Cleveland Browns (0-1) at Baltimore Ravens (1-0)
Coming into the season, I had the Ravens winning just 6 games. They pulled the week 1 upset in Cincinnati last week, shutting out the Bengals in a 20-0 victory, but the Bengals are having major offensive problems after losing their top-2 offensive linemen in free agency, not scoring a single touchdown so far through 2 games (including this week’s Thursday night game). The Ravens have a strong secondary, but are very inexperienced in the front 7, with first-time starters at 4 of 7 spots, so I don’t expect them to be that dominant defensively all season.
That will expose their offense, which has been weak over the past couple seasons and is arguably as weak as it’s ever been right now, thanks to free agent departures and injuries. They’ve lost 3 starting offensive linemen (Alex Lewis, Jeremy Zuttah, Ricky Wagner), 2 of their top-3 receivers (Steve Smith, Dennis Pitta), and their most promising running back (Kenneth Dixon) from last season. They added veterans like Jeremy Maclin, Austin Howard, and Danny Woodhead to plug holes in free agency, but none of those players are spectacular and Woodhead is already out for an extended period of time with injury. Injuries have seriously thinned depth on both sides of the ball for the Ravens, as they now have a league-high 12 players on injured reserve.
Despite that, they’re favored by more than a touchdown (7.5) here at home against the Browns. That’s not just because the Ravens are an overrated team, but also because the general public still thinks the Browns are as bad as they were last season. They’re far from a playoff team, but I think they’re noticeably improved on both sides of the ball from a year ago and aren’t that much less talented than the Ravens. They’ve drastically improved their offensive line and have taken a big step forward defensively, even if they still have issues on that side of the ball. We’re getting great value with the visitors here.
The Ravens don’t really blow teams out anyway because they tend to play low scoring games. They have just 3 wins by more than a touchdown over the past 2+ seasons. One of those wins came last season in Baltimore against the Browns, but these two teams are not the same as the last time they met. The Ravens are also in a tough spot having to travel to London to play the Jaguars next week. Teams are 10-20 ATS all-time before having to fly over to London for the week, which makes sense considering how taxing London trips can be for team’s schedules (hence why teams usually go on bye afterwards). The Browns have a very good chance to keep this one close throughout and have an outside shot at winning outright. This is one of my favorite plays of the week.
Baltimore Ravens 16 Cleveland Browns 13
Pick against the spread: Cleveland +7.5