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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, September 26, 2012 at 9:28 PM

Just what the league needs. Amidst a ton of negative publicity about mistakes made by replacement refs, you’re not going to make fans forget about what’s going on by showing them the Cleveland Browns! And, that may be especially true on a Thursday Night when early season indicators suggest that offenses are having troubles getting prepared in the short week.

If Green Bay can struggle…if Cam Newton looks helpless…if Chicago had the stats of a team playing in a blizzard though the weather was great…what’s going to happen when the horrible Browns offense has to play on the road against a Super Bowl contender?

Maybe it won’t be so bad in terms of having a shot to win. Baltimore is also dealing with a short week, and is coming off a pair of nailbiter thrillers with Super Bowl contenders Philadelphia and New England. We’ve all seen enough NFL action to know that superior teams play flat when the juices aren’t flowing. San Francisco just lost to Minnesota after a great start. New England couldn’t even win outright at home vs. Arizona at a spread near this one.

You just never know in the NFL. Let’s see what our key stats say about any upset potential in this matchup. 



Las Vegas Spread: Baltimore by 12.5, total of 43.5

The market sees a two-touchdown victory for the hosts. It’s hard to argue with that based on pure Power Ratings. Baltimore is a definitely threat for the Super Bowl. Cleveland looks to be one of the bottom five teams in the league at the moment…with a shot at being the very worst before it’s all said and done. Things are relatively condensed right now in the NFL, with 10 points being a pretty fair assessment of best to worst. Throw in three for home field advantage, and you’re right at the Vegas assessment. That 43.5 on the total is low for this new look Baltimore offense given their no-huddle style. But, Cleveland’s offense is so bad that Baltimore can put up some big numbers but still keep the game Under with something like 35-6 or 31-10. The Giants had a big game last Thursday but the full game only landed on 43.



Cleveland: 0-3 (vs. Philadelphia, at Cincinnati, vs. Buffalo)

Baltimore: 2-1 (vs. Cincinnati, at Philadelphia, vs. New England)

Baltimore could be 3-0, though some think they’re really 1-2 given the closeness of their game-winning field goal over New England. The key to remember is that they’ve played a very tough opening schedule. They have the look of a 12-4 type team at the very least. They just happen to run into a couple of others in that same class early in the season. Cleveland has played the weaker schedule by default (two common opponents, and then Buffalo is worse than New England). Nothing here to suggest Baltimore shouldn’t be a big favorite.



Cleveland: even

Baltimore: +3

It’s actually a good sign for the Browns that they’re dead even through three games with a  rookie quarterback. Brandon Weeden has been mistake-prone when asked to do too much. But, the defense is still fighting, which gives them a chance to force some Ravens mistakes if Baltimore takes the game too lightly. Looks like we’ll be saying a few variations of that today. All data is going to point to Baltimore! Cleveland has to hope the Ravens come in worn down and sluggish.



Cleveland: 296.3 yards-per-game on 4.9 yards-per-play

Baltimore: 419.3 yards-per-game on 6.7 yards-per-play

This is where the difference in the team is most dynamic, and most relevant. You’ll see in a moment that the defenses have been similar…almost identical when you adjust for strength of schedule. Cleveland is just awful offensively, with little clue of how to move the chains or get things done other than hoping somebody with the ball in their hand happens to break a couple of tackles and bust lose. Baltimore is putting up very big numbers given the quality of their opponents. If they can continue to avoid turnovers, this is going to be an elite offense this year. The reason this Vegas spread is so high is that the offenses are at different ends of the spectrum. And, the reason the line may not be high enough…is that Weeden may have trouble avoiding interceptions if he has to play from way behind. We’re dealing with a wide scope of possibilities in terms of victory margin. Flat Baltimore leads to a thriller. Sharp Baltimore vs. a mistake-prone Weeden could lead to a slaughter.



Cleveland: 391.7 yards-per-game on 5.3 yards-per-play

Baltimore: 401.3 yards-per-game on 5.4 yards-per-play

As we mentioned a second ago…very similar numbers here when you adjust for schedule strength. Baltimore defense had the misfortune of running into the Red Rifle, Michael Vick, and Tom Brady to start the season. They’ll be MUCH better than this when things even out. We’ll see about Cleveland. It hasn’t been an easy slate for them either…but this is a defense that’s going to wear down through the season if Weeden doesn’t figure out how to move the chains.




Total Yardage: Buffalo 344, Cleveland 240

Rushing Yards: Buffalo 138, Cleveland 33

Passing Stats: Buffalo 22-35-0-206, Cleveland 27-43-2-207

Turnovers: Buffalo 1, Cleveland 2

Third Downs: Buffalo 28%, Cleveland 27%

Vegas Line: Buffalo by 3, total of 43

Take a second to run through Cleveland’s offensive numbers there before you get too crazy about the upset potential of a divisional dog. They could only rush for 33 yards because nobody broke any plays. Total passing of 207 is low for 43 attempts. And, this was a team that was playing from behind much of the day so they should have gotten more in the stat books. Third downs were a concern, which isn’t a surprise with a rookie. This is a BAD offense. The Browns need to be a “defensive dog” tonight in terms of the pointspread cover unless Baltimore pulls a pure no-show emotionally.



Total Yardage: New England 396, Baltimore 503

Rushing Yards: New England 77, Baltimore 121

Passing Stats: New England 28-41-0-319, Baltimore 28-39-1-382

Turnovers: New England 0, Baltimore 1

Third Downs: New England 46%, Baltimore 50%

Vegas Line: Baltimore by 3, total of 49

Look at the passing yardage. Baltimore made a run at 400 yards in the air on 39 attempts, while Cleveland was barely over 200 with a few more tries. Plus, Flacco only had 11 incompletions, compared to 16 for Weeden. Last week’s stats really drive home the “pitching mismatch” here. Solid 50% on third downs for the Ravens here too should be mentioned. 



We’ve pretty much outlined that already. Cleveland has a chance to make this a defensive dog thriller if the Ravens show up flat…or if there really is a “Thursday Night preparation” issue for games played this early in the season. SO MANY teams have played below norms offensively that this has to be in your analytical mix. If Baltimore shows up and plays well, they can probably name the score. They might present a replay of their Cincinnati blowout if Weeden gives up the ball a few times.

JIM HURLEY has been working closely with his full team of experts to determine the right way to play this one. It could turn out that the total is the better way to go. Or, it could turn out that news from his on-site sources helps trigger a double digit cover on one of the team sides. You can purchase the final word Thursday afternoon right here at the website with your credit card. If you’re ready to make a full-season commitment, call the office for details at 1-800-323-4453. We can already tell you that multiple MAJOR releases are on tap for this weekend, making this the perfect time to sign up.

Back with you Friday with a stat-preview in Ohio State-Michigan State, the best college game this weekend in terms of the poll rankings (check our Wednesday article for our skepticism about how the polls see the Big Ten!). Saturday we’ll preview Texas-Oklahoma State in what promises to be an entertaining prime time shootout in the Big 12 opener for both teams.

Be sure you’re with us every day in the NOTEBOOK so you know what’s really happening in the world of sports. And, link up with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK for BIG, JUICY WINNERS!

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