It’s hard not to become enamored with the NFL team featured on HBO’s popular “Hard Knocks” series, which took viewers inside the Cleveland Browns training camp this year.
We were all pulling for Devon Cajuste to make the team. The undrafted tight end became the breakout star of the show, in part, for his heartwarming relationship with his father, who has had a slew of health issues.
There were several amusing moments as well, from the rookie show poking fun at receiver Jarvis Landry’s expletive-laced rant about players missing practice to offensive line coach Bob Wylie’s rant about stretching being overrated.
The show is one reason bettors have backed the Browns over the Steelers in Sunday’s season opener. Pittsburgh opened as a 7-point favorite and the line dropped as low as 3½ before settling at 4 and 4½ at Las Vegas sports books on Friday.
Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell still hasn’t reported to the team, but Boyd Gaming sports book director Bob Scucci said that wasn’t the main factor for the line move.
“They were on the Browns even before the Le’Veon Bell holdout,” Scucci said. “We continue to get Browns money. It’s kind of shocking to me.
“We do see an uptick in betting on whatever team is featured on ‘Hard Knocks.’ It brings them to the public forefront.”
In the end, Cajuste’s crystals and good vibes weren’t enough to prevent him from getting cut by the heartless Browns. But that’s not why we’re going to go against popular opinion and take advantage of the discounted price on Pittsburgh.
It’s mostly because the Browns have the same coach (Hue Jackson) and same defensive coordinator (Gregg Williams) who guided the team to an 0-16 record last season. Cleveland also is 1-10 in its last 11 games against the Steelers and has lost its past 13 openers.
For the record, one of the 12 teams featured on “Hard Knocks” has gone from a losing record to a winning one the year after appearing on the show. The 2009 Cincinnati Bengals improved from 4-11 to 10-6.
Four more plays (home team in CAPS):
■ PANTHERS (-3) over Cowboys: Carolina went 11-5 last season, and quarterback Cam Newton and company should make big strides this year under the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Led by perennial Pro Bowler Luke Kuechly, the solid Panthers’ defense should shut down a Dallas offense devoid of a passing attack and dealing with issues on the offensive line.
■ BRONCOS (-3) over Seahawks: Denver is poised for a bounce-back season behind quarterback Case Keenum, and rookie linebacker Bradley Chubb will bolster the Von Miller-led defense. Seattle’s once vaunted defense has been dismantled, and quarterback Russell Wilson’s back might give out from trying to carry the team this season. The Broncos have won six straight season openers.
■ RAVENS (-7½) over Bills: Buffalo quarterback Nathan Peterman is making his third career start and doesn’t have any weapons outside of running back LeSean McCoy. The Bills have the league’s lowest win total (5½) for a reason. Baltimore has won and covered seven of its last 10 openers.
■ LIONS (-6½) over Jets: This is not only a bet against rookie quarterback Sam Darnold making his first start in the NFL but the youngest Week 1 starting QB in NFL history at 21 years, 97 days. The Lions were third in the league in takeaways (32) last season and will be primed for Matt Patricia’s debut as Detroit coach on “Monday Night Football” at home, where they’ve thrived as favorites in recent years. Lions QB Matthew Stafford was third in the league in passing yards (4,446) last season and led Detroit to its second consecutive 9-7 season.