Oct 122013

Detroit Lions (3-2) at Cleveland Browns (3-2)

I don’t know how this game can have a line. Calvin Johnson is a game time decision and yet this line has been at about -2.5 or -3 in favor of Detroit all week. The Lions’ offense looked miserable without Johnson last week, totaling just 286 yards and not scoring a touchdown until there were 2 minutes left in the game in a 22-9 loss to a Green Bay team with a vulnerable defense. It’s not just that Johnson is the best receiver in the NFL. It’s the Lions’ lack of wide receiver depth. With the exception of Ryan Broyles, who is still working his way back from injury, the Lions don’t have a single receiver who would be higher than 5th on the average depth chart. Johnson is as valuable as any non-quarterback can be to his team for that reason.

Even if we knew Johnson’s status, this isn’t a very easy game to predict, but Johnson’s health just makes things more complicated. The case for Cleveland is that, even if Johnson plays, he’ll have to face Joe Haden. Haden wouldn’t be able to cover Johnson if Johnson were healthy, but he’s not so even if he plays, he’ll have a shot. Haden has emerged as one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL this season (he’s always been good, but this has been his best year). Shadowing opponent’s #1 receivers, he’s allowed 18 catches for 169 yards on 38 attempts this season.

He was a big part of the reason why the Browns, in a similar situation as home dogs, beat the Bengals, who similarly have one dominant receiver and little else. Offensively, Brian Hoyer is out for the season for the Browns, but Brandon Weeden looked good in relief of him last week. Remember, he didn’t have Josh Gordon at his disposal when he started the year as the starter. Gordon has been dominant in his 3 games since returning from suspension, catching 18 passes for 303 yards and 2 touchdowns. With him and Jordan Cameron, Weeden has weapons to work with.

The case for Detroit, however, is that Detroit is a legitimate playoff team who should be able to bounce back off of a road loss in a tough environment and beat an inferior opponent. Teams tend to cover at a higher rate in their 2nd road game than their first because it gives them an opportunity to get used to being away from home. It’s also very possible that, even at less than 100%, Haden can’t cover Johnson. He’s that good. And as for Weeden, well maybe he’s still just Brandon Weeden and his strong half in relief of Hoyer last week was a fluke against a banged up Buffalo defense. One trend also supports the Lions, as home dogs are 52-74 ATS before being double digit dogs on the road. The Browns travel to Green Bay next week and might not be as focused as they need to be in order to pull an upset as a result. I’m definitely not confident either way, but I like the Lions right now.

Detroit Lions 17 Cleveland Browns 13

Pick against spread: Detroit -3

Confidence: None

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