Cleveland Browns (0-2) at Minnesota Vikings (0-2)
This line has had tremendous line movement this week, going from -3.5 at the beginning of the week to -7 now. That’s significant as 23% of NFL games are decided by between 4-7 points. Why such a big shift? Well, Brandon Weeden has been ruled out with injury and Trent Richardson has been traded. However, I’m not sure losing Weeden is such a big deal. He’s completed just 54.7% of his passes for an average of 6.0 YPA, 1 touchdown, and 3 interceptions while leading the Browns to a grand total of 16 points through 2 games.
Brian Hoyer could completely bomb, but he also completed 56.6% of his passes for an average of 6.2 YPA, 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions last season against Chicago and San Francisco, two of the better defenses in the NFL. I think it’s highly unlikely he’s a significant downgrade from Weeden. If anything, he could be better with Josh Gordon returning from suspension. Gordon was fantastic last season considering his quarterback situation, that he was rookie, and that he hadn’t really played football in 2 years. He caught 50 passes for 805 yards and 5 touchdowns on 89 targets and 506 routes run (1.58 yards per route run). Browns quarterbacks had a 90.9 QB rating when throwing to him, over 18 points better than their overall QB rating.
Richardson’s loss is bigger. He’s been one of the most elusive backs in the NFL over his first two years in the league in terms of breaking tackles and picking up yards after first contact, but from a production standpoint, his 3.5 career YPC isn’t going to be that hard to replace, especially if they get better offensive line play. Billed as one of the sneaky good offensive lines in the NFL coming in the season, the Browns’ offensive line has definitely struggled thus far this season, but they will have all 5 starters healthy this week for the first time all season.
There’s really no reason why the Vikings should be favored by a whole touchdown over them, but the public is so scared off of them. That’s giving us line value. The Vikings should not really be favored by a whole touchdown over anyone, except probably Jacksonville. They are one of eight 0-2 teams, but their problems go deeper than that. Their week 1 loss by 10 points was just one of 4 games decided by more than a touchdown that week, one of 10 decided by more than a touchdown so far this season. They could have lost by a lot more considering they were outgained 28 to 16 in first downs and 467 to 330 in total yards. Last week, they only lost by one, but they did so despite winning the turnover battle, which only happens about 21% of the time. They can rely on that going forward.
Overall on the season, they are converting just 68.6% of 1st and 10s for a subsequent set of downs, as opposed to 78.8% for their opponents, a differential that is 28th in the NFL ahead of only these Browns (who aren’t far behind them at 29th), Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Jacksonville. I had them winning just 5 games at the beginning of the season and they have shown me no reason to change that prediction. Given that, they do not deserve to be favored by a touchdown here.
One of the most powerful trends in betting is known as the six and six trend, meaning teams who finish with 6 wins or fewer are 25-69 ATS as favorites of 6 or more since 2002. There are two issues with this trend. One, it’s very rare (it only happened 7 times all last season, going 2-5 ATS). Two, it’s even rarer that a situation will come up in which you can confidently use the trend. The Eagles were 8.5 point favorites in Cleveland last year week1 (they didn’t cover), but there was at the time there was no way to know that the Eagles would finish 6-10 or worse. The Vikings may or may not finish with that poor of a record, but that trend is still relevant to this game.
They’re also in a rough situation playing their home opener during week 3. Since 1989, teams that have played their week 3 game at home after starting the season with back to back road games are just 20-40 ATS. Starting the year on the road like that takes so much out of you and they could also coast now that they’re at home, especially since they have an easier opponent. They could have a very hard time focusing at home for the lowly non-conference Browns after playing tough games in Detroit and Chicago, both divisional foes. After this game, they play in London against the Steelers. They could be looking forward to that.
There is also another trend that favors the Browns. They are road dogs after a road loss, a situation teams are 88-52 ATS since 2008 and have historically covered in about 65% of the time, no matter what year you use to cut off your sample. I like Cleveland a good deal to cover this week, especially with all of the close games that have happened early on this season. Their defense should make this one tight and I really don’t trust Christian Ponder to cover this big of a spread.
Minnesota Vikings 17 Cleveland Browns 16
Pick against spread: Cleveland +7