NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Cleveland Browns Preview

Brian HoyerJust a few weeks away from the start of the NFL playoffs, the Indianapolis Colts travel to FirstEnergy Stadium, the home of the Cleveland Browns for what could prove a crucial AFC matchup (1pm EST, Sunday).

If you’re the Browns, this is it, the moment you have been waiting weeks, perhaps all season for. This is the first time all season that they are facing a team over .500 that is not in their division, which might be the toughest in football. This is their chance to gain some national respect and to stay alive in the playoff race.

If you’re the Colts, this is a game you need to win to still have a chance to secure the top overall seed in the AFC. The Colts are currently hot, coming off of two big wins. Granted, both came against the dirges of the NFL in the two-win Jacksonville Jaguars and three-win Washington Redskins, but for Indianapolis it is important they keep riding the momentum en route to the postseason.

In Hoyer we Trust

After finally allowing Johnny Manziel to make his NFL debut last week, the Browns have decided not to start him against the Colts. Instead, they are returning to Brian Hoyer (pictured), a decision that has many shaking their heads.

While Manziel has had his critics, his debut last week was solid if not pretty good by most analytical measures. He led the team down the field to score a touchdown in his first drive. He was accurate on his throws and didn’t make a lot of mistakes. He seemed ready to grow into the learning curve and as most would say, “if not now, when?”

Hoyer brings an entirely different element to the table. He has had his good days and bad days and lately, those have been veering more on the bad side. That’s why Manziel entered the game last week and why it was expected Hoyer had lost the starting job.

But the Browns seem willing to put their faith in this season in Hoyer, a guy who’s thrown one touchdown and six interceptions in the last four weeks, a guy whose best games came against defenses and teams ranked near the bottom of the league.

Now to be fair, the Colts defense doesn’t exactly rank very high on the list of the best in the league as far as opponents’ passing yards but they have been known to cause timely turnovers. Overall, the team has nine interceptions and 17 forced fumbles. This could be a serious problem for the Browns offense on Sunday.

The TY Hilton Connection

Andrew Luck has completed 313 passes this year and his 25-year-old wide receiver has caught 68 of them, aka 22% of them. Only Peyton Manning and his two wide receivers, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, have a better connection.

Hilton and Luck have been such a huge reason for the Colts success as the number one passing (326.3 YPG) and scoring (31.8 PPG) offense in the NFL this year. Luck has turned to his top and most reliable receiver with more frequency this year than ever before and the two have continued a great tradition of QB/WR that has existed in Indianapolis for years.

For the Browns defense, stopping a tandem such as these two, and that isn’t even to mention the offensive weapons supplementing them, is no easy task. In fact, only one team has held Hilton below 40 yards this year and they are currently tied atop the standings for best record in the AFC. By that same token, only one team has held Luck under 250 yards this year and that team is in the running for the top seed in the NFC.

Needless to say, Luck and Hilton have really only been beaten by great teams. It is something that could hurt them in the postseason but maybe sooner. The Browns are a good team with one heck of a corner.

A first round draft choice in 2010, Joe Haden is finally garnering the accolades he has long deserved. In fact, some across the league are even calling him the best cornerback in football right now.

To this point in the season, Hilton has won the one-on-one battles and has managed to put up big numbers no matter who has been covering him. But he hasn’t yet faced Haden and with the way the Browns’ star has been playing lately, this could be a matchup that Hilton might finally lose.

Indianapolis Colts at Cleveland Browns Betting Picks

Make no mistake, this is going to be a tough game for the Colts. The Browns are in fight mode right now and after being in a state of futility for years, there is an urgency to secure a big win like this. That said, the Colts are still a better team. They have a much stronger offense, one of the best quarterbacks in the league and a defense that can hold its own.

  • So I’m picking the Colts -3.5pts to win on the spread @ best odds of +100 with BetOnline or 5Dimes sportsbooks. Even on the road, Indianapolis is a good team and one that, if they continue to be on this hot streak, could be dangerous in the postseason.
  • As for the total points in the game, the best option is to take the over 49.5pts with BetOnline Sportsbook at best betting odds of -110. Even if the Browns’ offense is futile, the Colts’ is not. Fifty points is more than possible for these two teams.