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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 7:00 PM

Before the season started, there were concerns that this week’s Thursday Night NFL game matching the Buffalo Bills and the Cleveland Browns would be one of the worst prime time games of the entire year. Even though both had new head coaches, both were still supposed to be last place teams in the weak AFC.

One month later:

*Both the Bills and Browns are playing 500 ball, and are playing with an ATTITUDE!

*Both have scored wins over playoff contenders

*And, it turns out the AFC may be the better conference this year!

We’re not going to pretend that this is a playoff preview. And, it’s still possible that this will have been a battle of last place teams when we look back on it in December. But, there are a lot of reasons to expect a competitive game. And, given that we haven’t had many competitive Thursday Night games the past few years, that’s good news all by itself!

Let’s run some numbers…


Won-Lost Records (opponents so far)

Buffalo: 2-2 (New England, Carolina, at NY Jets, Baltimore)

Cleveland: 2-2 (Miami, at Baltimore, at Minnesota, Cincinnati)

The Bills beat Carolina and Baltimore at home, and just missed upsetting New England in their season opener. Rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel is still suffering through growing pains. And, the new fast pace that the Bills are trying to play is a recipe for injuries to skill position players. For now, they’re a lot of fun to watch. Cleveland is actually an undefeated 2-0 since replacing Brandon Weeden with Brian Hoyer at quarterback. Weeden was never an NFL caliber signal caller, being much older than a typical rookie last year. Hoyer at least moves the ball and gets some points on the board.


Yards-Per Play to Date

Buffalo: 4.9 on offense, 5.4 on defense

Cleveland: 4.6 on offense, 4.2 on defense

Buffalo gets exposed in this critical stat differential. They don’t have the numbers of a .500 caliber team at the moment. The offense has struggled on a per-play basis (which is partially hidden by their fast pace). Cleveland has struggled worse…but that’s dragged down some by what was happening with Weeden. The most important thing to note in our view is the Cleveland defense. A number like 4.2 is fantastic after a month’s worth of games, particularly when playoff contenders like Miami, Baltimore, and Cincinnati were on the September schedule. Cleveland is defending with a passion.


Turnover Differential

Buffalo: +4

Cleveland: even

This helps explain why Buffalo is at .500. They’re struggling on a yards-per-play basis but have been getting the best of it in the turnover category. That isn’t likely to continue with a rookie quarterback. Remember that he’s only played one road game so far. Cleveland’s break even mark is pretty good considering the inexperience of their QB’s. They’re also due to fall back to earth based on what history says about this category and green passers. You just can’t assume that Manuel and Hoyer are going to avoid miscues all season.


Market Performance

Buffalo: 3-1 ATS

Cleveland: 2-2 ATS

Buffalo was clearly underrated by quite a bit at the start of the season. The line is catching up. And, we may see a home/road split with the Bills that turns out to be meaningful. They’re 3-0 ATS at home, but failed to cover on the road against the Jets. Cleveland is 2-0 ATS since Hoyer took over, with a pair of straight up wins as an underdog of more than a touchdown.

Current Line: Cleveland by 4.5, total 40.5

The Browns opened at -3, and were bet up by sharps who have been impressed with Hoyer while remaining skeptical about Manuel’s ability to play consistently on the road.

What does JIM HURLEY think about this game at the current price? You have to sign up to find out! And, this is a fantastic Thursday to test the waters because we have NFL, important college football games with UCLA/Utah and Texas/Iowa State, and Day One of the National League Playoffs in Major League Baseball. Wow!

You can always purchase game day releases right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call the office 1-888-777-4155.

Our TV football previews continue tomorrow. Here’s this weekend’s NOTEBOOK schedule…

Friday: an early look at Maryland/Florida State for Saturday (early TV kickoff)

Saturday: Ohio State/Northwestern in the ABC prime time game

Sunday: Houston at San Francisco in the NFL on NBC

Monday: NY Jets at Atlanta on ESPN

If you’ve been struggling to find BIG, JUICY WINNERS on your own, link up with the HANDICAPPING JUGGERNAUT that features scouts, sources, statheads, computer programmers, Wise Guy connections…and the biggest name in the industry…JIM HURLEY!

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AP Thursday, October 3, 2013 at 2:31 PM

great insight, I like the Browns at home


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