New England Patriots (3-1 SU, 3-1 ATS) vs. Cleveland Browns (0-4 SU, 1-3 ATS)
Week 5 NFL
Date/Time: Sunday, October 9, 2016 at 1PM EST
Where: FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland, Ohio
By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Betting Odds: NE -10.5/CLE +10.5
Over/Under Total: 46.5
The New England Patriots come to FirstEnergy Stadium to face the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. The Patriots finally get Tom Brady back and probably just in the nick of time. They were very resourceful in winning three straight without Brady, but in a 16-0 shutout loss to the Bills on Sunday, their offense definitely hit a wall and Brady's return will be welcome. Cleveland, meanwhile, is just trying to find a positive development after falling to 0-4 with a 31-20 loss at the Redskins in week four. While Cleveland in not looking good being winless, there are some positive signs that make them perhaps a bit more dangerous than they appear on paper.
At 0-4, the Browns aren't feeling great about things. At the same time, when you're on a bad team and you more or less know you're not going places, it's not all that deflating of an experience. If a playoff-hopeful team were 0-4, you could start thinking of bad thoughts setting in. On Sunday, the Browns fell behind 14-0 and eventually took a 20-17 lead in the third quarter before the defense allowed some scores at the end, but they were at least competitive. They've been giving teams a battle in their last three games, where wins were possible and within grasp.
The Browns offense will not be getting the gust of wind in their sails they were expecting with the return of WR Josh Gordon this week, but there are other good signs. QB Cody Kessler has shown some potential in his first two NFL starts and is able to get this offense moving at times. Running back Isaiah Crowell has been running well, with 386 yards on the ground through four games. Duke Johnson adds some pep on the ground and through the air. Terrelle Pryor has been making a lot of noise in this offense and had another TD on Sunday. TE Gary Barnidge, slow out of the gates, is getting more involved and had 7 receptions on Sunday. Losing Promising looking Corey Coleman was a bad development. Still, they're starting to forge an identity on offense with a strong run-game and a QB with some upside.
If only they could get some cooperation from the defense. Again, they've been in there with shot to win in each of the last three games and the defense couldn't hold up its end of the bargain. The line is almost a non-factor at times, with the stoutness against the run not being there, along with the lack of a consistent pass-rush. The front has already been sapped by injuries, as has the secondary. And this wasn't a defense deep enough in talent to withstand injuries. Again, there is more life on this team. Maybe it's head coach Hue Jackson, the injection of some useful youth, or something else. But they are a team that can jump up and get you on the right day.
The Pats appeared galvanized with the suspension of Brady, as if they wanted to tell the world that no one can keep them down. With both Jacoby Brissett and Garoppolo banged-up, that mojo ran out in week four. The offense made one red-zone visit and was plagued by penalties. The run game, which had been big, was a non-factor on Sunday. TE Martellus Bennett was among the few bright spots, going over 100 yards. And maybe in addition to Brady coming back, the Pats can start to enjoy the benefits of having a healthy Rob Gronkowski in there. When "Gronk" has been at or near his best, this offense has been a lot better over the years.
The New England defense has been big this year and was a major part of why the Pats were able to keep it together without some of their big guns on offense. Even when getting no support like they did on Sunday, they were still resolute, allowing just 16 points to the Bills. In their last two games, they've allowed 16 points combined and with the offense looking to take flight more in coming weeks, look for them to stay on-point. The pass-rush has been crisp. And even though they will allow chunks of yardage here and there, this is a defense that tightens up when the moment is at its most-critical. They can really respond to urgency.
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With the return of Brady, even with the game being in Cleveland, there should be some added energy to this team. It's not like he is coming back from injury. Whatever we or anyone else thinks about the validity of the suspension is irrelevant; as long as we know the Patriots felt is was an injustice. Considering how they played to make a point in Brady's absence, one should expect them to respond to having their star back behind center for the first time since the "injustice." They should be able to respond and combined with the shutout loss to the Bills on Sunday, look for an urgent Patriots team this Sunday.
On one hand you have the perennial contenders the Patriots. Brady is back and the sky is the limit. On the other hand, you have the downtrodden Browns—sitting at 0-4 in the midst of another season going nowhere. It sets up another all-too-convenient of a storyline, where a lot of people will overlook the Browns. Cleveland isn't the easiest place to play and with the Browns showing a competitive edge, Cleveland has some upside as a double-digit home dog.
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