Houston Texans (2-6) at Cleveland Browns (5-3)
The Browns are 5-3, but their 5 wins have come by a combined 42 points, while their 3 losses have come by a combined 73 points, giving them a point differential of -31 which ranks 24th in the league. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Browns have been even worse, ranking 27th at -1.56%. However, there is reason to believe they can be better than that going forward.
For one, their issues have been concentrated on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank 30th in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.96%, while their offense ranks 9th in first down rate over expected at +1.39%. Defensive performance tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance and my roster rankings suggest the Browns have significantly underperformed their talent level on defense, so I would expect them to be better on that side of the ball going forward, possibly a lot better.
On offense, meanwhile, the Browns are getting significantly healthier. Wide receiver Odell Beckham isn’t coming back, but quarterback Baker Mayfield played at less than 100% for much of the first half of the season and the Browns also get a trio of starters back from absences coming out of their bye this week, with running back Nick Chubb, right guard Wyatt Teller, and tight end Austin Hooper returning from absences of 4 games, 3 games, and 2 games respectively. All three players are key players, especially Chubb and Teller, who led the way for this dominant rushing attack earlier in the season, and with them back in the lineup, the Browns figure to be even better offensively in the second half of the season.
In their first game out of the bye, the Browns will host the Texans, which should be a relatively easy matchup. The Texans have faced above average teams all of their losses, but they’ve lost by an average of 13.4 points per game, while their two wins have come by an average of 9.0 points per game, both against a Jaguars team that is one of the worst in the league. They rank 30th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -3.15% and, though they are better than that in my roster rankings, they aren’t well coached and could easily continue to underachieve. Unfortunately, we’re not getting much line value with the Browns at -4 (my calculated line is Cleveland -6), but the Browns should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.
Cleveland Browns 30 Houston Texans 24
Pick against the spread: Cleveland -4