It’s been a great week in Cleveland Browns nation. Not only did the Browns get their first win of the season but they did so against a division rival, scoring over 30 points for the first time in almost two years, and did so in convincing fashion.
Jimmy Haslam officially took over ownership of the team Tuesday and has brought in an energy and a belief that good times are on the horizon.
With Haslam also comes Joe Banner as president and CEO of the team and out goes Mike Holmgren and his utterly disappointing tenure running the Browns.
And on an even more important note, I dominated my Week 6 picks column.
Okay, so maybe that isn’t the most important thing that’s happened this week.
As odd as it may sound, especially considering that the Browns are currently 1-5, the arrow is pointing up in Cleveland, and you might not be able to say that for the rest of the division.
The Steelers have looked pretty bad so far this season with losses to the Titans and Raiders, easily two of the five worst teams in the NFL. Pittsburgh's defense, once the bedrock of the franchise, is now banged up, old and vulnerable. While Ben Roethlisberger is still a great quarterback, he has almost no chance to perform to his capabilities with the joke of an offensive line that is “blocking” for him.
The Ravens, although 5-1 and with a seemingly potent offense, are dying fast on defense. Ed Reed is old; Terrelle Suggs is trying to work back from an injury that normally takes a year to fully recover from; Ray Lewis, already old and mostly ineffective on the field, is out for the season with a torn triceps; stud nose tackle Haloti Ngata has a sprained knee; and top corner Lardarius Webb is out for the season as well with a knee injury.
One could make the case that the Bengals are headed in the right direction. But coming off a trip to the playoffs (in a season in which they were 0-4 against the Ravens and Steelers) they’ve had a disappointing start at 3-3 and are coming off back-to-back losses to “lesser” teams in the Dolphins and Browns. Cincinnati also failed to make any significant offseason moves to improve their team aside from signing Ben-Jarvis Green-Ellis who has been wholly unimpressive.
So maybe it’s the positive thinking talking, but I really believe that this Browns team is going in the right direction. And although they won’t make the playoffs this year (apart from a miracle) and aren’t likely to make it next year, I can see the core of this current team being the one that leads Cleveland back to the playoffs!
And on that positive note, let’s hit up the lines…
(Remember that you gamble at your own risk, that the home team is in CAPS, and that the lines are from SportsBook.com.)
Browns (+2) over COLTS
I want to say this at the outset, I wasn’t going to take the Colts this week no matter whom they were playing after that abomination they call playing football that they displayed last week in New York against the Jets.
Look, I get it. They lost their coach, and they have a young inexperienced team and all. But that was a joke! They were terrible in all facets of the game. Andrew Luck, while I think he’s a fantastic player, was not good at all. Mark Sanchez looked great in comparison, if that tells you anything.
Meanwhile the talk coming out of Berea is all positive about the Browns. There is some energy and belief within the team stemming from the ownership change and finally getting that first win in the books.
Mohamed Massaquoi and Travis Benjamin are probably going to be back, which will be big for Brandon Weeden. It sounds like Trent Richardson will be good to go on Sunday as well (wearing my family’s great invention, the flak jacket, I might add), and even if he’s not, Montario Hardesty actually looked like an NFL running back against the Bengals. How great would it be to have both of those guys running the ball well?
Speaking of running the ball, the Colts don’t currently have anyone to really do that. And they haven’t really been able to stop the run on defense. Granted, the Browns haven't been good at running or stopping the run either, but I feel better about going out there with Richardson rather than Vick Ballard.
The Browns have momentum and are just playing better football right now than the Colts. This could be the start of something.
That “something” will probably be just two wins in a row, but hey, a fan can dream.
Titans (+3) over BILLS
This game stinks. Everything about it stinks. Statistically these two teams are among the worst in the NFL. However, they each had "big" wins last week with the Titans taking out the Steelers and the Bills beating the Cardinals.
I don't know what to make of either of these teams, and I would never bet a dime on them. But when in doubt take the underdog.
VIKINGS (-6.5) over Cardinals
The Cardinals came out of the gates this season like gangbusters going 4-0 and beating the Patriots and Eagles along the way. But the last two weeks they've dropped games to bad football teams in Miami and Buffalo. Arizona ranks 28th in the NFL in both rushing and passing offense.
The Vikings on the other hand have been much more consistent on both sides of the ball. Even though both teams have identical 4-2 records I actually like the Vikings pretty big this week at home.
Ravens (+6.5) over TEXANS
Even with all the negative things I wrote about the Ravens earlier, I still believe they're a pretty good team, especially on offense. The Texans are fairly solid all around despite the thrashing they took from Green Bay last week.
