NFL Week 12 Late TV Games: Nothing to rave about for beleaguered Baltimore

No Average Joe: a torn ACL has knocked the Ravens star and his knee out till 2016
No Average Joe: a torn ACL has knocked the Ravens star and his knee out till 2016

Romilly Evans looks at some big live match-ups to conclude the Thanksgiving gridiron action, where he expects the Ravens to prove rudderless without Joe Flacco, even in lowly Cleveland...

"Matt Schaub's throwing arm is ageing about as gracefully as Johnny Manziel doubtless plans to"

New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos
Start-time: Monday, 01:30
TV: Live on SS2

Thanksgiving week engenders contrasting feelings on this side of the pond. While Americans raise a glass to their founding fathers and pass the turkey, Brits drown their sorrows and mourn the loss of the colonies. It's a little different for the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos in this primetime match-up, since they each have plenty to celebrate and commiserate over.

Both teams boast Conference-topping records (the Pats pre-eminent at 10-0, the Broncos within hoofing distance at 8-2) and are eyeing up the top two AFC seedings and a bye week in the play-offs. On the flipside, however, injuries to key players and mean that they also face overcoming a series of imponderables and structural variables if they are to maintain their respective high bars and secure a Super Bowl appearance.

Denver have arguably lost the greatest quarterback of his generation, even if he was playing like a pale imitation thereof. We'd all like a brand new 2005 Peyton Manning playing for us. Just not some banged-up 2015 model. And the jury is now out on whether Manning's foot, neck and ribcage injuries - which have ruled the QB out for the next fortnight at least - will prove a blessing in disguise. For in has stepped the fresh air of Brock Osweiler's youth, plus the mobility which comes with it. The idea is that Gary Kubiak's team now recognises its limitations (no deep downfield strikes but fewer interceptions), and sees Osweiler simply hand it off to their twin-threats of their progressive running game. Wade Phillips' D can then do the rest.

Whether that strategy is enough to go deep in the postseason, of course, is another matter. Nevertheless, at Mile High, they should still be able to compete against the perfect Pats with a paucity of imagination. And that's because New England has its own treatment table problems. True, their key cog is still whirring in Tom Brady. Yet his offensive line is having the constantly rejigged, with knocks to Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson leaving Brady exposed and running out of options.

Buffalo's pass-rush created increasing problems for him last week, with Brady admitted that he "felt harassed for 3 hours 20 minutes." Few harry or hurry as well as the Broncos' dominant D, so their defensive detail alone could snap the New England streak here.

Recommended Bets
Back Denver Broncos (+3) to win on the Match Points Spread @ 2.285/4 or better
Back Back Denver Broncos (+1.5) to win on the First Half Points Spread @ 2.01/1 or better
Back Under 44.5 Total Points @ 1.84/5 or better
Back R. Hillman to score First / Anytime Touchdown 12.011/1 or better

Baltimore Ravens @ Cleveland Browns
Start-time: Tuesday, 01:30
TV: Live on SS1

The turn of next year's NFL wheel can't come quickly enough for these two outfits. Just when you thought Baltimore had lost all their playmakers, down goes their kingpin in Joe Flacco until 2016. Cleveland have also lost their starting quarterback, with Johnny Manziel's partying propensities catching up with him once again. The former Heisman Trophy recipient has since been downgraded to third-string benchwarmer.

Yet Manziel's replacement, Josh McCown, although no nod to the future, is no backwards step either - at least in terms of current capacity and offensive-line familiarity. The Ravens, however, have to make do with Matt Schaub taking the reins under center, a 34-year-old whose throwing arm is ageing about as gracefully as Manziel doubtless plans to.

In a nutshell, then, there's key difference. So a short but sweet epitaph probably best serves this game best two tombstone teams having to live out their respective nightmare seasons in the national spotlight. Only trouble, of course, is it's Thanksgiving, not Halloween.

And for all the Ravens will always play tough, and enjoy fighting from the same trench together, their depleted personnel means that they're consistently outmatched across the park by the Browns here. Cleveland undoubtedly has the sprightlier offense, and can effortlessly surpass a paltry Overs total on the way to turning out the seasonal lights for Baltimore. Only next year's number-one draft pick remains as any consolation for the downward-spiraling Ravens.

Recommended Bets
Back Cleveland Browns (-2.5) to win on the Match Points Spread @ 1.824/5 or better
Back Cleveland Browns to win Half Time / Full Time @ 2.111/10 or better
Back Over 22.5 Cleveland Browns Total Points @ 1.9210/11 or better

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