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Baker Mayfield has secret weapon during Browns’ offensive surge

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There is a reason, if you live in Ohio, to thank the heavens that Cleveland GM John Dorsey fell in love with Baker Mayfield last fall. There is also a reason to be thankful that Freddie Kitchens was handed the reins of the Browns offense seven weeks ago today.

On Oct. 29, Gregg Williams took over as coach for the fired Hue Jackson, and Kitchens took over as offensive coordinator for the fired Todd Haley. The Browns are 4-2 since. Four wins. Four Mayfield fist-pumping, howling-at-the-moon wins. Last six weeks for Cleveland: four wins. Previous 164 weeks on the calendar for Cleveland: four wins.

Mayfield/Kitchens. Rarely does an NFL shotgun marriage work, never mind flourish. “Why has it worked so well?” I asked Kitchens on Friday.

“Because Baker is starved for knowledge,” Kitchens said in his Alabama twang, the accent Mayfield imitates almost daily. “He loves learning. I’ve told him, ‘Your work in progress is never gonna be complete, ever. There’s always gonna be things you can work on, new things.’ Why limit what he can become? He loves that. You see that every week, how much he loves it.”

We saw it in real time Saturday night in Denver, with the game clock and play clock running, 12 minutes left in the game, Cleveland down 13-10, first-and-goal at the Denver 2-yard line.

The Browns didn’t huddle at first, preferring to keep the Broncos in their sub defense with two defensive linemen and five defensive backs; Cleveland had run the ball well against that Denver defense, so Mayfield didn’t want them to be able to substitute. This was going to be a run by Duke Johnson, with a tight end next to the right tackle. But with 26 seconds left on the play clock, Kitchens called for him to huddle to call the play, to ensure everyone was on the same page. Quick; don’t let Denver have time to substitute, he told Mayfield. The QB hustled his 10 mates in and out of a quick huddle, looking at the Denver defense while he called the play. The Broncos had a sub—from TV, it looked like corner Bradley Roby—ready to come in, but … “Get to the line!” Kitchens yelled into Mayfield’s helmet before the sideline-to-quarterback communication shut off at 15 seconds. No defensive changes.

At the line, Mayfield got a hint the Broncos could be playing man coverage with four safeties and one corner (due to injury and an ejection). With 10, nine, eight seconds left on the play clock, Mayfield changed the play to a pass, turned around, and moved Johnson from his right to his left—physically moved him, with his hand on Johnson’s shoulder. Denver linebacker Todd Davis inched across the formation, trying not to give away what Mayfield saw: man coverage. To Mayfield’s left was a pure safety, Justin Simmons, with two games of some experience playing slot corner in his three-year career. Not outside corner, where the fleet fly. Simmons has average speed, and his man, Antonio Callaway, is a 4.4 wideout. Big edge, Browns. Mayfield knew.

Play clock at :02. Snap. Calloway got inside Simmons, easily, and broke inside on a quick slant to the middle of the field. No safety help. Easy. Pitch-and-catch, Mayfield and Callaway. Winning touchdown. Cleveland 17, Denver 16.

“What happened on that play was far beyond elementary thinking,” backup Browns quarterback Drew Stanton told me.

This single play represented huge next-level growth for Mayfield, and seven weeks of chemistry between Kitchens and Mayfield. Now, at the line, Mayfield has been given the freedom to change plays even very late on the play clock. That’s because he’s a sponge, and has worked to learn all pre-snap contingencies, and Kitchens trusts his judgment.

In about 28 seconds, Mayfield went from run to huddle to run to moving the back physically to spying indicators of man coverage to changing the play to a pass to the winning touchdown pass to celebrating like a uniformed Tarzan, pounding his chest.

You know what I saw in that moment of intense celebration, almost over-the-top celebration, by Mayfield? Not I just put a dagger in the Broncos on the road with a huge play. To me, it was more Mayfield thinking, I am learning some serious s— right now, and I am executing it at the highest level of my profession. And I just got here.

The Browns are factors in December. Baker is starved for knowledge.

Those two things are related.

Read the rest of the story at Football Morning in America by clicking here

Patriots settle as small favorites on Super Bowl odds 2019

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For all the narratives that can hang off the great Tom Brady and Super Bowl first-timer Jared Goff, two of the big moving parts in the matchup on Super Sunday involve the rushing phase.

