BUFFALO BILLS (2-2) at CLEVELAND BROWNS (2-2)
Sportsbook.ag Line: Cleveland -4 &40.5
Opening Line & Total: Browns -3 &41.5
Two teams coming off upset wins as home underdogs clash Thursday night when the Bills and Browns meet for the sixth time in seven years.
Buffalo held off the Ravens last week by a 23-20 score, outrushing them by an eye-popping 203 to 24 margin. Cleveland pulled off its second straight upset by frustrating the Bengals in a 17-6 victory. The Browns are 3-2 (SU and ATS) in this series since 2007, but Buffalo won the past two meetings, including a 24-14 victory last year propelled by Tashard Choice’s 91 rushing yards in relief of injured RBs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. Both Spiller (ankle) and Jackson (knee) are hurt again, but both are expected to play, if only for a limited role, which could make Choice a prominent figure in this contest again too. The Browns are 2-0 (SU and ATS) with 373 total YPG since QB Brian Hoyer has become the starter, while the defense is holding opponents to 4.3 yards per play and 79 rushing YPG this season. Although the Bills are 30-12 ATS (71%) after a win by three points or since 1992, they are also just 1-9 ATS on the road after playing a home game in the past three seasons. Despite the Browns’ winning two in a row, they are just 2-5 ATS (29%) in their past seven games and 7-18 SU (28%) in their past 25 contests.
All four of Buffalo’s games have been decided by seven points or less this season. The Bills lost by two to the Patriots and by seven to the Jets, while beating the Panthers by one on a last-second touchdown pass and topping the Ravens by three points last week. Despite the injuries to both RBs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson last week, the team still churned out 203 yards on 55 carries (3.7 YPC) for the game. Although Spiller gets the most carries on his team, he’s gained just 3.5 YPC compared to Jackson’s excellent 5.3 YPC average. Jackson has also been the more dangerous receiver with 13 catches for 113 yards (8.7 YPC), while Spiller holds a horrific 3.2 yards per catch average with nine grabs for only 29 yards. Buffalo’s 152 rushing YPG (2nd in NFL) has taken the pressure off rookie QB EJ Manuel who has been decent so far. He has completed 57% of his passes for 856 yards (6.6 YPA), 5 TD and 3 INT. The one negative is that Manuel tends to hold onto the football too long, absorbing 11 sacks already. Other than his versatile running backs, Manuel relies mostly on three receivers to catch the football, WR Steve Johnson (35 targets), WR Robert Woods (24 targets) and TE Scott Chandler (21 targets). Johnson had game highs in targets (11), catches (seven) and receiving yards (61) in last year’s 24-14 win in Cleveland. Buffalo’s defense has done a great job of making plays this season with 11 takeaways in the first four games. DE/LB Mario Williams (5.5 sacks this year) had 1.5 sacks in last season’s win over the Browns. Despite the turnovers, the Bills have not really stopped anybody with great consistency. They rank 22nd in the nation in passing defense (272 YPG allowed) and 27th against the run (122 YPG). A big reason the secondary has struggled is because of all the injuries to key players such as S Jarius Byrd (foot), CB Aaron Williams (back) and CB Leodis McKelvin (hamstring). All three defenders are listed as questionable to suit up Thursday.
Browns QB Brian Hoyer has done a tremendous job since taking over for injured starter Brandon Weeden (thumb). In the two starts, Hoyer is 2-0 with a 60% completion rate for 590 yards (295 YPG), 5 TD and 3 INT. He needs to make sure he’s not forcing any throws facing such a turnover-happy defense, and Hoyer also need to make sure he’s feeding sudden star TE Jordan Cameron (360 rec yds, 5 TD) and WR Josh Gordon, whom Hoyer has targeted 27 times in Gordon’s two games back from suspension. Even since the trade of top RB Trent Richardson to the Colts, this team has done a decent job running the football, gaining 192 yards on 4.1 YPC over the past two games. Veteran RB Willis McGahee is the new top back in town, but he has struggled early on with a mere 55 yards on 23 carries (2.4 YPC). RB Chris Ogbonnaya is the backup with 50 yards on seven carries (7.1 YPC), and he was able to amass 48 total yards and a touchdown last week. Cleveland’s run defense has been second-to-none, leading the NFL with 2.9 yards per carry. The Browns also lead the league by allowing a minuscule 4.2 yards per play, and have been able to force five turnovers during the past two games. They did not have the services of DE/LB Jabaal Sheard (knee) last week, and he is questionable for Thursday as well.