Ugly Browns an enticing play

A train wreck of a season for the Cleveland Browns cannot be salvaged, and coach Eric Mangini soon might be out after a short and forgettable stay.

There are a few positives with the Browns, though, and only a few. Brady Quinn has turned in decent quarterback play recently, wide receiver Josh Cribbs has become a dynamic talent, and the defense has shown improvement.

Cleveland (2-11) is at Kansas City (3-10) today for one of the most unappealing games of the NFL season. There’s no reason to watch it unless you bet on it, and handicapper Doug Fitz sees it as an attractive wager.

Fitz, who offers his picks for free at Systemplays.com, said the Browns are worth a bet as 2-point underdogs.

“I never thought I would say this, but the Browns are playing pretty well,” Fitz said, referring to Cleveland’s upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 10. “Their defense has come alive, and Quinn and the offense are actually resembling a real pro football team.”

The Browns defensive line was dominant in sacking Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger eight times. In Cleveland’s previous game, a loss to San Diego, Quinn passed for 275 yards and three touchdowns.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs continue to flounder, as Matt Cassel has thrown six interceptions in the past two games.

Kansas City has dropped three in a row straight up and against the spread (ATS). Cleveland has covered four straight as an underdog.

“The Chiefs have been a favorite only once this year, and they lost that game outright to Oakland in Week 2,” Fitz said. “I believe the Browns have something to prove as they strive to salvage something positive out of a disastrous season.”

Fitz analyzes the rest of today’s Week 15 schedule:

Green Bay at Pittsburgh (-2): The Packers went under the total in their past three games. The Steelers went over the total twice in their past three games, but their offense managed to score only 47 points combined in those games. I can’t see the Pittsburgh offense suddenly getting a lot better against a sturdy Green Bay defense. Look under the total of 401/2.

Miami at Tennessee (-5): The Dolphins have been an excellent road underdog, covering their past four games in that role. The Titans are all but mathematically out of the playoff hunt, and quarterback Vince Young is slowed by a hamstring injury. Miami is alive for the playoffs, so coach Tony Sparano should get maximum effort from his team. Take the Dolphins, especially getting more than a field goal.

New England (-7) at Buffalo: Not counting the game in London against Tampa Bay, the Patriots are 0-3 ATS as road favorites. This line is inflated because of New England’s public perception and reputation, but in fact the Patriots are nowhere near the team they have been over the past several years. Buffalo has played competitively since coach Dick Jauron was fired. The Bills should make this a close game.

Arizona (-131/2) at Detroit: The Cardinals should atone for their lackluster performance Monday night. The Lions could not even cover home games against the likes of Cleveland and St. Louis. I normally do not back any double-digit favorite in the NFL, especially on the road, but Arizona can name the score in this game.

San Francisco at Philadelphia (-71/2): The 49ers are 3-1-2 ATS as road ‘dogs, and they play tough every game. Mike Singletary will not let his team suffer the common hangover after a Monday night win. The Eagles have lost their past two games as home favorites. Philadelphia is prime for a letdown after its huge win last week against the Giants. The 49ers always seem to find a way to stay in games, and this will be closer than most expect.

Atlanta at New York Jets (-7): Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez will start for the Jets after missing one game with a sprained right knee. But both teams have too many key injuries, including Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, and no line was posted all week at most books. I’ll pass on this one.

Chicago at Baltimore (-11): This number opened at about 81/2, and money has gone to the favorite for good reason. The Bears, who have lost six games in a row ATS, are a mess and don’t seem to have a clue on either side of the ball. The Ravens still are in the playoff hunt, and they are a much better team. I can’t see Chicago scoring much. Again, I rarely recommend double-digit favorites, but Baltimore should destroy the helpless Bears.

Houston (-14) at St. Louis: The Rams have scored a total of 16 points in their past two games. The Texans are 4-2 ATS on the road, and St. Louis is 2-5 ATS at home. With quarterback Matt Schaub and wideout Andre Johnson, Houston’s offense can score a lot of points, and that should be enough against the dismal Rams.

Cincinnati at San Diego (-7): Until the death of Cincinnati wide receiver Chris Henry, I liked the Bengals in this game. Henry’s death makes it impossible to gauge what effect that will have on the team, so I’ll pass on this game. The Chargers are tough at home and unbeatable in December with Philip Rivers at quarterback.

Oakland at Denver (-14): The Raiders have been competitive in many games this season, and they have pulled off some big surprises with straight-up victories over the Eagles and Steelers as double-digit underdogs in each game. I would feel more comfortable with quarterback Bruce Gradkowski starting instead of Charlie Frye, but I still think this is too many points to lay against an Oakland team that has come to play most weeks.

Tampa Bay at Seattle (-61/2): The Buccaneers seem to have given up and are just playing out the season. Seattle is 4-1 ATS as a home favorite. Couple that with the long trip to the West Coast, and it will be a long day for the Bucs. The Seahawks should win easily and cover this one.

Minnesota (-9) at Carolina: The Panthers rely primarily on ball-control running, and their passing game has been anemic all season. The Minnesota defense allows only 86.8 rushing yards per game. Carolina has played four consecutive unders, and Minnesota has played five consecutive unders. This does not have the makings of a high-scoring game. I don’t think the recent under trend for both teams will change, so look under the total of 421/2.

Compiled by Las Vegas Review-Journal sports writer Matt Youmans.

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