Cleveland Browns (2-7) at Dallas Cowboys (4-5)
As many of you who read these picks regularly know, I love using yards per play differential and rate of sustaining drives differential to compute real line. Yards per play differential measures how well a team does on an average play (offensive or defensive) and overrates teams that get a lot of big plays, but frequently have drives stall.
Rate of sustaining drives differential is a stat I created myself to fix that aforementioned problem that measures team’s offensive and defensive efficiency on a per set of downs basis, meaning how often can you convert 1st and 10 for a subsequent set of downs or a score and how often can you prevent your opponent from doing so. It underrates teams that get a lot of big plays, so those two work together perfectly. I do this in order to find line value and overrated and underrated teams.
Well, when doing this on this game, I found out that this line is exactly where it should be. The yards per play differential method gives us a real line of Dallas -7, while the rate of sustaining drives differential method gives us a real line of Dallas -9. Average those two out and you get Dallas -8, which is exactly where this line is. Furthermore, the other way I like to handicap games is by using situational trends. However, the only two I could find for this game cancel each other out.
First, non-divisional home favorites are 54-37 ATS since 2002 after winning as divisional road favorites. The Cowboys won in Philadelphia as road favorites last week and now are favored at home for Cleveland. However, favorites just 23-36 ATS before a divisional Thursday Night game since 1989, including 14-23 ATS before being divisional favorites. The Cowboys host the Redskins next week on Thursday Night in their annual Thanksgiving game.
That being said, I do like the Browns for 3 reasons. The first is that I love to bet against the public. The public always loses in the long run and if you were to bet the opposite of them for a full season, you’d most likely always make money (you definitely would if not for the juice). I don’t follow it that strictly, but it’s something I use in handicapping. Two, the Cowboys struggle as home favorites, excluding Thanksgiving games, going 7-14 ATS at home as favorites since the start of the 2009 season, again with the exclusion of Thanksgiving games, when they normally fare well.
Finally, the Browns are better than their record. They have 7 losses, but none of them have been by more than 14 points, including just 1 by more than 10. As dogs of more than 4, they are 2-1-1 ATS, only failing to cover in a 14 point loss to the Giants as 8.5 point dogs. They actually held a 14-0 lead early in that one and lead up until right before halftime in a game that was closer than the final score.
Meanwhile, against Baltimore a few weeks ago, they lost by 10, but actually scored more frequently than the Ravens, but their 5 scores were all field goals, thanks to terrible play calling, while the Ravens got 3 touchdowns and a field goal. The only game they lost by more than 7 that wasn’t closer than the final score was week 3, a 24-14 loss to the Bills. They should be able to hang within 8 of the Cowboys in this one, but the key word is should.
I’d make this a bigger play if I was confident they wouldn’t shoot themselves in the foot, blow an early lead, implode in field goal range and lose this game by 10-14 when really they deserved to lose by 3-7. Dallas is also my survivor pick of the week as I can’t really see them losing to the Browns here in Dallas. Tony Romo is 20-3 in November and the NFC is 25-16 against the AFC this year. It was close between them and Denver this week, but I gave the tiebreaker to Dallas because Denver is a better team and will be more valuable in the future (4 games against Kansas City, Oakland, and these Browns).
Sharps lean: CLE 18 DAL 4
Final update: Sharps love Cleveland. I get it, but I don’t trust Pat Shurmur enough to make this a significant play. Besides, Joe Haden, the Browns’ top defensive player, is expected to be a game time decision.
Dallas Cowboys 21 Cleveland Browns 16 Survivor Pick
Pick against spread: Cleveland +8 (-110) 2 units