Arizona Cardinals (5-0) at Cleveland Browns (3-2)
The Cardinals are the league’s last remaining undefeated team at 5-0, but they are dealing with significant absences in all parts of this team. Their offense will be without talented center Rodney Hudson due to injury. Their defense will be without stud edge defender Chandler Jones, who is in the COVID protocol. Their special teams unit will be without Ezekiel Turner due to injury and he’s probably their best special teamer. They also won’t have head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who is in the COVID protocol as well. Kingsbury’s absence will especially be a problem because he also calls the plays for this offense and is his own offensive coordinator.
The timing is bad for them too, as they have to go on the road to face a Browns team that is one of the best in the league, despite their 3-2 record. Their two losses came on the road against tough teams in the Chiefs and Chargers and they easily could have won either one of them, as both were close games throughout. Their offense ranks 7th in first down rate, their defense ranks 7th in yards per play allowed, and their special teams ranks 4th in special teams DVOA, which are the most predictive metrics for each unit. The Cardinals, meanwhile, rank 12th, 15th, and 3rd respectively in those three metrics and have been more reliant on a +5 turnover margin, which is not predictive week-to-week (the Browns are even in turnover margin).
With all of the Cardinals’ absences, this line has shifted up from 3 to 3.5, but I thought the Browns were the slightly better of these two teams even before the Cardinals injury absences, so we’re still getting some line value with the Browns. That, however, depends on the Browns’ injury report. They’re already without running back Nick Chubb, which won’t be a crushing loss because Kareem Hunt can carry the load, but they could also be without both of their offensive tackles, Jedrick Wills and Jack Conklin, who both did not practice on Friday. That would be a much bigger loss and I can’t take the Browns confidently until I know at least Conklin is playing. I’m making this a low confidence pick on the Browns for now, but depending on the Browns’ injury report, I may end up betting on them.
Cleveland Browns 33 Arizona Cardinals 27
Pick against the spread: Cleveland -3.5