Cleveland Browns (0-5) at Houston Texans (2-3)
The Browns are 0-5 and tied for the 2nd worst turnover margin in the league at -7. Fortunately for them, turnover margins tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. For example, the Browns were -2 against the Jets last week and teams that post a -2 turnover margin, on average, have a turnover margin of -0.1 the following week. If you look at other numbers as well, there’s really no week-to-week correlation between turnover margins. That’s great news for a team that has actually moved the ball pretty well this season when they aren’t turning the ball over.
The Browns rank 25th in first down rate differential, which isn’t great, but it’s better than their record suggests and their -2.34% mark is not terrible. They have 8 more first downs than they’ve allowed (103 vs. 95) and they rank 15th in first down rate at 34.45%, above the league average. They haven’t won a game, but they’ve won the first down margin between in 3 of 5 games, including last week’s 17-14 home loss to the Jets, a game in which the Browns had 3 drives down inside the Jets’ 5-yard line that did not result in points (interception, fumble, failed 4th down conversion) and missed 2 field goals (39-yard and 52-yard). The Browns lost by 3 despite winning the first down battle 22-14.
Not only are turnover margins inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, but the Browns also made a smart, proactive decision to improve their turnover margin by benching quarterback DeShone Kizer, who has been responsible for 11 of the Browns’ 13 turnovers, despite playing just 81.1% of the team’s offensive snaps. In addition to the turnovers, Kizer was completing just 50.9% of his passes for an average of 5.35 YPA. The 2nd round rookie was a disaster in 5 starts and will be replaced by 2016 5th round pick Kevin Hogan, who has significantly outplayed him in limited action this season, completing 68.9% of his passes for 9.92 YPA, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. Hogan might not be great in his first career start, but going with him instead of Kizer increases their likelihood of winning this game.
Their big mistake might have been not going to Hogan sooner, as the Browns’ schedule has been pretty easy so far (Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, NY Jets) and gets harder going forward. They get lucky this week though, as they head to Houston to face a Texans team that just lost their two best defensive players, defensive end JJ Watt and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus, for the season with injuries. The Texans’ offense is improved with rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson under center and 2nd year wide receiver Will Fuller playing well since his return from a broken collarbone, but they still have major problems on the offensive line and now have major problems on defense too.
They shouldn’t be favored by double digits against anyone. This line was -8.5 a week ago on the early line, but moved to 10 despite the losses of Watt and Mercilus because people are overreacting to the Browns’ loss to the Jets, a game the Browns likely would have won if they had played Hogan all game. The one concern with taking the Browns is that the Texans are going into a bye and teams are 65-24 ATS as 6+ point home favorites before a bye since 2002, but the Texans shouldn’t be favored by this many points and will have a very hard time covering as 10 point favorites without Watt and Mercilus. I have this line calculated at -5.5 in favor of the Texans, so we’re getting a ton of line value with the visitors. This is my Pick of the Week.
Houston Texans 23 Cleveland Browns 17
Pick against the spread: Cleveland +10
Confidence: Pick of the Week