Despite the Arizona Cardinals’ undefeated record, books opened with the Cleveland Browns as field-goal favorites for this Week 6 tilt. To say this is a bit of a head-scratcher is an understatement. In fact, the public wasn’t down with the market and showed its disagreement by betting the line down for NFL picks against the spread. So the question is: Who’s got it right? The bookies? Or the public? Find out as we preview this intriguing matchup between these two AFC hopefuls.
|Game: Arizona Cardinals (5-0) at Cleveland Browns (3-2)
Location: FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland
Date: Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021
Time: 4:05 p.m. ET
|Arizona Cardinals||+2½ Ev||+125||49½ -110o|
|Cleveland Browns||-2½ -120||-145||49½ -110u|
Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals won the only previous meeting with Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns 38-24 in 2019. It was Murray’s debut season and head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s first, too. The Cleveland Browns hired Kevin Stefanski in 2020, who transformed the Browns into a bona fide AFC contender. This matchup will be different for many reasons, not least because a lot has changed in both camps since then.
Next game: vs. Houston Texans
The Arizona Cardinals are flush off a 17-10 win over the San Francisco 49ers, extending their unbeaten record to 5-0. The Cardinals are the only undefeated team in the league, and they’ll be keen to keep the winning momentum going this week when they take on the Cleveland Browns on the road.
Arizona’s schedule wasn’t the easiest, but it wasn’t the toughest either. According to NFL Strength of Schedule rankings, the Cardinals had the 13th-toughest schedule. They opened the season with an upset over the Tennessee Titans (38-13) on the road before edging the Minnesota Vikings 34-33 at home.
Most notably, Murray and the Cardinals upset the Los Angeles Rams in Week 4, beating Sean McVay’s highly-fancied side 37-20. The following week, the Cardinals backed it up with a second straight NFC West victory at the expense of the Niners, although the Niners were short-handed and started rookie quarterback Trey Lance.
Through five weeks, the Cardinals are 4-1-0 against the spread (ATS). They’re the second-best team after the Dallas Cowboys, covering four of their five contests with a +10.1 differential against the spread.
Cornerback Marco Wilson (ribs), cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. (ribs), linebacker Ezekiel Turner (shoulder), offensive lineman Rodney Hudson (ribs), and offensive lineman Isaiah Simmons (head) are questionable for Sunday. Tight end Maxx Williams (knee) is out for the season while linebacker Chandler Jones (illness) is out indefinitely.
Next game: Denver Broncos
The Cleveland Browns are 3-2, a run of form consisting of wins against lesser opponents and losses against some of the best teams in the league. The latter of which includes a season-opening 33-29 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on the road and a 47-42 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 5.
Mayfield and the Browns threw the kitchen sink at the Chargers Sunday but came up on the wrong side of the thrilling shootout. The back-and-forth contest saw both sides alternating leads. At the most crucial moment, in the final minute of the game, the Browns botched it. They had the ball, and a little bit over a minute left to pull off a last-gasp-winning drive, but poor clock management and ineffective plays saw the initiative fizzle.
The Cleveland Browns are 3-2-0 ATS with a +3-point differential versus the spread. The Browns failed to cover as the 2½ point road underdogs against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 5.
Update: Cleveland was jolted Friday with news great RB Nick Chubb will miss the game. Defensive end Tommy Togiai (illness), cornerback Greg Newsome II (calf), tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. (ankle), tackle Jack Conklin (knee), cornerback Denzel Ward (neck), defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (elbow), cornerback Greedy Williams (shoulder), and linebacker Tony Fields II (shoulder) are questionable. Tackle Chris Hubbard (tricep) is on IR, while cornerback M.J. Stewart Jr. (hamstring) and center Nick Harris (hamstring) are out indefinitely.
Betting on the Game
Lookahead Las Vegas NFL odds had the Browns projected to 4½ points before Week 5, but as Sunday’s round of NFL action wound down, the line opened with the Browns pegged to a field goal. Then as markets opened, the public swiftly bet down the line to Browns -2½ points.
Cleveland’s two-point drop is significant, nor can it be dismissed as a knee-jerk reaction to their disappointing loss to the Chargers. It’s not the first time Mayfield and the Browns have come up short against stiff opposition. If there’s one knockback on Mayfield, it’s the fact that he’s yet to put the team on his back and carry it to victory.
The Cardinals weren’t as clinical against the Niners as they were against the Rams. However, Murray is enjoying a banner season with his inspired play, and the Cardinals have put forward a winning product that makes a strong case. The preferred bet here for NFL picks would be the Cardinals +3 if it is still available. The NFL line is likely to move again, with several sportsbooks showing the Cardinals -2½ juiced up to -125. That could be a signal the line could swing up to a field goal.
Betting the moneyline is a bit of a toss-up because either side could win this game. There’s value on both sides of the coin, whichever way they bet the NFL odds. The Cardinals are undefeated, but all streaks inevitably end. The Browns are coming off a disappointing result which could lead to a bounceback performance or a letdown. Push comes to shove: the Cardinals could potentially heap more misery on the Browns and extend their record to six straight wins. At +145 to win straight up, Arizona is certainly worth the tickle.
Finally, the total for this game is currently pegged to 49½ points after coming down from an opening 53 points. There’s no question that both teams can put up the points in a hurry, but the defenses in both camps are pretty stout. Consequently, the public has bet down the line to 49½ points. In all likelihood, a battle in the trenches between the defenses rather than a pass-happy contest is the expectation. The question is whether the total is now low enough to make the over the value play.