Cleveland Browns (5-7-1) at Denver Broncos (6-7)
This line favored the Broncos by 6.5 points a week ago, but the line has since dropped all the way down to 2.5. Normally I love going against significant week-to-week line movements like that, as they tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play, but I think that line movement was justified, even crossing key numbers of 3, 4, and 6. In fact, at 6.5, Cleveland might have been my Pick of the Week this week. The Broncos were underrated a few weeks ago, as they started the season with the toughest schedule in the league through 11 games, going 5-6, with close losses to the Texans, Rams, and Chiefs (twice) and wins over the Chargers, Steelers, and Seahawks. However, now they are a little overrated, as they’ve lost so many key players in recent weeks.
Just since week 9, the Broncos have lost starting wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, starting tight end Jeff Heuerman, top offensive lineman Matt Paradis, valuable edge rusher Shaq Barrett, top cornerback Chris Harris, and his replacement Isaac Yiadom. They also lost right guard Ron Leary, probably their 2nd best offensive lineman, for the season after week 6 and his replacement Max Garcia went down for the year a few weeks later. Now finally in the easier part of their schedule, the Broncos are a shell of their former selves. For this reason, it wasn’t a huge surprise that they lost in San Francisco last week.
This week, the Broncos return home to face the Browns, who are one of the worst teams the Broncos have faced this season in terms of record at 5-7-1, but they’re also better than their record suggests, as their offense has played significantly better since parting ways with head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Led by the emergence of rookies Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb, the Broncos have picked up first downs at a 42.45% rate in 5 games without Jackson and Haley, as opposed to 30.25% in their first 8 games. They’ve also played better defensively since getting talented every down middle linebacker Joe Schobert back from injury a few weeks ago, though they are not 100% on defense with top cornerback Denzel Ward set to miss his 2nd straight game with a concussion.
The Browns lost a lot of close games early in the season, with 3 of their first 4 losses coming by a field goal, and they arguably could be a playoff team right now if they began the season with Mayfield under center and anyone other than Hue Jackson as their head coach. They’ve certainly played like a playoff team in recent weeks, which is not something I expect out of the Broncos this week, given all of their injuries. Unfortunately, we’ve lost all real line value with the Browns at +2.5, so this is just a low confidence pick, but I like the Browns chances of winning straight up at +120. At the very least, this game is a toss up.
Cleveland Browns 24 Denver Broncos 23 Upset Pick +120
Pick against the spread: Cleveland +2.5