We’ve reached the point in the NFL season when Saturday games serve as an appetizer for Sunday’s larger slate. In Week 15, the Cleveland Browns host the Las Vegas Raiders in a game already marred by Covid.
The line opened with Cleveland as a 6.5-point favorite over Las Vegas. Then, a Covid outbreak hit Cleveland and landed several Browns players and head coach Kevin Stefanski on the protocol list. Oddsmakers responded swiftly. The Raiders are now a 1-point favorite at most books including BetMGM.
The total also plummeted from an opening 43 to 38.5 at Caesars, the lowest for any game this season.
Las Vegas Raiders (6-7, 5-8 ATS) at Cleveland Browns (7-6, 5-8 ATS)
Time: 4:20 EST
Line: Raiders -1 (38.5)
The skinny: The Browns, who could be severely short-handed, will try to get past a reeling Raiders team that has beeen defeated in seven of its past 10 games after a 3-0 start.
Facts: Five Browns offensive regulars, in addition to head coach Kevin Stefanski, were placed on the reserve/COVID list this week. Included were QB Baker Mayfield, top WR Jarvis Landry and both guards. They need two negative tests before getting cleared to play.
In Stefanski’s place, if needed, would be special teams boss Mike Priefer for the third time the past two seasons. He’s 1-1.
Last Sunday, the Browns beat Baltimore 24-22 and they can grab a share of first place in the division with a win here and a Ravens loss to Green Bay on Sunday.
The logo-stomping Raiders, meanwhile, were 48-9 losers in Kansas City last week, dropping them to 12th in the AFC playoff pecking order. Their minus-5 turnover differential in that defeat tied for the worst in any game this season.
They hit the road for another long trip this week. Vegas’ last journey East, in Week 9 after its bye, resulted in a 23-16 loss to the Giants as a 3-point favorite.
Analysis: Mayfield, who has played through a host of injuries this season, including a torn labrum, said he hasn’t felt this good since Week 2. But if he can’t go, Case Keenum gets the call. In his lone start this season, he led the Browns to a 17-14 win over Denver. In that game, with top RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt also out, Cleveland totaled 376 offensive yards, its highest total in the past eight games.
Chubb is good to go this week, so the running game should be in good hands even if backups are needed along the line. The Browns defense should do enough to fluster QB Derek Carr and Vegas’ stagnant running game.
Raiders at Browns Pick
Browns 26, Raiders 17
The Colts were a 1.5-point favorite against the Patriots to open, but Indy is now a 2.5-point choice across the board.
New England Patriots (9-4, 9-4 ATS) at Indianapolis Colts (7-6, 8-5 ATS)
Time: 8:20 p.m. EST
Line: Colts -2.5 (46)
The skinny: In a battle between two teams off a bye, New England will be aiming to retain its spot atop the AFC playoff standings against an Indianapolis team that has rallied from a 1-4 start to a sixth seed.
Facts: New England is on a seven-game winning streak (7-0 ATS, too), the longest in the league, with two of the victories as a road underdog.
Indianapolis averaged only 21.6 points in its dismal first five games, but since has a norm of 32.9 thanks in large part to RB Jonathan Taylor, the league’s leading ground gainer by a runaway.
The Patriots have won eight in a row vs. the Colts dating to 2010 while averaging more than 40 points a game.
New England might be without first-team RB Damien Harris (questionable, hamstring). But he missed facing Cleveland earlier this season, and NE still gained 184 ground yards.
This will be the sixth game Indy QB Carson Wentz has faced a team that has a defensive passer rating in the top 10. NE’s is ranked second. In those five games, he’s had a norm of 5.9 yards a throw. For a whole season, that number would have him tied for 31st in the league.
Analysis: Patriots rookie QB Mac Jones, who has the third-best completion percentage in the league (70.3), will be facing a Colts pass defense that might be the team’s weakest link. Indy has allowed the second most TD throws this season at 26 (tied with Atlanta).
As for Wentz and that Colts offense, Patriots coach Bill Belichick surely will find a way to at least slow Taylor and make Wentz have to navigate against LB Matthew Judon, tied for fifth in the league with 12.5 sacks, and CB J.C. Jackson, who has seven INTs, second most on the chart.
Forget about much of a home-field edge for Indy, too. The Pats are 6-0 on the road this season and 3-0 indoors. Indy is 3-4 in its own building.
Patriots at Colts Pick
Patriots 27, Colts 21
Last week: 6-8 ATS, 10-4 SU
Season total: 97-108-3 (.473) ATS, 126-81-1 (.609) SU