Cincinnati Bengals (8-4-1) at Cleveland Browns (7-6)
This line has shifted from the Bengals being favored by 1.5 earlier in the week to the Browns now being favored by 1.5. That erased a powerful trend working against the Bengals and replaced it with a powerful trend that works for the Bengals. That first trend says that road favorites are 77-120 ATS before being home underdogs since 1989 (the Bengals have the Broncos coming to town next week). The other trend says that divisional home favorites are 25-49 ATS since 2002 against a divisional opponent that they previously beat as road underdogs during that same regular season.
However, I’m still going with the Browns for a variety of reasons. The most obvious one is that that line movement isn’t that significant because it’s not only still within the field goals, but it’s between 2 points in either direction. The second reason is that the Bengals still have a really tough game against the Broncos next week. Teams are 60-94 ATS since 2012 before being 3+ point home underdogs, including 31-65 ATS before being 4+ point home underdogs (the early line is Denver -4). The Browns have a much easier game up next with a trip to Carolina on deck.
On top of that, that 25-49 ATS trend only makes sense when two teams are even. In divisional matchups where the homefield advantage decides who is the favorite, generally those two teams are essentially even. Divisional opponents that are essentially even generally split the season series. That seems to happen even if the road team pulls the upset in the first matchup, as the road underdog wins about half the time (39-38) in the rematch and covers at that aforementioned 2/3rds rate. These two teams are not even though.
They’re not uneven in the way you think either. The Browns actually rank significantly better than the Bengals this season. The Browns rank 16th in rate of moving the chains differential, moving them at a 69.36% rate, as opposed to 69.34% for their opponents, a differential of 0.02%. The Bengals, meanwhile, rank 26th, moving the chains at a 71.32% rate, as opposed to 73.85% for their opponents, a differential of -2.53%. That’s before you take into account that Johnny Manziel should upgrade the Browns’ offense in his first start. Manziel won’t necessarily be great, especially not right away, but he’ll probably be better than Hoyer, who was really struggling, leading the NFL’s 25th ranked offense in rate of moving the chains.
If their offense is even slightly improved, the Browns, with a defense that ranks 2nd in rate of moving the chains allowed, are significantly better than the Bengals. Not only does that nullify that trend in my mind, but that means we’re getting significant line value with the Browns. The final reason I still like the Browns is because that line movement is a result of the sharps being all over Cleveland this week. I agree with them and I have a good deal of confidence as long as this line is 3 or less.
Cleveland Browns 20 Cincinnati Bengals 13
Pick against the spread: Cleveland -1.5