These weekly stories are meant to look ahead to the weekend, but I have to address what happened Thursday night in Baltimore. I preview every Thursday night game here at Doc's, and I'll admit I was wrong in taking Cleveland +11 as the Browns lost 28-7 to the Ravens, who for the time being are in solo first place in the AFC North. Obviously I didn't expect Cleveland, now 0-10 for the first time in team history, to win but thought it could lose by 10. I was right on the total staying "under" 45.5.
I'm not here to talk about my ATS or O/U record but about what a broken franchise the Browns are. Again, I think they are on the right track with their unusual analytics front office, the owner staying out of the way of football operations and a highly-regarded head coach in Hue Jackson. But two things happened on Thursday that are totally inexplicable.
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On Baltimore's first offensive play of the game ... the Browns had to call timeout because they had 12 men on the field. How is that freaking possible? Oh, the Browns had to call another one 4:32 into the first quarter. That's just poor game-planning.
But the more egregious mistake was Jackson pulling rookie QB Cody Kessler after the team's first possession of the third quarter and the Ravens up 13-7. Kessler wasn't exactly lighting it up but had gotten his team a 7-6 halftime lead in a tough environment and hadn't turned the ball over. Jackson earlier this week said that Kessler would remain his starter the rest of the way to see if the third-rounder out of USC was the team's future under center. So you pull him looking for a "spark" by veteran journeyman Josh McCown? Naturally, McCown was terrible in the second half. Here were his five drives: interception, three-and-out (including a McCown fumble), interception, lost fumble, three-and-out. McCown finished 6 of 13 for 59 yards.
It's a good thing that Jackson is in the first year of his deal and has a good reputation because some other coaches -- Jacksonville's Gus Bradley comes to mind -- would have been fired the next day. Jackson did say after that Kessler remains his starter. You will continue to find props at various sportsbooks on whether the Browns go 0-16. I still doubt it but am starting to waver.
Here are some line moves or potential game-changing injury notes for Week 10.
Falcons at Eagles (+2, 50): Philadelphia opened as a 1-point favorite -- game has highest total on board -- and I'm rather surprised the Falcons are taking such a big lean. Yes, they do have the NFL's top offense and, yes, the Eagles have lost four of their past five overall. But in all four losses, the offense has had the opportunity to tie the game or go in front late with a scoring drive but didn't. It should be noted all four losses were on the road. At home, the Eagles have been defensively dominant. The NFL schedule-makers sure did Philly no favors as Atlanta will be the fourth straight opponent the Eagles face on extra rest. The Falcons beat Tampa Bay last Thursday night. The previous three teams that the Eagles faced -- the Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants -- each were coming off a bye. Atlanta could be without Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant, who suffered a left shoulder injury last week.
Packers at Titans (+3, 49.5): This opened at Packers -2.5 and a total of 48.5. It begins a defining three-game road trip for Green Bay -- can you call them road trips in the NFL when the team returns home after each game? Green Bay is playing three road games in a row for the first time since 2012 and only the third time in the last 19 seasons (1998). Bovada offers a special on how many of the three the Packers win, with an "over/under" of 1.5 and both at -120. After this, the Pack go to Washington and Philadelphia (Monday night). I'd probably go under. Green Bay could get back running back James Starks and tight end Jared Cook after both missed multiple weeks due to injury. But top linebacker Clay Matthews is out again. Tennessee is fairly healthy.
Cowboys at Steelers (-2.5, 49.5): Pittsburgh would fall a game behind Baltimore in the AFC North with a loss here and the Ravens already hold the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to their Week 9 win over the Steelers. That Pittsburgh makes the playoffs is even money at Bovada and no is -140. Have to say those odds surprise me as I would take yes. This game should draw really big ratings with all the reminders of the Super Bowl matchups between the franchises. With 109 yards on the ground in this game, NFL rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott of Dallas would join Eric Dickerson (1,096), whose rookie rushing record Elliott is chasing, and Adrian Peterson (1,081) as the only players in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in their first nine career games. Meanwhile, with 56 passing yards Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger would become the 11th quarterback in NFL history with 45,000 passing yards and the eighth to do so with one team. He would also become the fifth-fastest quarterback in league annals to reach 45,000 career passing yards, accomplishing it in his 179th career game. Drew Brees holds the mark of 168 games.
Bears at Buccaneers (+2.5, 45.5): This opened as a pick'em and I have to say this line baffles me. Have people not seen the Bears play? Sure, they come off their bye week and did dominate Minnesota on Halloween in Jay Cutler's return, but the Vikings have been exposed now and the Bears are winless on the road. Chicago is as healthy as it has been in a while with the week off. Pro Bowl guards Kyle Long and Josh Sitton will both return as should receiver Eddie Royal. Very good nose tackle Eddie Goldman also could play after missing six games with an ankle. The Bucs are winless at home but also come off a mini-bye having lost at home last Thursday to Atlanta. Mike Evans suffered a concussion in the game but has been cleared. Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin, who hasn't played since Week 2 due to a hamstring, is looking pretty good to go.
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