The Browns unveil their new starting quarterback to the rest of the league on Friday night. The Lions are looking to put a turbulent offseason behind them. Which team is poised to come out on top? Let's take a closer look.
Pat Shurmer doesn't have extensive experience in the NFL as a head coach, but he went 1-3 straight up (SU) and against the spread (ATS) in his preseason debut last year. For Detroit, we have one of the preseason coaching all-stars in Jim Schwartz. In 2011 he was a perfect 4-0 SU. Overall he is 10-2 SU and 9-3 ATS as the Lions' boss. On Wednesday he was quoted on MLive,
"Everybody gets something out of playing. No. 1, trying to win the game; you want to go out and perform well individually. You want to perform well as a team. You want to try to win the game. That's always our No. 1 goal. We're not out there working on our curveball and that's all we're going to do throw curveballs. It's not spring training. We're out there to execute and he's the quarterback and that's basically his responsibility: execution of the offense. So, we want to move the ball. We want to score. We want to do our best to win the game."
The Lions opened at -4.5 (CRIS), but now we are seeing -3 across the board. Opening lines don't mean as much in the preseason as they do in the regular season though and what's of more interest is what the markets have been doing over recent days. Right now 73 percent of bets have come in on Detroit and there is a little bit of extra juice if you want to lay the favorite. Keep in mind books aren't too concerned about coming off a '3' in preseason so don't be surprised if the line moves on gameday.
Who covers the spread?
In theory, this is supposed to be an area of strength for Cleveland when it comes to preseason. Shurmer has put the debates aside and named Brandon Weeden the starter before we've even had a snap. That is very telling about what they think of Colt McCoy. The problem is Weeden doesn't have a lot of quality weapons to work with.
Normally, I would pause if I saw experienced quarterbacks on the depth chart, but I really don't think McCoy or Wallace bring much to the table. It's likely the Browns are going to be trailing by the time those guys see significant time and I don't like their chances to lead a comeback.
Meanwhile, Matt Stafford is revved up and ready to go for Detroit. His top five receiving options are healthy and ready to go—Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Titus Young, Brandon Pettigrew, and Tony Scheffler. Schwartz didn't say how much time his starters will get, but they don't need many reps to get points on the board.
Behind Stafford is Shaun Hill. He's accurate and has a proven ability to move the chains and put up points in this system. I expect Detroit to secure a lead before he leaves the field. Kellen Moore is a prospect with a few scouting report knocks against him, but he is regarded as intelligent and accurate. Really though, is he worse than McCoy?
Detroit's top two running backs—Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure—are on the inured list. This is nothing new for the Lions, as both spent most of their time on the sidelines in 2011. This leaves Kevin Smith to tote the rock. Schwartz isn't afraid to give Smith significant time either.
From CBS Detroit: "You can't go into any game saying you're going to be careful with somebody," Schwartz said. "It's football."
I don't expect to see Avril or Vanden Bosch either. Delmas is also on the mend after knee surgery. The good news is the Lions have much better quality depth than the Browns.
In fact, the Cleveland starters are lacking quality, so I'm not worried about these injuries, especially when you consider who is missing for the Browns. The biggest piece of the offense, Trent Richardson, is out after having his knee scoped, Phil Taylor, Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong are missing on defense.
I know we are supposed to ignore everything we think about a team when evaluating preseason games, but it's hard to look at this Cleveland roster and have much reason for hope. Mario Hardesty has good reviews from camp, so it's unsure how much they'll miss Richardson.
Beyond Greg Little, there's not much to like at WR. Josh Gordon? OK, let's see it. Josh Cribbs' role in the offense is diminished and Mohamed Massaquoi is a bust so far. Right tackle is a big question mark as well.
Despite the off-field problems for Detroit, there is a lot to like about this team. After Kevin Smith, they have a bunch of youngsters (Joique Bell, Stefan Logan, Keiland Williams, Stephfon Green) that they like at running back.
The primary concern for the Lions is in their secondary. Against a better offensive team, this would worry me, but I'm not sure the Cleveland QBs can take advantage and they'll likely have to come from behind to win or cover in the second half.
Coaching advantage—check. QB advantage—check. Roster depth advantage —check. What it all adds up to is a play on the home team. Although, if Thursday's preseason action is any indication, anything is possible, but I have to call it like I see it.
NFL Pick: DET -3 (5Dimes).