Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, November 5, 2014 at 7:00 PM
It’s been ages since anyone was talking about the Cleveland Browns playing with first place on the line in a November matchup. But, that’s what’s at stake in Thursday Night’s “Battle of Ohio” between they and the Cincinnati Bengals that will be nationally televised by the NFL Network. Though, Pittsburgh is in the middle of the mess too…and could theoretically be part of a three-way tie Friday morning.
If Cleveland scores the road upset, we’ll have three teams at 6-3 (plus a momentarily superfluous tie for the Bengals). Pittsburgh would have a chance to grab sole possession on Sunday on the road against the New York Jets. If Cincinnati wins, they’ll be assured of the top spot for at least another week.
Can Cleveland really be taken seriously as a divisional or playoff threat? Have they come that far that quickly in their new coach/quarterback era? Hey, at least everyone stopped talking about Johnny Manziel for awhile! Let’s see what JIM HURLEY’S key indicator stats are saying about this divisional grudge match.
Won-Lost Records (Strength of Schedule)
Cleveland: 5-3 (#32 schedule in USA Today)
Cincinnati: 5-2-1 (#29 schedule in USA Today)
Well, based on the strength of schedule rankings from Jeff Sagarin of USA Today, there’s a bit question about BOTH of these teams. Cincinnati has been dealing with injuries, and would have a better record if healthy. Maybe they’d be 6-2 or 7-1, albeit against a soft schedule). Cleveland looks like they’d be a .500 team at best against a league average schedule, and possibly only 3-5. You’ve probably noticed that the Browns have been playing the dregs of the league in recent weeks. That’s created the weakest schedule any NFL team has faced thus far!
Cleveland: 5.5 on offense, 5.7 on defense
Cincinnati: 5.8 on offense, 5.5 on defense
Clear edge to the Bengals there, though it’s not particularly dramatic. Half a yard per-play adds up, as long as weather doesn’t become a neutralizing influence on a November night in the Buckeye State. It’s really bad from the Browns perspective that they have a negative per-play differential against such a soft schedule. What would they be against a league average slate? 5.2 and 6.0? The evidence suggests the won-lost record is a mirage.
The Browns have also been helped by earning a positive turnover differential against their weak schedule. It’s great to improve on your fundamentals. But, this is a category that’s likely to see the Browns swing back toward zero when the schedule toughens up. That may not matter Thursday…but will down the stretch if the Browns can stay on the fringes of the playoff race.
Both teams have been money makers so far. Cleveland is 67% when not pushing. Cincinnati has overcome it’s injuries to at least top expectations overall. Oddsmakers and sharps have been scratching their heads all season with the AFC North…with last-place Baltimore priced as the best of the four until their recent road losses at Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
Current Line: Cincinnati by 6, total of 44.5
The betting markets still see the Browns as an also-ran given that price. Home field advantage is usually worth 2.5 or 3 points in divisional rivalries (only 2.5 instead of the usual 3 in some cases because veterans are familiar with stadiums they see every year). That means the Bengals would be -3 or -3.5 on a neutral field…and this is still a Bengals team that hasn’t been able to get its preferred weapons in synch and healthy for awhile. The total may be higher than you’d expect for a November battle in Ohio. Cleveland has been playing at a fast pace…and Cincinnati’s defense wasn’t stout enough last week in a 33-23 win over Jacksonville.
JIM HURLEY knows how important it is to start the new football week off on a winning note. He’s studied this game from all angles, and will release a BEST BET in the hours leading up to kickoff. You can always purchase NETWORK’S top plays in all sports with your credit card right here at the website. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-888-777-4155. Be sure to check on great combination packages that include both football and basketball. (And, how about Spurs/Rockets and Mavericks/Blazers on the Thursday Night TNT schedule?!)
College football will be under the spotlight the next two days here in the NOTEBOOK. Here’s the upcoming schedule…
Friday: College Football Preview…an early look at Baylor at Oklahoma in the Big 12
Saturday: College Football Preview… Ohio State at Michigan State in the Big 10
Sunday: NFL Preview…Chicago at Green Bay Sunday Night on NBC
Monday: NFL Preview: Carolina at Philadelphia Monday Night on ESPN
Browns/Bengals will blast off a big football barrage all weekend. Be sure you GET ALL THE MONEY with BIG, JUICY WINNERS from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!
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