Cleveland Browns (9-4) at New York Giants (5-8)
Coming out of their bye week a couple weeks ago, the Giants looked like they would be a good bet going forward. They were just 3-7, but they had faced a tough schedule to start their season, including 9 out of 10 games against teams that rank in the top-10 in first down rate allowed over expected, the Steelers (2nd), the Rams (1st), Washington twice (3rd), the Eagles twice (9th), the 49ers (8th), the Bears (6th), and the Buccaneers (5th). The Giants were also healthier coming out of the bye than they’ve been most of the season.
That lasted about a half unfortunately, as the Giants were up 13-10 with the ball in Cincinnati’s red zone early in the 3rd quarter (with the Bengals’ only touchdown coming on a return touchdown), but then quarterback Daniel Jones suffered a hamstring injury and, while they held on to win that game, backup Colt McCoy struggled mightily and nearly blew the game, as the lowly Bengals were a field goal away from winning the game on a late drive in which they ended up fumbling at midfield.
Based off McCoy’s struggles in that game, I stayed away from the Giants when they went to Seattle two weeks ago, but they shocked everyone, winning straight up as 11-point underdogs by final score of 17-12, in a game in which their defense shockingly had a dominant performance to cover for an underwhelming McCoy. Last week, with Jones back, I bet on the Giants, but Jones looked far from 100% and was arguably a downgrade even from McCoy. Seeing that Jones clearly needed more time to get healthy, the Giants will go back to McCoy this week.
With that in mind, the Browns are a very intriguing bet this week as 6-point road favorites. Some may think McCoy isn’t a big downgrade from a healthy Jones because he was the quarterback when the Giants beat the Seahawks and because his statistics aren’t a huge drop off from Jones, but they don’t realize that Jones has faced tough competition in almost every healthy start he’s made this season, while McCoy has gotten to play the Bengals and Seahawks, two below average defenses.
Even with much easier competition, McCoy has led a noticeably less effective offense, as their win over the Seahawks was almost entirely because of their dominant defensive performance. Defensive performance is highly inconsistent week-to-week and the Giants rank just 15th in first down rate allowed over expected on the season at +0.20%, so I wouldn’t expect that again. Unless they can get a similar performance from their defense as they had against the Seahawks, I have a hard time seeing the Giants keeping it close with the Browns with McCoy under center. I think we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Browns as a result of McCoy being under center when the Giants beat the Seahawks, as my calculated line is Cleveland -7.5.
The Browns haven’t been as good as their 9-4 record, playing a relatively weak schedule and needing to go 6-1 in one score games to get to 9-4. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Browns rank 25th at -2.14%. However, their issues have been primarily concentrated on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank 31st in first down rate allowed over expected at +3.16%, which is the best side of the ball to have issues on, because defensive performance tends to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis.
On offense, which is the much more consistent side of the ball, the Browns rank 12th in first down rate over expected at 1.02%. The Browns aren’t a great defense, but they’re more talented than they’ve played thus far and they’ll have their top-2 defensive players Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward in the lineup together for the first time since week 10 this week, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them be a more serviceable unit going forward, which would allow the Browns to get more big wins. I expect this to be one of those big wins, so the Browns are worth a bet as 6-point road favorites.
Cleveland Browns 27 New York Giants 17
Pick against the spread: Cleveland -6