New England Patriots (3-1 SU, 3-1 ATS) vs. Cleveland Browns (0-4 SU, 1-3 ATS)
NFL Week 5
Date/Time: Sunday October 9th at 1:00PM EST
Where: FirstEnergy Stadium
by Mike M, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: NE -10 / CLE + 10
Two teams looking to rebound from disappointing performances in Week 4 meet up in Ohio on Sunday when the New England Patriots take on the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. Fans of both are grateful for the early afternoon start time as the game will flow perfectly into Game 3 of the ALDS between the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians that is starting at 4:08.
The Browns are coming off a 31-20 loss on the road against the Redskins that saw their record drop to 0-4, making them the only remaining winless team in the NFL. Whats especially disappointing for Cleveland is that this was the third game in a row that they easily could have won. In week two they were beating Baltimore going into the 4th quarter before eventually losing 25-20, and then the following week suffered a painful defeat at home against Miami, losing 30-24 in overtime after Browns kicker Cody Parkey missed three field goals including one at the end of regulation that would have given them the win. Last week followed the same pattern, as they were leading 20-17 going into the fourth quarter but eventually lost 31-20, thanks in large part to costly turnovers on three straight possessions in the final sixteen minutes of play that gave Washington the momentum and field position they needed to take control of the game. Through the first four weeks the Browns have been shutout in the 1st quarter in three of their games and have also been blanked in the 4th quarter in three games too, and if they continue to play consistently inconsistent football it will only make it that much harder on themselves in trying to get their first notch in the victory column.
One thing that was solidified this week is that behaviorally challenged wide receiver Josh Gordon will no longer be part of the Cleveland Browns organization. The incredibly talented but more so troubled Gordon has been suspended for 31 of his last 36 games, and rather then risk tainting the building core of young talent they already have, Cleveland made the decision to move forward. While the loss of Gordon is no doubt disappointing, the Browns still have a variety of skill position playmakers at their disposal. They currently sport the number one rated rushing offense in the NFL thanks to the backfield tandem of Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr., both of whom are averaging over 6 yards per carry. Crowell currently ranks second in the NFL with 386 yards rushing while also scoring three of the Browns seven touchdowns on the season so far, while Johnson has rushed for 156 yards and caught 18 passes (2nd most on team) for 115 yards through the air. The tight end spot is solid with Gary Barnridge, who broke out last year and finished the 2015 season first amongst all tight ends in receptions and fourth in yards. The Browns are also looking good at the wide receiver spot with Corey Coleman and Terrelle Pryor. Coleman was the 15th pick in this years draft and it was easy to see why the Cleveland took him as they did after he had 7 catches for 173 yards and 2 touchdowns through the first two weeks, but unfortunately he suffered a broken hand in practice the following week and is now expected to be out for another month. The converted college quarterback to receiver Pryor has been a monster part of the offense, especially with Coleman out with injury and Gordon nowhere to be seen. Terrelle currently leads the team with 39 targets, which is the triple the amount of any other wide receiver on the team, and so far has 19 receptions for 290 yards while scoring a touchdown both through the air and on the ground. Pryor has also completed three of five pass attempts and with the rate of injuries to their quarterback position over recent years (and already twice in 2016) it wouldnt at all be a surprise if he eventually took over the lead role at some point.
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Cleveland began the year with Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown as their top two quarterbacks, but soon both were hurt and the starting job became that of Cody Kessler, their rookie third round pick out of USC. Kessler incredibly became the 26th quarterback to start a game for the Browns since 1999, joining the following less than elite list of signal callers in chronological order Tim Couch, Ty Detmer, Doug Pederson, Spergon Wynn, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Ken Dorsey, Brady Quinn, Bruce Gradkowski, Colt McCoy, Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace, Brandon Weeden, Thaddeus Lewis, Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel, Connor Shaw, Josh McCown, Austin Davis and RG III. In contrast, the Patriots have had only five starters at the position since 1999-Drew Bledsoe, Tom Brady, Matt Cassel, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett.
After watching last weeks dismal display against the Bills, the return of Tom Brady comes at a perfect time for the Patriots and their fans after New England was shutout at home for the first time since 1993, losing 16-0 to Buffalo. Judging by their pre and post game demeanor this was apparently a week four Super Bowl for the Bills, which with their victory and following arrogance must somehow negate the fact that it was just their third win in their last 28 attempts against the Patriots. It was good for Buffalo to get their version of a playoff win, considering their sixteen season drought of not making the postseason is the longest current streak in the NFL and odds are strongly on the side of them making it seventeen years in a row of inferiority.
Along with Brady is the expected return to a normalcy of playing time for tight end Rob Gronkowksi, who has been used sparingly throughout the season as he slowly makes his way back from a hamstring injury and has recorded just one catch thus far. Martellus Bennett has played well in his Gronks absence and currently leads the Patriots in receiving yards with 247, is 2nd in both targets (20) and receptions (15), and is one of only three players to have caught a touchdown on the team so far. With Gronkowski out, teams have been able to play more attention to Julian Edelman and have so far prevented him from scoring through the first month, but with Brady back leading the team it would be a great surprise if Edelman didnt find his way back into the end zone either this week or the next.
The loss to the Bills was Belichick and the Patriots first regular season defeat by more than ten points since 2010, and it was easy to tell by not only his sideline demeanor but also comments in his postgame press conference that he less than pleased with his teams putrid performance. New England has responded well in the past to such situations, having lost back-to-back games just six times since 2002 while also sporting a 13-6 record against the spread in their last nineteen after a loss. Brady could not have asked for a better matchup to return to, with Clevelands defense ranking just 27th in scoring, 22nd in yards allowed and also dealing with an injury to star cornerback Joe Haden, who played last week against Washington but is far from 100% healthy. Brady has also had great historical success against the Browns, going 5-1 against sporting his best TD:INT ratio against any team in the NFL, having thrown 48 touchdowns against the Cleveland compared to just 11 interceptions.
The combination of the Patriots rebounding from a vastly disappointing home loss, an infuriated Bill Belichick and the return of Tom Brady with clear vengeance on his mind after serving his sham four game suspension for Excusegate does not bode well for the Browns, who dont even have a home field advantage to fall back on after having gone just 1-7 in their last eight games at home. The point spread opened up at 7.5 and quickly jumped to 10, and while its never fun to lay double-digit points on the road in the NFL, an angry Patriots team should have little issue bouncing back with a resounding win in Cleveland on Sunday.
Mike Ms Pick to Cover the Point Spread: New England -10
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