offense was good enough for 6.2 yards per play - including what appeared to be a game-winning touchdown on a coverage breakdown. That comes after the Miami Dolphins' offense was good enough for an above-average output of 5.6 yards per play in beating Baltimore.
Ravens' offense vs. Browns' defense
We can't take anything from last week's offensive output by the Ravens with Tyler Huntley under center. Lamar Jackson is on the mend, but with the Browns' ability to get pressure without blitzing, they can mimic some of the things the Dolphins were able to do to contain the Ravens star within the pocket.
Though the Browns weren't able to do that in last season's game of the year candidate in Cleveland, the Ravens haven't experienced the same level of effectiveness from their running backs this season thanks to the rash of injuries at the position.
Devonta Freeman and Latavius Murray combined for 26 carries last week against a Bears run defense that was missing its best run-stopper in Akiem Hicks. They churned out just 3.2 yards per carry, and their longest run was 10 yards. Much of the Ravens' running stats have been padded by two games: a blowout of the Los Angeles Chargers' weak run defense and a contest in which Baltimore wore down the Minnesota Vikings in the fourth quarter and overtime.
As usual, the Ravens should be able to score via the sheer ability of Jackson, but it won't come easy, nor will it be as intimidating as it has in the past against the Browns. Meanwhile, the best thing the Ravens do is force field goals when teams are in the red zone, but the Browns' options in tight should allow them to convert at a high rate, making them live to win outright.
Pick: Browns +170
Matt Russell is a betting writer for theScore. If there’s a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on Twitter @mrussauthentic.