Cleveland Browns (3-11) at Kansas City Chiefs (9-5)
I’m really torn on this one. On one hand, the Chiefs are in a much better spot than the Browns. While the Chiefs close their season out with a home game against the Raiders, a game in which they’re expected to be 7 point favorites, according to the early line, the Browns have to turn around and host the Steelers, against whom they’re expected to be 9.5 point underdogs. Favorites of 6+ are 83-43 ATS since 2012 before being favorites of 6+ again, as superior teams tend to take care of business and win by a big margin when they don’t have any upcoming distractions.
On the other side, underdogs of 6+ are 42-70 ATS since 2012 before being 6+ underdogs again, for the opposite reasons. Combining the two, favorites of 6+ are 56-34 ATS since 2008 before being favorites of 6+ again, when their opponent will next be 6+ point underdogs again. On top of that, teams are 43-90 ATS before being 7+point home underdogs since 2008, as the Browns will be next week. With a huge upcoming home game against a tough divisional rival, the Browns could really have a hard time covering against a Chiefs team that finishes up their season with a relatively easy home game.
On the other hand, the Browns are in their 2nd of two road games. Teams are 128-94 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 104-64 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. Historically, teams cover at about a 65% rate in that situation. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 223-224 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.49 points per game, as opposed to 320-435 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 2.70 points per game.
On top of that, we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Browns. The Browns are obviously not a good team, ranking 29th in rate of moving the chains differential, but the Chiefs rank 9th and I don’t think are quite good enough to be laying double digits here, given how banged up they are at outside linebacker. Justin Houston will miss his 4th straight game and, while 2014 1st round pick Dee Ford has been solid in his absence, he’s obviously not as good as Houston, who was once again playing at an All-Pro level prior to going down. On the other side, Tamba Hali may miss this game with a broken thumb and, even if he does play, he won’t be at 100%. Houston and Hali are both huge parts of this defense.
The Browns have significant injuries at guard, as Joel Bitonio will miss his 5th game in the last 6 games and John Greco will miss his first of the season. Both of those players were big parts of a strong offensive line, especially in pass protection, and are out for the season. However, Johnny Manziel is playing the best football of any Browns quarterback this season, as they’ve moved the chains at a 71.01% rate in his 5 starts, as opposed to 67.86% in their other 9 games.
He’s been especially impressive in the past two weeks, since regaining the starting job, following a demotion for an off-the-field issue. Because of that, the Browns almost covered in Seattle in a very similar situation last week, with the Seahawks having another easy game on deck and the Browns having this tough game on deck. We’ll see if Manziel’s solid play continues and if the 2014 1st round pick is impressive enough to stay in Cleveland as the starter into 2016. With the public all over the Chiefs, I’m going with the Browns, but if the line dips under 10, I’d change my mind. It’s that close. It’s a no confidence pick either way.
Kansas City Chiefs 23 Cleveland Browns 13
Pick against the spread: Cleveland +10.5