Thursday Night Football Betting: Is It Right for the Shorthanded Browns to Be Favored Over the Broncos?

This matchup between the Cleveland Browns and Denver Broncos could be an ugly game -- something you could surmise from the lowly 40.5-point total at NFL odds.

Both teams are missing some key pieces. The Browns will be without Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and possibly Odell Beckham -- and that's from only their offensive skill guys. For Denver, Jerry Jeudy will be out, and so will defensive end Bradley Chubb. Our nERD-based power rankings aren't into either team, with 3-3 Cleveland checking in 19th and 3-3 Denver sitting 21st.

Cleveland is currently a 1.5-point favorite.

Let's dive into what we think could be some interesting betting angles for this contest.

Breaking Down the Two Teams

The total is at 40.5 points for a reason -- the quarterback play could be suspect.

Let's start with Broncos signal-caller Teddy Bridgewater. He clearly has been limited by a multitude of injuries recently, although he is expected to suit up and play tonight. From an efficiency perspective, he's been pretty darn good, logging a mark of 0.23 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, far better than the league average of 0.15. He threw for 334 yards last time out in a negative game script versus the Las Vegas Raiders, but he was plagued by three picks, as well.

For Cleveland, Baker Mayfield will not be playing tonight, and that leaves Case Keenum as the starter. Keenum has attempted all of three passes so far this season. Clearly, there's not much to draw from that. His last significant game action took place in 2019 -- when he dropped back to pass 247 times and recorded a 0.06 Passing NEP per drop back. Cleveland -- who has the third-lowest pass rate -- would likely prefer to lean on their run game, but that may be hard to do with running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt out in addition to tackle Jack Conkin.

D'Ernest Johnson will likely assume lead-back duties for Cleveland. Johnson has three carries and one catch this year. He had 33 carries for 106 yards in limited action in 2020, which was good for 5.0 yards per carry.

There is a timeshare being employed in the backfield in Denver. Both Melvin Gordon (70 carries) and Javonte Williams (65) should see plenty of action, but Gordon has been the far more efficient runner by our numbers, posting a clip of 0.16 Rushing NEP per carry.

Defensively, our metrics have Denver as the 14th-best overall D and rank them right around the league average against both the run and pass. The Browns have struggled on that side of the ball, sitting 11th-worst overall.

Bets to Consider

The Browns are 1.5-point home favorites, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, and the total is at 40.5 points. Even with all of Cleveland's skill-position injuries on offense, our model likes the Browns to win by a score of 26.22-19.52, and we see a lot of betting value across the board.

We give the Browns win odds of 70.6%. They are priced at -130 on the moneyline, which implies win odds of 56.5%, so there's good value in taking Cleveland to win outright. Also, we think the Browns cover as 1.5-point favorites 67.9% of the time.

Our numbers also point to the over, which we give a 65.8% chance to win out.

In the player prop market, I am on the over on Bridgewater's passing yards prop. The line is at 229.5 yards, and we project him for 243.0 passing yards.

Historical Betting Trends

-- Both teams are 3-3 against the spread (ATS) this year.
-- Denver has won eight of its last nine games against Cleveland.
-- Thursday Night Football has been kind to the Broncos. In their last 14 appearances on Thursdays, they are 11-3 ATS.