I'm not going to sit here and hammer the NFL schedule-makers again because I've done that plenty this season amid declining ratings. I totally understand why the league wants every team to get a national spotlight on a Thursday once a season and why you can't put the Patriots or Cowboys in prime time every week because CBS and Fox paid big money for AFC and NFC rights, respectively, and they want to show New England and Dallas during their Sunday window too.
That said, why on earth are the winless Cleveland Browns (0-9) on Thursday night football this week in Baltimore? The 1976 expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers are probably the worst single-season team in NFL history. This century, that honor belongs to the 2008 Detroit Lions, the only team to finish 0-16. I don't think the Browns club is as bad as that Lions club, which was pre-Matthew Stafford, but it's close.
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The Browns have some good veteran players any team would like to have, such as left tackle Joe Thomas, newly-acquired linebacker Jamie Collins and defensive back Joe Haden. And former quarterback Terrelle Pryor has blossomed into a weapon at receiver. First-round rookie receiver Corey Coleman also has shown some flashes when briefly healthy. Maybe Cody Kessler can become a quality starting QB. But overall, this roster is barren. At least the Browns are stocked with future draft picks going forward, including most likely the No. 1 overall pick next spring. Most mock drafts actually have the Browns taking Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett at that spot over a quarterback, but that largely depends on how Kessler plays the rest of the way. Also remember that the Browns hold the Eagles' first-round pick, and that's looking better and better with Philly dropping four of its past five games.
Baltimore (4-4) can take sole possession of first place in the AFC North for at least a few days with a win here as the Ravens are tied with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati (3-4-1) a game back in the win column. The Ravens are +275 at BetOnline to win the North.
Browns at Ravens Betting Story Lines
If I'm being honest, I thought the Browns had a shot of upsetting visiting Dallas on Sunday. I believed the Cowboys might be a bit flat off a huge comeback win the previous week over the Eagles and that maybe Dak Prescott would finally play like a rookie. Cleveland hung in for a half but was held to 28 yards and zero points after intermission and lost 35-10. Kessler returned from missing a game with a concussion and was 19-for-27 for 203 yards with a TD but obviously that was mostly in the first half. Pryor caught another TD pass, his fourth, and Coleman returned from a broken hand with four catches.
That's about the extent of the good news. It was Cleveland's franchise-record 12th straight loss overall. It is 1-19 over the past 20 games and 3-27 since starting the 2014 season a surprising 7-4. The Browns are the first team since the merger to allow at least 25 points in each of its first nine games and have given up a minimum of 30 six times. Dallas had scoring drives of 75, 69, 67, 75 and 64 yards, all at least nine plays.
The Browns have never started 0-10, but that's obviously likely on Thursday. The coaching staff is safe, as it should be in just Year 1. Kessler also will stick as the starting QB even though Josh McCown is healthy as Coach Hue Jackson has said the rest of the season is Kessler's audition to be the team's No. 1 guy in 2017.
As for the Ravens, they played a terrific defensive game Sunday in beating visiting Pittsburgh 21-14 to end a four-game losing streak in Ben Roethlisberger's return from a knee injury. I certainly didn't see the Steelers being shut out for the first three quarters coming. The Baltimore offense was equally bad other than a 95-yard catch-and run touchdown reception from former Steeler Mike Wallace in the first quarter. It was the longest play from scrimmage in Ravens history, and Wallace, who has been a good offseason pickup, became the first player in league annals to have at least a 95-yard TD catch with two teams -- he also did it five years ago with Pittsburgh.
Defense (and kicker Justin Tucker) has definitely been saving the Ravens this year as Joe Flacco is one of the lowest-rated QBs in the NFL and there's not much of a running game to speak of. The Ravens are on pace for the fewest points scored (19.3 per game) in the nine-year John Harbaugh era. Baltimore's defense ranks second in the NFL in fewest yards allowed, and the Ravens' 14 forced turnovers already match last season's total.
Browns at Ravens Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Baltimore is an 11-point favorite (+105) with a total of 45.5. On the moneyline, the Ravens are -600 and Browns +450. On the alternate lines, Baltimore is -10.5 (+100), -10 (-110) and -9.5 (-120). Cleveland is 2-7 against the spread (2-3 on road) and 6-3 "over/under" (4-1 on road). Baltimore is 3-5 ATS (2-2 at home) and 3-4-1 O/U (1-3 at home).
The Browns are 5-1 ATS in their past six Thursday games. They are 2-6 ATS in their past eight after allowing at least 30 points in their previous game. Cleveland is 1-5 ATS in its past six following a loss of at least 14 points. The Ravens are 5-0 ATS in their past five vs. the AFC North. The Ravens have covered only two of their past nine on Thursday. The under is 5-1 in Cleveland's past six on Thursday. It is 5-2-1 in Baltimore's previous eight vs. the AFC. The under is 4-1 in the past five meetings in Baltimore. Cleveland is 5-1 in its past six there.
Browns at Ravens Betting Prediction
Baltimore is 15-2 in this series under Harbaugh. The fewest points the Browns have given up this season was a 25-20 home loss to the Ravens in Week 2. The complexion of that game totally changed late in the first quarter when Baltimore returned a blocked Browns PAT for 2 points. So instead of trailing 21-0 Cleveland it was 20-2, and the Ravens dominated the rest of the way. Kessler hadn't yet made his debut then as it was McCown under center. Wallace had two TD catches for Baltimore.
No question I'm backing Baltimore, but this spread concerns me. The last time Baltimore beat a team by more than eight points (one score) was two years ago in the playoffs when the Ravens upset the Steelers 30-17. Baltimore's average margin of victory the past two seasons is 4.2 points. I'll take the 11 and go under the total.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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