Each week Zac Hirschbeck will look at the betting odds for each NFL game and then share his pick for each matchup. While hopefully it goes without saying, please don’t hold him accountable if you gamble away your retirement savings or child’s college fund based on his picks.
After going 8-4-1 in his Week 9 picks, Zac’s season-long record stands at 68-59-6 heading into Week 10.
Here are his thoughts on tonight’s game, which sees the Baltimore Ravens (4-4) host the Cleveland Browns (0-9).
Cleveland Browns (+7.5) at Baltimore Ravens
On paper this seems like it should be a convincing win for the home team. Baltimore comes off of a big home over the Steelers in Week 9, and they saw many key starters return to the field. The Browns on the other hand were thoroughly dominated at home by the Dallas Cowboys, and extended their winless start to the season to nine games. Furthermore, Jim Harbaugh is 15-2 against the Browns during his time as Baltimore’s head coach, and Joe Flacco has been around for 14 of those 15 victories. However, despite significant hesitance in placing my belief in an organization that is very clearly playing for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, I like the Browns to keep this game close.
Despite making a change at offensive coordinator prior to Week 6 (Marty Mornhinweg replaced Marc Trestman), Baltimore’s offense has remained a stagnant unit. Through eight games played, the Ravens rank 27th in total yards per game (325.1), 20th in passing yards per game (243.4), 28th in rushing yards per game (81.8), and 26th in points per game (19.3). Joe Flacco, who is likely still working his way back from the season-ending ACL and MCL injuries that he suffered in 2015, has struggled in 2016. The 31-year-old quarterback has more turnovers (9) than total touchdowns (8), and his quarterback rating (76.0) ranks ahead of just three other quarterbacks (Brock Osweiler, Blaine Gabbert, and Ryan Fitzpatrick). Flacco hasn’t been supported by an effective ground game either. Baltimore managed only 50 yards on 29 attempts against Pittsburgh, and their season-long average of 3.5 yards per carry is fifth worst in the league. Terrance West, who remains the lead back despite the return of rookie fourth-round pick Kenneth Dixon, has picked up just 31 yards on 23 carries over the last two games.
Obviously, there is the distinct possibility that the Ravens snap out of their season-long malaise against the Browns. Cleveland has allowed 146.4 rushing yards per game (second most in the NFL) and 12 rushing touchdowns (also second most in the NFL). Despite the presence of Joe Haden, the Browns passing defense hasn’t fared much better as they have collectively surrendered the second most touchdowns (22) and the second worst quarterback rating (106.9) to opposing signal callers.
With all that said, there are two statistics that lead me to believe that the Browns are plenty capable of battling the Ravens. First off, four of Cleveland’s nine losses have been by six points or fewer, which would seem to indicate that the Browns have managed to remain competitive under Hue Jackson. Likewise, the Browns have regularly kept the score close in past losses to Baltimore. In nine of the Ravens’ past 10 victories over Cleveland, 10 points or fewer have decided the game.
If Flacco and the Ravens offense continue to sputter, and if Cleveland’s offensive line can protect rookie quarterback Cody Kessler while also opening up holes for running back Isaiah Crowell, the Browns have a legitimate shot at breaking their 12-game winless drought. However, while I’m still skeptical as to whether Cleveland will actually emerge victorious, I do think the Ravens will struggle to pull away from their lowly divisional foe.
Pick: Cleveland (+7.5)