The NFL will take the stage on Christmas Day with a throwback matchup at Lambeau Field between the Cleveland Browns, working to make the AFC playoffs, and the Green Bay Packers, who clinched the NFC North Division on Sunday.
The Packers went from having one less day of rest to an extra day, thanks to COVID, which is playing havoc with the NFL’s schedule. But what about the NFL odds?
Cleveland Browns vs. Green Bay Packers
Saturday, December 25, 2021, 4:30 PM EST at Lambeau Field
The NFL will take center stage on Christmas Day with a throwback matchup at Lambeau Field between two legendary teams. The Cleveland Browns are looking to stay in the mix for an AFC playoff berth, while the Green Bay Packers have already wrapped up the NFC North Division, clinching it with a win over the Ravens on Sunday.
The Packers went from having a one-day disadvantage in rest to a one-day advantage, thanks to COVID, which is once again playing havoc with the NFL’s late-season schedule. The Browns were originally scheduled to play at home against Las Vegas on Saturday, but the game was moved to Monday due to a rash of positive tests on Cleveland.
Had the game gone on as scheduled, the Browns would have been missing up to 16 players. Heading into Sunday’s game, Green Bay was missing just one player—defensive tackle Kenny Clark—due to COVID testing.
Ravaged by COVID
Since the Raider game was moved two days later, the COVID situation seems to have gotten worse for Cleveland, not better. According to reports, the Browns now have 23 players and three coaches in COVID protocols. Many of them may be back in time for Monday’s game, and many are asymptomatic, but it’s still serving as a major distraction as the team pushes to make the postseason.
At 7-6, the Browns are currently in eighth place in the AFC playoff race, with the top seven teams advancing. Cleveland is also a game out of first in the AFC North division.
Heading into Monday morning, the Browns’ COVID positives included starting quarterback Baker Mayfield, backup Case Keenum, running back Kareem Hunt, two starting offensive linemen, receiver Jarvis Landry, and tight end Austin Hooper.
Mayfield was not cleared for Monday’s game, giving Nick Mullens the start against the Raiders Kyle Lauletta, who was on the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad on Friday, will serve as a backup quarterback.
On defense, pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney, two linebackers, a tackle, cornerback, and three safeties are the starters or regulars that are sidelined. The Browns would also be without their punter and head coach Kevin Stefanski.
Not only that, but Cleveland has some standard-issue injury concerns, as well. Hunt, who is positive for COVID, is unlikely to play against the Raiders anyway, as he’s sidelined with an ankle injury. Receiver Anthony Schwartz and cornerback Greg Newsome II are both in the concussion protocol.
Clearly, the situation is fluid in Cleveland, and it’s possible, perhaps likely, that a new batch of COVID positives will threaten the Christmas Day game as well, assuming, to borrow a phrase that we thought we were done using after last year, the game isn’t moved or called off due to COVID.
Rolling Along in the NFC North
While Cleveland has huge COVID issues to contend with, things couldn’t be going much more smoothly in the frozen tundra. The Packers wrapped up the division for the third straight season, stopping a Baltimore two-point conversion attempt to escape with a one-point win on Sunday. Aaron Rodgers made his case for league MVP with three touchdown passes, tying Brett Favre for first on the Green Bay career list. Receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling had a big game, finding the end zone for the first time in three weeks.
While the offense was clicking, scoring on five of six drives spanning from just before the half into the fourth quarter, the defense struggled to contain Baltimore backup quarterback Tyler Huntley and was also vulnerable to the run, as Clark’s absence in the middle of the line was felt. Green Bay also struggled with penalties on special teams.
While the Browns have been drowning in turmoil this past weekend, there’s a good chance things stabilize before Saturday. With the progress of COVID seeming to accelerate heading into the holidays, it’s also entirely possible that Green Bay will be the team suddenly contending with an outbreak by the time the weekend arrives.
Even if that doesn’t happen, the Packers will be tempted to take a breath after taking care of the division, which could allow the Browns to cover a line that seems a bit large. Like the Browns to cover the spread for our NFL picks.
*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.