Now that all the hoopla surrounding Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel has appeared to die down, the team can focus on the difficult task of trying to win its regular-season opener on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers in an AFC North divisional matchup.
As expected, the Browns decided to go with Brian Hoyer at QB to start the year, which they hope can help them end a three-game series losing streak vs. Pittsburgh.
Point Spread: The Steelers opened as five-point favorites, but they're favored by up to seven points as of Wednesday night. The total is 41.5.
Odds Shark Computer Prediction: Steelers 21.7, Browns 15.5
Why the Browns Can Cover the Spread
Hoyer showed flashes under center in his limited action last year before tearing his ACL, and his experience and dedication to returning to action made him the favorite to beat out Johnny Football for the starting job anyway.
The key for Hoyer will be limiting mistakes, something he is likelier than Manziel to do against the Steelers.
The only real positive stretch for the Browns last season came when Hoyer led them to a 3-0 mark both straight up and against the spread following an 0-2 start.
While he may not have the same scrambling ability as his backup, Hoyer gives Cleveland the best chance to cover in this tough environment.
Why the Steelers Can Cover the Spread
The Steelers do not care who plays QB for the Browns, they just want to put last season behind them and try to get off to a better start than going 0-4 SU and ATS to begin 2013.
Pittsburgh played very well at the end of last year, going 6-2 SU and 7-1 ATS in the second half to avoid a losing record. Defense remains a trademark of the Steelers, who are tough to beat when they hold their opponents in check.
Four of their eight losses a year ago saw the opposition score 34 or more points, and this Cleveland team without suspended wide receiver Josh Gordon will be lucky to score half as much.
The home team is 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings between the two teams, and the Steelers are 5-0 ATS in their past five divisional games. Those are obviously two trends that strongly favor them to cover again.
The Browns usually play poorly in season openers, going 2-12-1 ATS in their last 15 Week 1 games. While Hoyer is a capable signal-caller, he did not have to face Pittsburgh last year when the Steelers outscored them by a 47-18 margin.
Pittsburgh understands the importance of strong starts to the season and will not take this Cleveland team lightly.
The Browns have virtually no chance of winning this game, with a 3-25 SU mark as road underdogs over their past 28 games under that scenario.
Couple that with the Steelers going 25-3 SU in the last 28 meetings, and you can understand why they are the smart play as favorites of less than a touchdown.
- Cleveland is 3-25 SU in its last 28 games vs. Pittsburgh.
- Pittsburgh is 7-1 ATS in its last eight games.