Arizona Cardinals (5-2 SU, 4-3 ATS) vs. Cleveland Browns (2-5 SU, 4-3 ATS)
NFL Week 8
Date/Time: Sunday, November 1, 2015 at 1:00PM EST
Where: FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland, Ohio
by Scott, NFL Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: ARI -4.5/CLE +4.5
Over/Under Total: 46
The Arizona Cardinals come out east to face the Cleveland Browns on Sunday in week 8 action. The Cardinals are at 5-2, coming off a Monday Night Football 26-18 win over the Ravens. It was a good win, despite the Ravens not being very good this season. The previous week, the Cardinals really stunk it up in a 25-13 loss to the Steelers, so Mondays win was necessary. The Browns are coming off a tough 24-6 road loss to the Rams and look forward to returning home. Despite a 2-5 mark, the Browns have shown some improvement this season and are a dangerous opponent for a road Cardinals team.
The Browns have come out on the wrong side of some close games, but on Sunday, they were not in it against the Rams, as the St. Louis D shut down a Browns offense that had been making strides. Josh McCown has been pretty darn good and even on Sunday, he was 26-for-32 for 270 yards, but it only materialized into a pair of field goals. TE Gary Barnidge had another 100-yard game, as he is one of this seasons breakout stars. So how did they only get 6 points? Blame that on turnovers and penalties, which undermined the Browns efforts the entire game. McCown gave away two fumbles, with receivers Taylor Gabriel and Travis Benjamin also coughing up the rock.
McCown is by no means perfect. He can be inconsistent and doesnt always deliver, but his performance this season has been a pleasant surprise, with several really big games. This Cleveland offense is leaps beyond where they were in recent seasons. They are at least forging an identity and when clicking, they have a powerful aerial attack. Along with Barnidge, rookie Duke Johnson is adding a lot to the passing game, along with the teams leading receiver Benjamin. The run game is averaging just 3.6 yards a carry and its lack of effectiveness hurts this offense and makes it somewhat one-dimensional. But this is an offense that is at least capable of putting up points.
Clevelands defense is in a bit of a funk. Despite there being some areas of promise, they are giving up an average of 26 points per game. They are the leagues last-ranked run defense and thats clear when watching opposing backs having their way with this group. And theyre average against the pass. The main problem with this D is their utter inability to register a key play here and there. When the game is on the line or a late drive is going to decide it, this defense has a tendency to disappear. This is not a team that knows how to win. McCown has one win as a starter going back two seasons. And they should easily be 3-4 or even 4-3. They dont know how to close.
Arizona has been one of the weirder teams this season. At times, they look like legit contenders. Carson Palmer is in fine form, connecting with his multitude of weapons. The defense is playing well. Then suddenly, they can recede back into mediocrity without warning. In their 5 wins, theyve won by an average margin of 22 points. And one of their losses to the Rams was by a mere two points. But even against St. Louis and especially Pittsburgh, they just went into a funk. Not all teams perform ideally week after week, so chalk it up to the normal peaks and valleys of a typical NFL season.
Palmer had another big game on Sunday, efficiently running this offense. RB Chris Johnson has been reborn in this offense, showing some of his best form in the past several seasons. He was again over 100 on MNF. The receiver package of Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and emergent John Brown is top-notch. Youngsters are stepping up and veterans are finding a second wind. David Johnson and Andre Ellington are nice X-factors that can step up with big plays here and there.
The Cardinals offer a ton of balance on both sides of the ball, brought together by top coaching, with underrated general Bruce Arians at the helm. They have a top ten ground game and passing attack. They are 7th against both the run and pass on defense. They are the leagues 2nd-top scoring offense and the 4th ranked defense in the NFL. In a way, they dont do anything great, but they do just about everything pretty well. With so many underachieving teams this season struggling to get the most out of themselves, its refreshing to see an Arizona team over-achieve. There are really no stars on either side of the ball, but their strength is their unity. This is a real team that is on the same page. They get the most out of themselves or close to it more often than not.
These types of games can be tricky. There is something about facing teams out of conference and on the road that can render offenses weaker. Cleveland is 2-5, but theyre still scrappy and dangerous, particularly at home. The Cardinals dont find themselves in Cleveland all that often and they will be playing earlier than what theyre accustomed to coming off the short week. Not that those things will necessarily impact the game, but they could.
For all their issues, Cleveland covered 4 of their first 6 spreads and they have some appeal as home dogs. There are some definite matchup concerns here, however, especially with the blossoming Arizona run game, which should get untracked in this game. But I see the Browns being able to put up some points and hanging in there, with the game maybe up for grabs at the end. Ill take the points.
Scotts Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Im betting on the Cleveland Browns plus 4.5 points.
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