Cleveland Browns (2-4) at New England Patriots (7-0)
The Browns have gotten off to a very disappointing start to the season, going 2-4 with a -34 point differential (25th in the NFL) and a -3.63% first down rate differential (27th in the NFL), after entering the season with expectations of contending in the AFC. Injuries have been a big part of the reason why, as they’ve already had seven week 1 starters miss time with injury. Coming out of their bye week, that number is now down to three (safety Damarious Randall, linebacker Christian Kirksey, and tight end David Njoku), with starting cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams both returning from 4+ game absences.
Unfortunately, the Browns are getting healthy just in time to run into a juggernaut, as the Patriots lead the league with a +12.65% first down rate differential. They have played a weak schedule, so there’s an argument to be made that the 49ers, who rank 2nd with a +10.14% first down rate differential, have been the better team this year, but regardless of who they’ve played there’s no denying the Patriots have been a dominant team thus far this season, especially on defense, where they have allowed just 88 first downs and 3 offensive touchdowns on 394 snaps (23.10%) in 7 games. Their defensive dominance actually started late last season, as they have allowed 168 first downs and 12 offensive touchdowns on 678 snaps (26.55%) in their last 12 games, despite some much tougher competition last post-season.
The Patriots’ offense, which ranks 16th with a 35.74% first down rate, has not been as good and could be limited by a Browns defense that is getting healthier, but the Patriots could still cover this 11.5 point spread regardless. Baker Mayfield and the Browns are arguably the most talented offense the Patriots have faced thus far this season, but Mayfield is a young, mistake prone quarterback who figures to have a lot of trouble with Bill Belichick’s scheme. I have this line calculated at New England -14, so the Patriots should be the right side, though only for pick ‘em purposes.
New England Patriots 27 Cleveland Browns 13
Pick against the spread: New England -11.5