Even as rare favorites, Browns getting money vs. Jets

September 18, 2018 12:06 AM

If a piece of satellite debris falls from space and hits near Hue Jackson, would anyone really be surprised?

The odds of that event happening to any given person are around 1 in 21 trillion, according to NASA. But the Cleveland Browns court bad luck, and Jackson is the face of the team’s pitiful portrait. Two games into his third year as coach, Jackson’s record is 1-32-1.

Allow those numbers to sink in for a moment … and now consider this: For only the second time in Jackson’s 35 games on the sideline, Cleveland is the favorite.

In the rarest of sights in the NFL wagering world, the Browns were laying points Sunday night when the Westgate SuperBook opened Week 3 lines. Cleveland is a 3-point home favorite over the Jets in a Thursday game unfit for prime time. And now consider this: The first bets from sharp players did not come in on the Jets.

“We are already seeing money on Cleveland,” Westgate book director John Murray said.

On the other side of Las Vegas, South Point sports book director Chris Andrews observed the opening line and laughed. If he were a bettor, Andrews said, he would frown at the notion of laying a field goal with the Browns.

“I would play the Jets or pass,” Andrews said. “The Browns just find ways to lose all of these games. Cleveland has a terrible coach and questions and quarterback.”

Cleveland also has a kicker with terrible timing. Zane Gonzalez, a seventh-round draft pick by the Browns in 2017, missed two field goals and two extra points Sunday in a 21-18 loss at New Orleans. In Week 1, Gonzalez had a potential winning field goal blocked in overtime during a tie with Pittsburgh. Gonzalez might not remain employed for Thursday’s game.

With the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, Baker Mayfield, waiting for his shot to start, the quarterback picked No. 3 will start his third game for the Jets. Sam Darnold, who won his debut at Detroit, passed for 334 yards and a touchdown but also threw two interceptions Sunday in a 20-12 loss to Miami. On Thursday, Darnold will be the ‘dog to the team that epitomizes underdog status in the NFL.

Cleveland’s only previous attempt in the favorite’s role under Jackson was in Week 3 last year. The Browns were 1-point favorites in a 31-28 loss at Indianapolis.

Still, according to veteran Las Vegas oddsmaker Kenny White’s power ratings, neither the Browns nor the Jets rank in the league’s bottom two.

White puts the Buffalo Bills in the 32nd spot, just behind the Arizona Cardinals, who have been outscored 58-6 in losses to the Redskins and Rams. White dropped his ratings on the Bills and Cardinals this week while upgrading Indianapolis and Tampa Bay. Detroit and Oakland are on the decline and clumped in a sad group with the Browns and Jets.

Oddsmakers seldom make radical adjustments in power ratings. Usually, it’s a slight tweak of 1 or 1½ points either way. Public bettors are more inclined to overreact, and the sharpest players are always seeking perceived value in the NFL’s typically airtight betting lines.

The public outsmarted the sharps in the Cardinals-Rams game. When the line hit 13 in favor of Los Angeles, Andrews said “some value players” jumped in on Arizona. Alas, the Cardinals were crushed 34-0 and there was no value in the underdog play.

“Every week we need the worst teams,” Andrews said. “I would still say the Bills are the worst team in the league, but the Cardinals are right there.”

With public action on the favorites consistently overwhelming wiseguy action on the ugly underdogs, bookmakers show up for work on Sundays knowing they will need point-spread covers or upsets by teams such as the Bills, Cardinals, Lions, Raiders, Browns and Jets.

The Bills opened as 16-point ‘dogs at Minnesota in Week 3. While public bettors will want no part of Buffalo, several so-called sharps will perceive the number as inflated.

“The wiseguys are going to bet Buffalo,” Murray said, “but I can’t recommend you bet the Bills.”

Betting on the NFL’s worst teams is a tough way to make a living.

The Browns were 8-24 against the spread in 32 games under Jackson before covering the past two weeks, and Cleveland has not won as a favorite since December 2015.

So is there more pressure on the Browns or Jets? Maybe the best bet is to pass.

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