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Dublin: 4 °C Thursday 18 January, 2018
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The Browns are the league's Runaway Bride and your week 14 NFL preview

There’s a massive weekend of games that could decide this year’s playoff race.

Richard Gere and Julia Roberts star as Hue Jackson and Jimmy Haslam in The Runaway Browns.
Richard Gere and Julia Roberts star as Hue Jackson and Jimmy Haslam in The Runaway Browns.
Image: TNS/ABACA

THE RUNAWAY BRIDE is one of those movies — a bit like Saving Private Ryan and There Will Be Blood — that gives away a lot of the plot in the title.

That plot, in case it wasn’t as obvious as offensive linemen holding on every down, focuses on Maggie Carpenter (played by Julia Roberts) who has left a trail of fiancés in her wake; including ditching three at the alter.

Long story short, she eventually marries Richard Gere and they ride off into the sunset together.

The irony of the movie is that it took 10 years to get off the ground with [deep breath] Harrison Ford, Geena Davis, Mel Gibson, Demi Moore, Michael Douglas, Sandra Bullock, Ben Affleck and Ellen DeGeneres all lined up to play the lead roles before backing out.

Fear of commitment, for whatever reason, is a natural human emotion but once you actually take the plunge — be it marriage, a new job or tearing down an NFL roster only to rebuild it through hoarding draft picks and, thus, becoming the first team in the league to adopt the ‘Moneyball’ analytics approach [even going so far as signing one of the guys credited with pioneering Moneyball] — you really should see it through, no matter what.

Yes, the Browns have missed out on a number of potentially great quarterbacks over the past two drafts, but they’ve started to build an above average defence — one that ranks first against the rush in Football Outsiders’ Defensive DVOA — and hoarded enough picks to not only select their quarterback of the future in 2018, but surround him with offensive talent.

Instead, by sacking Sashi Brown two years into what everyone agreed would be a three-year process — and mindbogglingly guaranteeing head coach Hue Jackson his job despite one win in 28 attempts — the team has put themselves in an even worse position than they began with.

Why? Firstly, hiring a new GM,in this case former Chiefs man John Dorsey, but not allowing him to bring in his own head coach rarely works.

Secondly, the front office, where Paul DePodesta is still employed, now have a raft of draft picks in 2018 but could potentially be pulling in four directions between analytics, the new GM, coaching and an ownership that could have had Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr or Jimmy Garoppolo, but ignored all advice in favour of selecting Johnny Manziel.

I don’t know about you, but to me the Browns feel like one movie that won’t have a happy ending any time soon.

Sunday – 6pm

Indianapolis Colts @ Buffalo Bills

Source: UPI/PA Images

There’s no line on this game as the status of Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor is still up in the air following his injury against the Patriots last week. Even if Nathan Peterman does have to play, the Colts don’t stand a chance in this game.

Verdict: Bills to win

Minnesota Vikings (-2.5) @ Carolina Panthers

The NFC’s number one team visits a Panthers outfit in an almost must-win scenario following Atlanta’s victory over the Saints on Thursday Night Football. Case Keenum has played above the name on the back of his jersey and their defence is incredible. This feels like one of those games though.

Verdict: Panthers against the spread

Chicago Bears @ Cincinnati Bengals (-6.5)

Vontaze Burfict, Adam Jones and Joe Mixon all missed training this week on the back of a Monday night loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Those absences, coupled with the big spread (considering neither team has anything to play for), makes this a tricky one for the home side to cover.

Verdict: Bears against the spread

Green Bay Packers (-3.5) @ Cleveland Browns

Source: Phil Masturzo/PA Images

Thursday night’s result makes a Packers playoff run even more unlikely given their deficit in the NFC. However, they’ll want to keep winning with the prospect of Aaron Rodgers returning. Though that banged-up offensive line and Cleveland’s defence might make it closer than the visitors would like.

Verdict: Browns against the spread

San Francisco 49ers @ Houston Texans (-3)

Fun fact, before Jimmy Garoppolo took a snap with his new team, they’d been outscored by more than 100 points. Since his first pass, their points differential is +8. From small acorns, mighty oak trees grow. The Texans, without DeShaun Watson, are a team devoid of life on offence.

Verdict: 49ers against the spread

Oakland Raiders @ Kansas City Chiefs (-4)

Facebook memories reminds me that these two faced off this time last year with the lead in the AFC West at stake. However, they are two very different teams in 2017 with the Chiefs having lost five of their last six and the Raiders failing the to reach the offensive heights of 2016.

Verdict: Raiders against the spread

Detroit Lions @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Source: UPI/PA Images

There’s no line on this game either as Detroit waits to see just how badly injured Matthew Stafford’s hand is. The nature of their loss to Baltimore last week would make you question their interest in rest of this season so it’s fortunate they come up against a Bucs team that seems intent on getting their coach fired.

Verdict: Lions to win

Dallas Cowboys (-3.5) @ New York Giants

The Cowboys are rightly favoured in this game but the line has shortened as the Giants reinstated Eli Manning at quarterback and rid themselves of Ben McAdoo as head coach. I’ve read a lot of ‘the Giants want this one more’ opinions this week but the Cowboys have the better roster talent.

Verdict: Cowboys to cover

Sunday – 4.05pm

Tennessee Titans (-3) @ Arizona Cardinals

They’re 8-4 and sit atop the AFC South but the Titans have not been convincing of late. Still, the sign of a good team is that, even if they’re not at their best, they beat the bad teams. The Cardinals with Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, are a bad team.

Verdict: Titans to cover

New York Jets (-1) @ Denver Broncos

Source: Hector Acevedo/PA Images

Forget what the records tell you, the Denver Broncos are the worst team in football and it’s not particularly close. Badly coached in all areas, the man, rightly, who will take the fall is head coach Vance Joseph. Whatever happens from here on in, the Jets have surpassed expectations this year.

Verdict: Jets to cover 

Washington @ LA Chargers (-6)

Despite showing signs they could be a playoff team at various points this season, Washington will have another January without meaningful football. The Chargers are one of the NFL’s form teams and should take care of business handily enough.

Verdict: Chargers to cover

Sunday – 4.25pm

Seattle Seahawks @ Jacksonville Jaguars (-2.5)

This would probably be the game of the week were it not for the next encounter but there’s still plenty to enjoy when one of the league’s best quarterbacks — with defensive concerns — takes on one of the league’s best defensive outfits — with quarterback concerns.

Verdict: Jags to cover

Philadelphia Eagles @ LA Rams (-2.5)

Source: Keith Birmingham/PA Images

There are many reasons — poor officiating, an inopportune fumble from Carson Wentz — the Eagles can write off last week’s loss to the Seahawks. The Rams have been consistently good this season but this could feel like a road game with more than 40,000 Philadelphia fans expected.

Verdict: Eagles against the spread

Monday – 1.30am

Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers (-4.5)

I can’t imagine the emotional impact Ryan Shazier’s injury is having on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Football doesn’t seem important in the context of what he’s going through but it’s worth noting that Pittsburgh is also missing his backup Tyler Matakevich. Against a divisional rival, even one with an iffy offence, that could be a problem.

Verdict: Ravens against the spread

Tuesday – 1.30am

New England Patriots (-11) @ Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins stuck around like an unwanted wasp at a picnic last time these two teams met but, even without the suspended Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots should have more than enough to win.

Verdict: Patriots to cover

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