Aug 22, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Case Keenum (5) throws the ball during the first quarter against the New York Giants at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

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Browns favored without Baker Mayfield but action split vs. Broncos

Baker Mayfield continues to insist his injured left shoulder isn’t a problem.

The Cleveland Browns apparently disagreed.

It will be Case Keenum at quarterback for the Browns Thursday night when the Denver Broncos come to Cleveland for a battle of 3-3 teams.

The Browns opened as 3.0-point favorites at most sportsbooks, with oddsmakers shifting the line to 2.0 points after Mayfield was ruled out. The Broncos remain the slightly more popular option with 51 percent of the bets and 58 percent of the spread-line handle backing Denver at DraftKings.

The moneyline action has been split, with 59 percent of the bets backing Cleveland (-130) while 69 percent of the money has been placed on Denver (+110).

AI-driven predictive sports analytics provider Quarter4 has the Broncos with a 55 percent win probability.

Mayfield aggravated the labrum injury in his non-throwing shoulder Sunday during the Browns’ 37-14 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Due to the short week, there were no shortage of observers expressing Mayfield might be better off letting the shoulder heal, despite Mayfield saying Tuesday it was his decision to make whether to play because only he knew how his felt.

However the decision was made to start Keenum. Coach Kevin Stefanski made it clear Wednesday morning that Mayfield would be a no-go.

“Case Keenum will be our starter tomorrow night and we have full confidence in him to lead us and do the things necessary to put us in position to win,” Stefanski said. “Baker fought really hard to play, he’s a competitor and obviously wants to be out there but just couldn’t make it on a short week. We know he will continue to do everything in his power to return as quickly as possible.”

Keenum, who will be making his first start since he started eight games for Washington in 2019, won’t have star running back Nick Chubb (523 rushing yards) or sidekick Kareem Hunt (361) in the backfield with him.

Chubb will miss his second straight game due to a calf injury. Hunt was placed on injured reserve Tuesday with his own calf injury sustained against the Cardinals.

D’Ernest Johnson will be Cleveland’s starting running back. The third-year pro has carried three times for 11 yards this season and 40 times for 198 yards in 38 career games.

“It’s a next-man-up mentality,” Johnson said. “We just have to go out there and just execute. The mentality stays the same, and the standard is still high in the room.”

The Browns have dropped their past two games. Despite having NFL sack leader Myles Garrett (8.0 sacks) on the defense, Cleveland allowed a total of 84 points in the setbacks to the Cardinals and Los Angeles Chargers.

Denver has dropped three straight games, including a 34-24 home loss to the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday.

The Broncos also have their own banged-up quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater, who is dealing with a foot injury. Bridgewater said the foot was stepped on during Sunday’s game.

Bridgewater was listed as questionable Wednesday after his third straight limited practice. He is dealing with injuries to his left foot and quadriceps, but coach Vic Fangio said he expects Bridgewater to play Thursday night.

“Teddy is a veteran, and he’s a good guy to talk to as to how he’s feeling,” Fangio said. “He’ll give you a straight and honest answer.”

Bridgewater, who has passed for 1,514 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions, said playing hurt is part of the terrain during a short week.

“Just like the Cleveland Browns — I’m pretty sure they have guys banged up and they’re playing on a short week,” Bridgewater said. “We have guys banged up and we’re playing on a short week. We’ve got to make sure that we just lock in mentally and try to do the best that we can to execute the game plan.”

The Denver defense, led by star Von Miller (4.5 sacks), took another blow Sunday when fellow linebacker Alexander Johnson (32 tackles) sustained a season-ending pectoral injury. The Broncos were already without two linebackers — Josey Jewell (season-ending pectoral) and Bradley Chubb (ankle surgery). Bradley Chubb is on injured reserve but projected to return later in the season.

The Broncos are weighing whether to activate wideout Jerry Jeudy (ankle) off IR. He has been sidelined since being hurt in Week 1 against the New York Giants, and Fangio said Jeudy has less than a 50 percent chance of playing Thursday.

Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (shoulder) was listed as questionable on Thursday, while Jarvis Landry was activated from injured reserve.

Denver has dominated the series with 12 wins in the past 13 meetings, including six straight triumphs in Cleveland.

–Field Level Media

Field Level Media
Sport Writer & Editor
FLM has a North American focus while tying into regional and hyper-local resources – providing the ability to distribute compelling content through the writing of professional journalists. As the U.S. sports content provider to dozens of digital and print media publishers through strategic partnerships with the likes of Reuters and Nielsen Sports, FLM covers the nuts and bolts with a breaking news desk and game event coverage.

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