The New England Patriots have settled as 2.5-point favorites on the Super Bowl odds 2019 against the Los Angeles Rams with a 56.5-point total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com in the Super Bowl 53 matchup slated for Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Sunday.

The Bill Belichick- and Brady-led Patriots are 6-2 against the spread in their last eight games as a favorite of 3.0 or fewer points, according to the OddsShark NFL Database, while the Rams are 4-3 straight-up and ATS in their last seven games as an underdog. Interestingly enough, underdogs are 13-4 ATS in the last 17 Super Bowl games.

As so often happens, the last two teams standings are in good health. The biggest exception for New England, whose run defense has been league-average much of the season, is that defensive tackle Malcom Brown (calf) was limited in practice. The Rams claim leading rusher Todd Gurley (left knee inflammation) is 100 per cent after he had only five touches during the NFC championship game two weeks ago.

Backing the Patriots, who are 13-5 SU and 11-7 ATS on the year, involves putting stock in Brady and cohorts’ abundant Super Bowl experience, along with the fact the offense has been at peak form, averaging 38.7 points and 465.7 yards per game over its last three outings.

The Patriots’ offensive line will arguably be the unofficial playoff MVP, collectively, if it contains the Rams’ front four anchored by Aaron Donald, the best defensive lineman in football. If Brady, the subject of many Super Bowl props for Sunday, isn’t disrupted and/or the opposing pass rush is sucking wind after a ball-control drive, the Patriots passing game is lethal.

The Rams, 15-3 SU and 9-7-2 ATS, are new to the tumult of the Super Bowl. However, head coach Sean McVay thrives at creating mismatches, and two of the Rams’ season-long strengths, running out one-back, one-tight end sets and using play-action passes, are not tactics that New England has defended particularly well.

Goff also led five game-winning drives during the season, emerging victorious in quarterback matchups against stars such as Drew Brees, Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson (twice).

The total has gone OVER in seven of the Patriots’ last eight games in the playoffs. New England’s last four closely contested playoff games have featured 68, 74, 44 and 62 points.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

First commercial, Trump Tweets, Gatorade color among Super Bowl LIII props

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Fans watch the Super Bowl for the commercials as much as the game, which also lends itself to Super Bowl props.

For instance, Bud Light is the -105 favorite have a commercial appear first during the telecast at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The brewer has a long track record of attention-getting ads, and making a first impression can whet the appetite for something later on in the evening.

Budweiser (+200) is a second favorite on that prop and there might be longshot value on Stella Artois (+550), whose ad will include Jeff Bridges and Sarah Jessica Parker reprising their respective roles from The Big Lebowski and Sex and the City. Michelob Ultra (+550) and Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer (+550) are also on the board.

The total number of commercials is set at 96, with both the over and under priced at -120. In the car commercial prop, Hyundai (-250) is favored against Mercedes-Benz (+170), but it might be worth playing a hunch since the February 3 game is at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Atlanta has also been hit by wintry weather this week, and it’s -140 on the Super Bowl 2019 prop bets on the stadium’s roof being closed against even money for open.

The previous two championship matchups each had over 60 points scored, and the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams are certainly capable of trading touchdowns. It is -140 that any scoring drive will consume less game time than however long it will take Gladys Knight to perform The Star-Spangled Banner.

As far as coach props, the over/under is 1.5 on broadcaster references to the relative youthfulness of 33-year-old Rams coach Sean McVay, with the over (-220) favored against the under (+155). Los Angeles is the underdog on the 2019 Super Bowl odds.

There is also a total set for the number of tweets from President Donald Trump’s Twitter account during the big game. Over 6.0 tweets is a -140 favorite with the under an even-money underdog. It is -650 on Trump not attending the game and +375 on him showing up. He did not attend Super Bowl LII in 2018.

A cross-sport bet is whether Houston Rockets star James Harden’s streak of 30-point games – 24 and counting – will end before Super Bowl LIII does, with -120 odds either way. Harden’s next two opponents, the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz, have each managed to keep him under 30 at least once this season.

As far as props that pay off postgame are concerned, there is the ever-popular bet on what color liquid the winning coach will be doused in after the game. Clear / water (+220) is a slim favorite over lime / green / yellow (+225), followed by orange (+400), blue (+400), red (+600) and purple (+1000). The Patriots, for what it might be worth, have poured a clear liquid on coach Bill Belichick following each of their four most recent Super Bowl wins.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.