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Bills at Browns

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When the Thursday night NFL Network schedule came out in April, the Week 5 matchup between the Bills and Browns looked like a dud. However, these two improving squads head into Thursday's meeting in Cleveland each at 2-2 and both a part of the Wild Card race in the AFC, albeit through four games. Buffalo heads to Ohio for just its second road game of the season, while Cleveland tries to avoid a letdown after knocking off its rival last Sunday.

The Browns looked to compete with the Jaguars for the worst team in the NFL following consecutive losses to the Dolphins and Ravens to kick off the season. Add on a thumb injury to quarterback Brandon Weeden and the trade of former third overall pick Trent Richardson to the Colts and many Browns' and NFL fans though Cleveland had packed it in. However, Brian Hoyer took over under center for Weeden and has delivered back-to-back underdog wins over the Vikings and Bengals to pull the Browns back to the .500 mark, two games better than the rival Steelers in the AFC North.

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The home victory over the Bengals pushed Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Baltimore into a first-place inside the division last Sunday, as Cleveland slipped past Cincinnati, 17-6 to cash as 3 ½-point underdogs. Hoyer threw a pair of short touchdown passes, while the Cleveland defense stepped up by holding Cincinnati to its lowest point total in a game since 2009 when the Bengals were shut out by the Jets. The victory by the Browns was the third in the past four home meetings with the Bengals, while improving to 3-1 to the 'under' this season.

The Bills have covered three of four games this season, including a 23-20 home underdog victory over the Ravens in Week 4. The Buffalo defense intercepted Joe Flacco five times, while the Bills' ground game chewed up Baltimore for 203 yards. On the flip side, the Bills weren't able to cash in on touchdowns on three possessions inside the red zone, resulting in three field goals from inside 27 yards. Three of Buffalo's four games have been decided by three points or less, one season after having only two contests decided by less than three points in 2012.

Since Cleveland came back into the NFL in 1999, the two teams have split six meetings, as the Bills won last season as 2 ½-point road favorites. Buffalo cruised past Cleveland, 24-14 last September, but both starting quarterbacks from that game (Weeden and Ryan Fitzpatrick) aren't playing this week, while the Bills' defense held the Browns' running game to just 33 yards. Each of the last three meetings between these teams have finished 'under' the total.

VegasInsider.com Antony Dinero breaks down the quarterback battle, "Bills rookie E.J. Manuel has impressed, but failed to win on the road in his lone attempt and now faces his first pro night game on a short week. He's got a fourth-quarter comeback to his credit and is running the offense currently running plays at the fastest tempo, but emerging with a win in hostile territory at the helm of a fairly young offense would represent a new height in his development. Cleveland's Hoyer is trying to prove himself, too. Stringing together another four quarters without an interception would go a long way. Expect Thursday's winner to be determined by whoever performs better."

Buffalo has struggled as a road underdog since 2011 by posting a 3-12 ATS record in the last 15 opportunities, including a Week 3 defeat to the Jets, 27-20. Since 2010, the Browns have limped to a 2-6-1 ATS record in the home favorite role, while splitting games last season against the Chiefs and Redskins. Cleveland is hosting its first primetime game since 2009, when the Browns upset the Steelers, 10-6 as 10-point home underdogs in December.

The Browns opened as four-point home favorites, but the number dropped this morning to 3 ½. The total is set at 40 ½ across the board as the game kicks off at 8:30 PM EST and will be seen nationally on the NFL Network.

You can reach Kevin Rogers via e-mail at rogers@vegasinsider.com

Kevin Rogers can be followed on Twitter at virogers.

  
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