NFL 2018 Season - Week 16
 

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Pace Car
by Dennis Ranahan

The Cleveland Browns of the National Football League are like the pace car in the Indianapolis 500. They come out all new and shiny and lead the pack on the first meaningless lap around the track … but everyone knows they aren’t going to win the race and will get out of the way for the legitimate contenders.

This is a team that has won only one game in two regular seasons, compiling a 1-15 mark in 2016 and 0-16 last season. Even with generous point spreads, and the books give out points to Cleveland like the most generous neighbor hands out candy on Halloween, the lowly Browns are big time losers. Their 1-31 straight-up mark is a bankroll burning 7-24-1 against the point spread.

Few bettors in the land would have done better the past two years than simply betting against Hue Jackson and his inept football team every week during the regular season.

But, while Cleveland is to the regular season what a turd in the punchbowl is to a party, they do have this preseason stuff figured out pretty well. Perhaps it is because they need their opponent not to care about the final score to win, or their talent and organization is just good enough to win when nothing is at stake, but Cleveland is to the preseason what the New England Patriots are to the regular season.

The Browns preceded their winless campaign last year with a perfect 4-0 mark in the preseason both straight up and against the spread. Last week, in their preseason opener, they beat the New York Giants on their home field, 20-10.

In their opener, the Browns success was triggered by first pick in the draft quarterback Baker Mayfield, who passed for over 200 yards and two touchdowns in his pro debut. Rookie signal callers can often have impressive efforts in preseason games before opponents design defenses to blunt their talents.

Tonight, the Buffalo Bills visit Cleveland and the Browns are favored by three points.

That’s right, the Cleveland Browns are favored in a football game.

How can that be?

Because, this is the part of the race that still has the pace car on the track. The Bills come to town looking to work their rookie quarterback, Josh Allen, who they selected this year with the seventh selection in the draft. The first year field general out of Wyoming is looking to win a starting job for the Bills after Buffalo traded incumbent quarterback Tyrod Taylor to … wait for it … the Cleveland Browns.

In other words, the quarterback that was discarded by Buffalo gets a shot at challenging his old team on his new home turf tonight while the Bills look for a starting QB among a group that includes Allen and A.J. McCarron. Ironically, the Browns had attempted to trade for McCarron with the Cincinnati Bengals a couple years ago, but like so many things in Cleveland, they messed up the paperwork and the trade never went through.

What does that leave us with tonight in Cleveland? More drama among the quarterbacks than a daytime soap opera and the right time to back the win starved Browns.

Qoxhi Picks: Cleveland Browns (-3) over Buffalo Bills