Cleveland Browns (4-4) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-3)
The Browns lost at home to the Steelers last week, but it was a game they likely would have won if not for a red zone fumble, as they won the first down rate battle, but lost by 5-points in a game in which they were -1 in turnovers. The turnover margin also likely cost them their week 1 game against the Chiefs, losing the turnover battle by 2 in a 4-point loss. The Browns also have another one score loss to a quality team, the Chargers, while their only mutli-score loss was the Cardinals, who were the league’s last unbeaten team.
Overall, the Browns still rank highly in offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency, ranking 8th, 5th, and 4th respectively. They have a -3 turnover margin, which has likely cost them at least a game or two, but turnover margins tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. The Browns do have some injury concerns with running back Kareem Hunt, right tackle Jack Conklin, and wide receiver Odell Beckham all out, while quarterback Baker Mayfield is playing at less than 100%, but they haven’t really been healthy all season and, even in their current injury situation, they still have a 4-point edge on the Bengals in my roster rankings.
The Bengals got out to a 5-2 start on the strength of their defense, but their defense was always overachieving its talent level and has now fallen back to earth in a big way after being carved apart by the lowly Jets, now ranking 14th in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, while their offense still ranks just 27th when you take into account they’ve faced the easiest schedule of defenses in the league.
Add in a 10th ranked special teams and you have a Bengals team that ranks behind the Browns in all three phases and yet is being favored at home, albeit by less than 3 points. I wish we were getting the full field goal and that we had more certainty in Baker Mayfield’s health, but he practiced in full all season and the Browns have a very good chance to come on the road and get the upset, so I like the Browns both against the spread and straight up at +115.
Update: The more I think about this, the more I want to increase this bet. Baker Mayfield practiced in full all week, reportedly looked great, and was not listed with an injury designation. The Browns have been held to 14 points or fewer in three straight games with Baker out or playing at less than 100%, but they topped 26 points in 4 of their first 5 games before then, including 28.3 points per game in 3 road games, so if Baker can resemble the quarterback he was to begin the season, the Browns should be able to go on the road and win this game relatively easily. There may also be some added incentive for Baker to play well in the wake of the Odell Beckham situation and Baker’s statistical production has been noticeably better without Odell than with him since he arrived in Cleveland, so I’m not worried that Baker will miss Odell on the field. I’m moving this to a high confidence pick. I was waiting for a +3, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.
Cleveland Browns 23 Cincinnati Bengals 20 Upset Pick +115
Pick against the spread: Cleveland +2.5