Cleveland Browns (2-3-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3)
Going into the season, the Browns were high on my underrated list. Their defense has possibly exceeded my expectations, ranking 8th in first down rate allowed at 34.17%, but their offense has struggled mightily, ranking 30th in first down rate at 29.71%, only ahead of the Cardinals and Bills. Both quarterbacks they’ve started have been inconsistent at best and their supporting cast hasn’t been much help, especially their banged up receiving corps. As a result of their struggling offense, the Browns rank 28th in first down rate differential at -4.47%.
The Browns have a 2-3-1 record and have been competitive in every game until last week’s blowout loss at home to the Chargers, but that’s largely because they rank tied for first in the NFL in turnover margin at +7. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week and year-to-year basis, so the Browns won’t necessarily be able to count on that going forward. One of the reasons I liked the Browns coming into the year was that I expected them to improve drastically on their abysmal -28 turnover margin from 2017, but I wouldn’t expect them to keep up their current pace for the rest of the season.
The Browns defense also takes a big hit this week with the loss of every down linebacker Joe Schobert with injury. Fortunately for them, they have one of their easier opponents this week, as they travel to Tampa Bay to take on the Buccaneers. Even at full health, the Buccaneers are a mediocre team because of a horrendous defense that ranks 31st in first down rate allowed at 46.08%, but they will also be without two of their better defensive players, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Vinny Curry, with injury this week, making matters even worse. As bad as the Browns’ offense has been this season, they shouldn’t have much trouble moving the ball against this defense.
Despite the Buccaneers’ injuries, this line has shifted significantly in Tampa Bay’s favor in the last week, moving from Tampa Bay -1.5 on the early line to Tampa Bay -3.5 this week, crossing over the ultimate key number of 3. The Browns didn’t look good at home last week against the Chargers and Schobert’s absence will likely be a big deal, but, at the very least, these two teams are about even as currently constructed, so we’re getting some line value with the visitors. It’s not enough to bet the Browns this week, but they have a good chance to keep this within a field goal or to pull the straight up upset.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27 Cleveland Browns 24
Pick against the spread: Cleveland +3.5