Normally, when a bird goes into a dog pound (does that even happen?) bad things could be expected for our smaller, feathered friends. That's not the case in the NFL — where it's the birds that are bigger and badder — as the 5-0 Arizona Cardinals travel to FirstEnergy Stadium to clash with the 3-2 Cleveland Browns.
The Cards are the league's lone remaining undefeated team, yet NFL betting lines have them as 3.5-point road pups against the Browns, who are coming off an ugly loss that raises questions about their ability to battle with the league's top-tier clubs.
Find out why Arizona is the underdog in our best free NFL picks and predictions for Cardinals vs. Browns on Sunday, October 17, with kickoff set for 4:05 p.m. ET.
Cardinals vs Browns odds
Odds via the Covers Line, an average comprised of odds from multiple sportsbooks.
This line opened with Cleveland as a 3-point home favorite and as of Friday morning ticked to Browns -3.5. The total opened at 53.5 — one of the highest numbers of the week — and since plummeted four full points to 49.5.
Cardinals vs Browns picks
Picks made on 10/15/2021 at 1:43 p.m. ET.
Click on each pick to jump to the full analysis.
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Cardinals vs Browns game info
• Location: FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland, OH
• Date: Sunday, October 17, 2021
• Time: 4:05 p.m. ET
• TV: FOX
Cardinals at Browns betting preview
Cardinals: Maxx Williams TE (Out), Jordan Phillips DE (Out), Rodney Hudson C (Out), Chandler Jones LB (Out), Tanner Vallejo LB (Out).
Browns: Nick Chubb RB (Out), A.J. Green CB (Out), Jedrick Wills Jr. OT (Out), M.J. Stewart S (Out), Chris Hubbard OT (Out), Malcolm Smith LB (Out), Jack Conklin T (Out).
Find our latest NFL injury reports.
Betting trend to know
The Under is 10-1 in the Cardinals' last 11 road games. Find more NFL betting trends for Cardinals vs. Browns.
Cardinals vs Browns predictions
Browns -3.5 (-105)
Right now, the biggest storyline dominating our train of thought for this marquee Week 6 showdown is the scary-looking weather forecast.
The forecast right now is calling for rain starting Saturday and carrying right through to kickoff, with winds blowing West in the 15-20 mph range and a temperature that feels in the mid-50s. That would make this a game where throwing could be very difficult and running the ball will be paramount — which heavily favors the Browns.
Cleveland leads the NFL with 35 rushing attempts per game, 187.6 yards per game, and 5.4 yards per carry. Even when you know they're going to run, the Browns still find success, thanks to a Top-10 run block win rate (72%).
Now, normally we'd be terrified of the fact that the Browns announced Friday afternoon that star RB Nick Chubb will not play this weekend due to a calf injury. We said normally... because Cleveland's "backup," Kareem Hunt, could easily be the No. 1 back on more than half the teams in the NFL. Hunt normally plays around 45 percent of the offensive snaps and will see an uptick in that (and his 11 rushes per game), which should help offset some of Chubb's absence.
While the rest of the snaps will be filled in by D'Ernest Johnson and/or Demetric Felton — obviously a huge drop-off from Chubb — the Browns will still be running against a Cardinals defense that gives up the fourth-most rushing yards per game and second-most yards per carry — especially when running to the right side, where Cleveland averages 6.8 ypc and Arizona gives up 6.4 ypc — and will be without star linebacker Chandler Jones.
On the flip side, the Cardinals' running backs average 94.2 yards per game and 4.2 ypc, and face a Browns defense that has the best run stop win rate (34%) and gives up the second-fewest rushing yards per game.
Arizona's biggest advantage in this game is at quarterback, where Kyler Murray is significantly more effective than Baker Mayfield. However, this impending nasty weather and Murray dealing with a shoulder ailment — which limited him last week against San Francisco, as he had his lowest yards/attempt, intended air yards/attempt, and passing yards for the season — will greatly neutralize that.
This game script is trending towards heavily favors Cleveland's strengths (and Arizona's weaknesses), so we're going to lean with the Browns. We're not big fans of the half-point hook that the line moved to today, but sitting at -105, there is a chance that some Arizona buyback could move this back to -3 before kickoff — you might be better served to wait and see if that happens and jump all over it.
Under 49.5 (-115)
As mentioned above, this ugly weather is going to curb the explosiveness of both teams' passing games, promote more (clock-eating) running plays, and the high winds and rain could also make things such as kicking field goals and extra points difficult.
The total quickly dropped four points from opening with the forecasted weather, and we're inclined to side with that movement as well.
Remember back to a three-game home stretch last season when Cleveland hosted the Raiders, Texans, and Eagles... and those games averaged a combined 304 passing yards, 6.2 yards per pass attempt, 65 rushes, and 26 points per game. Yes, those games had even uglier weather than expected this Sunday, but you get our drift.
Add in that Cleveland's defense is expected to be much healthier than last week, it won't have it's home-run hitting running back in Chubb, plus the fact that the Under has cashed in two of the last three games for each team, and we see this being a low-scoring slopfest on Sunday.
Also to note: If these forecasted high winds hold strong, this total could drop even more — if you like the Under we recommend jumping on it sooner than later.
Kareem Hunt anytime TD (-130)
With Chubb sidelined, Hunt is the feature back this Sunday. While we expect him to have an uptick in touches, Hunt is dealing with wrist and knee ailments, and with a short turnaround coming next week (hosting Denver on Thursday Night) he likely won't tote the rock as much as a clear No. 1 RB would.
That said, one place Hunt will be guaranteed to get all the touches is in the red zone, where the versatile back is a threat both carrying the ball and out of the backfield.
The 26-year-old Hunt has 12 of the Browns' 34 carries (35.3%) inside the red zone this season, and six of 16 rushes (37.5%) when inside the opponent's 10-yard-line — and still has a touchdown in four of five games.
At worst, those odds will flip to Hunt getting the bulk of such carries this Sunday in taking over the No. 1 role, but let's be honest: the talent (and trust) gap between Chubb and Hunt is minimal — and the difference between Hunt and D'Ernest Johnson and Demetric Felton (the likely backup RBs) is much greater.
On a regular day, Hunt is a solid bet to find paydirt. On a day when he's guaranteed to get more touches, more red-zone looks, and his team will be running a lot? We'll jump all over that.