“Only in Cleveland”—it’s become a punchline for fans of all of our beleaguered sport franchises when things go wrong here that don’t elsewhere.
Well, “Only in Cleveland” has reared its ugly head once again as the Cleveland Browns once again fail to go a whole season with the same starting QB for every game as has been the case since they came back to the league in 1999.
It really looked like we might see Brandon Weeden start every game this season, but as fate would have it, he has a shoulder injury that will keep him out of Sunday’s finale in Pittsburgh.
Colt McCoy, making his triumphant return to the field, was awful and it turns out he also has an injured shoulder.
So enter the Thaddeus Lewis era!!!
The former Duke Blue Devil and pride of Hialeah, Fla. will make his NFL debut against the best defense in the NFL. No big deal.
Of course, it would be just like Cleveland for Lewis to have a huge game just so we can have a QB controversy this offseason.
Only in Cleveland.
Despite the fact that the Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers have nothing to play for this week (unless you’re one of those people who roots for your team to lose for draft positioning...or a degenerate gambler), we’re still going to pick the games this week and see if I can’t finish out the season with above a .500 winning percentage.
(Gamble at your own risk. The home team is in CAPS. Lines are from SportsBook.com.)
(Author’s note: There are multiple games this week without lines—mercifully including the Browns game—which is why they do not appear.)
Jets (+3) over BILLS
I never thought I’d feel bad for a guy with dashing good looks, who dates super models, who grew up in Long Beach, California and is set to make $8 million next year. Okay now that I’ve actually laid it all out in print, I don’t feel that bad for Mark Sanchez. But you can’t deny that the guy has had a rough time in New York the past couple years.
We’ve made endless excuses as Browns fans for the likes of McCoy and Brady Quinn, saying they didn’t have any receivers and their situations were all messed up and how could you ever expect a player to perform under those conditions?
That’s Sanchez this season. First of all, he doesn’t have a good offensive coordinator. Second, he has no receivers. And third, they brought in Tim Tebow for no particular reason other to sell jerseys and hype up the team and subsequently undermine him. Now he has to come back and start in a meaningless game after getting benched last week in favor of Greg McElroy.
They completely undermined Sanchez as a starter, especially considering the success he’s had so early in his career. I mean, he did take them to two AFC Championship games after all.
To be fair, Sanchez has played terrible this year, which is on him no matter what the circumstances are around him. He’s a professional athlete, and at this level there are no excuses. It’s a bottom-line business.
I think that Sanchez has a big game this week and shows that he still has something to offer the NFL. Also it’s the Buffalo Bills…so really, what’s there to be worried about?
BENGALS (-2.5) over Ravens
This Cincinnati team has been very sneaky good since it lost four straight earlier this season. They have now won six of their last seven and are coming off a win in Pittsburgh that knocked the Steelers out of the playoff race.
Meanwhile the Ravens, while they had a good win last week against a dying New York Giants team, have been vulnerable all season long. Cincinnati clearly has the edge on defense, and if the Baltimore Ravens get pass happy with Joe Flacco, it will really play into the Cincinnati Bengals' favor.
All in all, I just feel like at this point in the season, the Bengals are a better football team than the Ravens.
COLTS (+7) over Texans
The Houston Texans won this matchup pretty convincingly a couple weeks ago, but I don’t believe we’ll see a repeat of that in Indianapolis. The Texans’ no-show last week was alarming, and if they bring that kind of effort against the Indianapolis Colts, they’ll get blown out again.
It baffles me that a team that is supposedly a Super Bowl contender could get blown out as many times as Houston has this season. I wouldn’t bet on Matt Schaub and the Texans in the playoffs if my life depended on it. Andrew Luck, on the other hand? I’d bet on him with confidence.
TITANS (-4) over Jaguars
No one cares about this game, including probably Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars fans. So let’s just move on.
Eagles (+7.5) over GIANTS
It’s the final game for Andy Reid and Michael Vick with the Philadelphia Eagles (most likely at least). They would love nothing more than to finish off this utterly abysmal season by beating their rivals the Giants at home and crushing what little playoff hopes they still have.
I think the Eagles pull out the win this week, and we’ll have to listen to people cry that Reid shouldn’t get fired after all.
Bears (-3) over LIONS
The Chicago Bears are playing for the playoffs, while the Detroit Lions haven’t appeared to be playing for anything at all this whole season. Detroit has lost seven in a row, and I see no reason why it won’t get to eight.
Panthers (+5.5) over SAINTS
I’m a little leery about picking against the New Orleans Saints at home to finish off the season against a team with nothing to play for. But this is also a New Orleans defense that has gotten run over all season long and gave up 35 points and 324 total yards to Cam Newton back in Week 2.
This game will probably be a shootout, and I wouldn’t pick the Carolina Panthers to win outright necessarily, but they’ll keep it within range.
Dolphins (+10) over PATRIOTS
New England failed to cover a 14-point spread last week against Jacksonville, and even though the game was never in doubt, the Patriots only won by seven. The last time these two teams played back in Week 13, it was only a seven-point game as well.
This happens with Bill Belichick sometimes in that he’ll prefer to just play a ball-control game instead of blowing the opponent out. This isn’t a statement game for the Patriots at all. It’s just “win and move on to the playoffs”…which is exactly what will happen, though in a very inglorious manner.
VIKINGS (+3.5) over Packers
This is a tough one to call for sure, but the Minnesota Vikings' beatdown of the Texans last week is what is driving my pick this week. You also have to factor in that the Vikings are playing at home where they’re 6-1 on the season, and Adrian Peterson can fly on that fast track.
Minnesota is also playing to get into the playoffs, while the Green Bay Packers only have seeding to worry about, so the motivation level won’t quite be there.
BRONCOS (-16) over Chiefs
Again, if I have to lay out in print why you shouldn’t bet on the Kansas City Chiefs no matter what the line is, you probably haven’t watched much football this season, you don’t actually gamble and frankly I don’t know why you’re reading this article.
Cardinals (+16.5) over 49ERS
Aside from losing nine straight games this season and getting blown out 58-0 by a division rival, the Arizona Cardinals haven’t been quite as inept as the Chiefs this season. Arizona’s defense is actually still pretty solid (ranked 12th in the NFL), and the San Francisco 49ers offense hasn’t been very consistent this season.
Look, I don’t love betting on an offense that’s scored in the single digits four times this season, but I also don’t love laying 16.5 points with a team that already has the playoffs locked up.
SEAHAWKS (-11) over Rams
I could employ much the same logic for this game as I did for the last one except there’s one big exception: the game is in Seattle. Not only are the Seattle Seahawks undefeated at home this season, but aside from games against the Packers and Patriots, they’ve won the rest of them by at least 10 points and typically blow out bad teams.
Need I say more?
REDSKINS (-3) over Cowboys
It’s for the NFC East title and a playoff berth. I really don’t care about the point spread, at three points you’re pretty much going to bet on the team you expect to win. For me, I believe that team is Washington.
The Washington Redskins have been on a tear since their bye week and are riding a six-game win streak. Robert Griffin III is now three weeks removed from that leg injury and will have most if not all of his mobility back.
The Dallas Cowboys failed to contain Griffin in Dallas back on Thanksgiving Day as he threw for over 300 yards and four TDs in the win that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score may indicate (Dallas needed a 17-point fourth quarter just to get it within a touchdown with 18 seconds left).
I really like the Cowboys offense, but the home loss last week against the Saints is worrisome. I just believe that the Redskins are a better football team right now. And in the immortal words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”
Last week: 10-6
Browns picks: 8-6-1
You can follow Benjamin Flack on Twitter @ClevelandFlack.