I think this could be a really good game, and I believe it will be pretty evenly matched. With Joe Flacco and Ray Rice the Ravens will definitely keep the score close at least, but Arian Foster and Houston could prove to be too much in the end.
Packers (-6) over RAMS
St. Louis does not have a good offense. The Rams' passing game ranks 27th in the league. What they do have is a good pass defense which ranks fifth. Unfortunately for the Rams, they're going up against an offense that scoffs at the mere idea of "good" pass defenses.
The truth for the Rams is that they've really only played one legitimately good passing offense and the Packers are the best that there is, proving it last week by putting up 42 points and 338 yards passing against the Texans.
I really don't think the Rams stand much of a chance in this game. I'm going way against the gambling stats in betting against a home underdog but I really believe that last week was a wake-up game for Aaron Rodgers, Clay Mathews and the Packers.
Cowboys (-2.5) over PANTHERS
This has been an utterly disappointing start to 2012 for the Panthers. Things haven't gone great for the Cowboys either, but they did look pretty good in the loss at Baltimore last week.
The bottom line for me in this game is that the Cowboys boast the best pass defense in the NFL, and they're going up against Cam Newton who has, how should we say this, looked more like Clark Kent than Superman this season. Tony Romo and the Dallas offense will do enough to get the win and cover.
Redskins (+6.5) over GIANTS
Did you know that last season en route to winning the Super Bowl, the Giants were 0-2 against the Redskins? And that was before they got Robert Griffin III.
This could be a really explosive offensive game as neither team's defense has been spectacular. Eli Manning and the Giants have one of the best passing games in the league, and Washington has the worst pass defense in the NFL.
I think the lack of any defense at all will keep the Skins from pulling off the upset, but I do like Griffin in this game to provide enough offense to keep it close down to the end.
BUCCANEERS (+2) over Saints
Does anyone else feel like it's a little soon for the 1-5 Saints to be giving points on the road against a division opponent? I certainly do.
Drew Brees and the Saints still have a fantastic passing game, best in the league in fact. But that is basically the only thing they do well. They don't run the ball at all, and their defense has gotten gashed every game, including by some really bad offenses like the Chiefs.
Tampa Bay on the other hand has stayed in all their games and actually has a better record than New Orleans. Not only do I like the Bucs to cover the two points, but I'll even take them for the win.
PATRIOTS (-10.5) over Jets
Just about every rule in the book of gambling says that you take the points in this big of a spread for a divisional game. But when I look at these two teams side-by-side, and even considering the disappointments that the Patriots have had this season only being at 3-3, it's a total mismatch.
Statistically the only thing the Patriots aren't great at is their pass defense. Luckily for them the Jets don't have a competent QB, and they've been playing defensive backs at receiver.
If I've learned anything from watching New England over the past decade, it's that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are going to blow the Jets out on Sunday, and Sanchez will turn the ball over four times.
Jaguars (+4) over RAIDERS
Fantastic writer and degenerate gambler Bill Simmons has a great theory that several NFL teams aren't good enough to ever be favored by more than a field goal no matter the opponent. In my opinion the Raiders are one of those teams.
Sure they're probably better than the Jaguars and they should definitely win this game at home. But Oakland is certainly not good enough for me to be comfortable giving four points. I'll take a Sebastian Janikowski 59-yard field goal as time expires for the win.
BENGALS (+1.5) over Steelers
I like how the Steelers were supposed to be bringing back that tough, physical, smash-mouth running offense, and yet they rank 31st in the NFL in rushing. I don't know what to believe about either of these teams. I don't really think either one is that good as I've mentioned previously.
It's possible that nine wins could take the AFC North this season as crazy as that sounds, considering three teams were in the playoffs a year ago.
Frankly I don't think the Steelers are a good team at all, and even though in these tighter matchups it never hurts to take the better QB (Roethlisberger), I can't pass up betting on another home underdog.
Lions (+6.5) over BEARS
The Bears have been sneaky good for three years now dating to the 2010 season when they lost to the Packers in the NFC Championship game after having actually won the division. They were rolling along great in 2011 at 7-3 until they lost Jay Cutler and Matt Forte both for the season and proceeded to drop five games in a row, mostly because Caleb Hanie doesn't belong in the NFL.
Now they're 4-1 coming off the bye week and taking on the Lions who have looked overmatched for most of this season. Detroit has had to rely almost exclusively on Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson to eek out the two wins they've had.
But the Lions defense could give Cutler and that woeful offensive line a tough day. I think the Bears win but the Lions cover.
Last week: 9-3
You can follow Benjamin Flack on Twitter @ClevelandFlack.
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