Getting Ugly Early
He's the most heralded back-up quaterback in the NFL since Tim Tebow.
But in Sunday's season opener at Pittsburgh, Johnny Manziel will be just that: a back-up.
As I pointed out here prior to the Browns' pre-season game with the Redskins, Manziel's inability to surpass starter Brian Hoyer on the Cleveland depth chart indicates their first-round draft pick still isn't ready for prime time. And it means the Browns will have the journeyman Hoyer under center to start Sunday's game.
The apparently less-than-stellar expectations for Cleveland doesn't bode well for the Browns, as they open the season against division rival Pittsburgh, a team Bovada has listed as a seven-point favorite. However, it's Bovada's total of 41½ that really has my attention.
Because while the Browns will very like sputter on offense, we also know the Steelers will use that familiar style of smash-mouth, ball-control offense that won't be all that flashy but will do enough to get the job done.
Recent history overwhelmingly tells us the under is the play. Using the Bovada data tool provided on the Home page will help you see a number of factors trending toward a low-scoring affair here, which includes the Steelers winning by an average score of 21-10 over the last ten games. You'll find that in the head-to-head summary.
Add to that data the fact that the Browns' top receiver, Josh Gordon, won't be playing today or all season on a suspension for drug use. They have also only scored a dismal three touchdowns on the ground against Pittsburgh over the past 21 games!
On the other side of the ball, the Steelers will be breaking in a crop of new receivers for Ben Roethlisberger, and the kind of continuity needed for a QB and new receivers can often take some time. So look for the Steelers to rely on their normally reliable running game,especially since they'll likely be guarding a lead. And that will consume a lot of time, too.
I was initially enticed by the thought of an easy Steeler cover here, and that still may be the case. But this one has all the makings of starting off slow and maybe staying that way for a while before the Steelers pull away. Don't expect a copy of this video to go to the Smithsonian or Canton, because it's not going to be pretty.
I like the Steelers here somewhere in the ballpark of 23-10, with the game never really threatening to go over Bovada's 41½.
My pick: Browns/Steelers under 41½
Result: Pittsburgh 30 Cleveland 27 total = 57 over covers
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