Both the Cleveland Browns and Denver Broncos are reeling into their primetime Week 7 Thursday matchup, as the Browns have lost two games in a row, and the Broncos three straight after a 3-0 start.
Each team is going to be short-handed after a painful Sunday, made worse by the short week. Cleveland will be without running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, while quarterback Baker Mayfield — who has a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder — could miss the game too.
Denver is dealing with its own injury issues, especially on the defensive end as inside linebacker Alexander Johnson suffered a season-ending torn pectoral on Sunday.
|Game: Denver Broncos (3-3) at Cleveland Browns (3-3)
Location: FirstEnergy StadiumDate/Time: Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET
Television: FOX/NFL Network
|Denver Broncos||+3½ (-120)||+150||u42 (-110)|
|Cleveland Browns||-3½ (Ev)||-170||o42 (-110)|
The Broncos have dominated their matchups with the Browns historically, leading the series 24-6. Denver has won four of the last five meetings, but the Broncos and Browns have split the only two matchups since Mayfield was drafted.
Denver won 24-19 in 2019 behind receiving touchdowns from Noah Fant and Courtland Sutton (thrown by Brandon Allen) but the Browns won 17-16 in 2018 as Mayfield tossed a pair of touchdown passes.
Next game: vs. Washington Football Team
Hampered by a foot injury, Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw three interceptions and lost a fumble en route to a 34-24 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday. Bridgewater — who had only thrown one pick in his first five games with Denver — did throw for 334 yards and three touchdowns, but his early turnovers helped the Raiders build a 31-10 lead that was too much to overcome even at the elevation of Mile High.
Denver lost as sizable five-point favorites, and the point total blew past the over (45 points) thanks to some fourth quarter garbage time touchdowns for Bridgewater. The Broncos’ defense, missing a bunch of key players, had no answer for Derek Carr, who threw for 340 yards on only 18 completions. Big plays really hurt Denver.
The Broncos are really hurting at linebacker and at the skill positions. Johnson (torn pec) was Denver’s leading tackler in 2020 and now he’s out for the season, as is fellow inside linebacker Josey Jewell (torn pec). Defensive end Bradley Chubb (ankle) and wide receivers KJ Hamler (knee) and Jerry Jeudy (ankle) are still on injured reserve, while linebacker Baron Browning (concussion) is out for Thursday’s game.
A bunch of other key players — Fant, Melvin Gordon III, and Bridgewater — were limited in practice on Monday and are currently listed as questionable with injuries so their statuses will be important to keep an eye on if you’re making NFL picks against the spread.
Next game: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Despite the Arizona Cardinals’ coaching staff suffering from a mini-COVID outbreak, they crushed the Browns on Sunday in Cleveland, 37-14. Kyler Murray (229 yards and four TDs through the air) destroyed the Browns’ secondary while managing to rush for 144 yards. Arizona also forced three Mayfield turnovers — one interception and two fumbles — which all directly led to Cardinals’ points.
The Browns got smoked as three-point home favorites while the over (48 points) was actually in question for awhile until the Cardinals sealed the game with a 93-yard drive that culminated in an A.J. Green touchdown catch with under five minutes left in the fourth quarter.
The Browns also have a ton of injury issues, most notably at running back with Chubb and Hunt out. Three offensive line starters — Jack Conklin, Jedrick Wills, and JC Tretter — didn’t practice on Monday, with the same being said for Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr. (shoulder), and linebackers Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (ankle) and Malcolm Smith (abdomen).
Wide receiver Jarvis Landry (knee) is on injured reserve and hasn’t played since Week 2, but he has a chance to go this Thursday. The Browns could really use him.
Betting on the Game
This game could be an ugly one if both Bridgewater and Mayfield are as limited physically as it seems they will be, and it could depend on which team is healthier. Denver and Cleveland got out to quick starts this season and have cooled off significantly since, as injuries have taken a toll and schedules have gotten more difficult.
The line on this game took a move in the Bronco’s turn at the sportsbook on Monday. Having opened with Cleveland as five-point favorites, that number has since been bet down to 3½ even. Accordingly, the bets that came in support of Denver brought their moneyline down from as high as +200 to the current +150.
But, without their entire running game — third-stringer D’Ernest Johnson is expected to get a lot of run on Thursday — and maybe multiple key wide receivers and possibly David Njoku (knee), the Browns just won’t have many weapons. Plus, Mayfield is playing through a fairly serious injury and the offensive line is very banged up.
The NFL lines moves would hint that Cleveland will show up worse for the wear, though it seems like the point spread may have bottomed out by now at 3½. Expect even a hint of optimism on Cleveland’s offensive injuries. to bring the line back the other way.
Denver should be relatively healthy on offense, and will get production from a disruptive defensive front seven, led by Von Miller, that will be able to get pressure on whoever is playing quarterback for the Browns.
Also, the Broncos have a deep wide receiver room that could be boosted in the off-chance that Jeudy is able to play. Sutton, Tim Patrick, and Kendall Hinton can all make plays and, if Fant can go, he’ll be able to help spread the field.
For that reason, the Broncos’ moneyline might even be the smart play if you’re betting online. They have the health advantage and have enough defensive playmakers to force multiple Browns turnovers, which has been a huge issue for Cleveland all year.
Denver at +150, in a short week, is good value, but might merit waiting to see if support comes for the Browns and gives a better number. The market’s leaning under 42 points, as the line’s notched down a half point to that key number after it opened.