Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer passes during NFL practice at the team’s training facility in Berea, Ohio Wednesday. Hoyer will start Sunday
Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer passes during NFL practice at the team's training facility in Berea, Ohio Wednesday. Hoyer will start Sunday against Minnesota in place of injured Brandon Weeden, who sprained his right thumb last week and could be sidelined for several games. (Mark Duncan/The Associated Press)

When it comes to betting the NFL, like most people I'm always looking for that one item that separates a pick from all the others.

I have a strong feeling that Cleveland is going to pull off an impressive upset this week in Minnesota.

Yes, that same Cleveland team that traded away star running back Trent Richardson on Wednesday. The same Browns team that most people believe will just go through the motions for the rest of the season. The same Browns team where starting quarterback Brandon Weeden is out (thumb injury) this week and backup Brian Hoyer has been asked to make a rare start.

And friends, therein lies the rub when it comes to the Browns — Brian Hoyer.

Hoyer, represented by NFL player agent Joe Linta of Branford, Conn., isn't being given much love on NFL or fantasy football sites, with most predicting him to throw for about 250 yards, maybe a touchdown and two or three interceptions.

By Sunday night, folks making those predictions will be shaking their heads, in my opinion.

Hoyer has an opportunity here to create a quarterback controversy in Cleveland (yes, a QB controversy in Cleveland and I'm not saying that because I inhaled some medical marijuana — I didn't). Reports this week claim the Browns coaching staff hasn't been enamored by Weeden's play this season. This is Hoyer's shot to potentially to get that elusive full-time starting QB job.

Linta has been singing the praises of this guy for years.

“Brian is calm and doesn't get rattled,” said Linta in an interview Thursday. Linta also represents Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco and negotiated his recent $120 million contract. “He doesn't have Flacco's arm, but it's strong enough to make all the throws. He will take what the defense gives him.

“Obviously, they made it tough on him getting rid of the franchise running back (Richardson). But Brian will be extremely well prepared and will give the Browns a chance in a very hostile atmosphere.”

What does Hoyer have in his favor against Minnesota? Hoyer has a strong Browns' defense on his side, a susceptible Vikings secondary to exploit, a top-tier tight end in Jordan Cameron and the return of receiver Josh Gordon from suspension. The Browns also signed back Willis McGahee to replace Richardson, and he'll help the effort.

Sunday's Games

San Diego at Tennessee (-3): Chris Johnson vs. the Phillip Rivers-to-Eddie Royal show. Go with the show. Nowak's pick: Chargers 31-27.

Cleveland at Minnesota (-5.5): See above, upset special.  Nowak's pick: Browns 27-17.

Tampa Bay at New England (-7.5): The receiver-challenged Patriots have yet to cover against the spread this season.  Nowak's pick: Patriots 24-23.

Houston at Baltimore (+2.5): Texans are 26-13-1 ATS in their last 40 games.  Nowak's pick: Texans 30-20.

St. Louis at Dallas (-4): The Rams are 7-1 as a road underdog in their last eight games.  Nowak's pick: Cowboys 27-24.

Arizona at New Orleans (-7.5): I predict Saints will go 8-0 ATS at home this season. Nowak's pick: Saints 38-17.

Detroit at Washington (-2): This is tough because I believe RGIII and the Redskins, along with the entire Lions offense will have huge games in this spot. Go with the over (over-under is 49).  Nowak's pick: Redskins 37-30.

Green Bay at Cincinnati (+2.5): Packers are 11-5 ATS in their last 16 games against AFC teams.  Nowak's pick: Packers 31-24.

Giants at Carolina (-1): Can Giants running back David Wilson finally get rolling? Can the Giants “D” stop Cam Newtown? Here's my answer. Nowak's pick: Giants 27-24.

Atlanta at Miami (-2): Atlanta running back Steven Jackson is injured and out, but Atlanta still has a lot at wide receiver and tight end. Nowak's pick: Falcons 27-20.

Indianapolis at San Francisco (-10.5): Despite the Colts' addition of Trent Richardson, the 49ers will do all they can to get last week's loss to Seattle out of their minds. Nowak's pick: 49ers 40-17.

Jacksonville at Seattle (-19.5): Normally, I'd take any points approaching 20 no matter who was playing. This is the exception. Nowak's pick: Seahawks 45-10.

Buffalo at Jets (-2): Two tough defenses, one lousy offense (any guess what one?). Nowak's pick: Bills 20-13.

Chicago at Pittsburgh (+2.5): Bears QB Jay Cutler has been in a zone this season. Another key is Devin Hester giving the Bears solid field position, focusing strictly on returning kicks and punts this season. Nowak's pick: Bears 27-17.

Monday's Game

Oakland at Denver (-15): This should be a Denver rout. The Broncos are 3-0 ATS in their last three games against the Raiders. But wacky things happen sometimes on Monday night and giving 15 points to a team that has a decent running back (Darren McFadden) is a bit much.  Nowak's pick: Broncos 31-20.