Cleveland Browns (5-4) at New England Patriots (5-4)
I wish these two teams weren’t playing each other this week, because both are underrated. Both have records of just 5-4, but could easily have several more wins each. Of the Browns’ four losses, three came by one score, including a pair where they won the first down rate and yards per play battle, but lost the turnover battle, and their only multi-score loss came against the Cardinals in a game in which Baker Mayfield got hurt. Mayfield is not the only Browns player to miss time or be limited with injury and they still are missing some key personnel, but, despite that, the Browns rank 9th, 5th, and 5th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency respectively, as they have won the first down rate battle convincingly in all five of their wins, including a trio of double digit victories.
The Patriots, meanwhile, have faced an easy schedule overall, but three of their four losses have come by 1 point, 2 points, and in overtime, including a pair of losses to the Cowboys and Buccaneers, who are among the best teams in the league. Meanwhile, three of their five wins have come by more than one score, with the exceptions being a game in which they were without four of their five starters on the offensive line against the Texans and a game in which the Chargers, a 5-3 team, needed a late touchdown in garbage time to cut the final margin of victory to one score. The Patriots aren’t fully healthy either, but they are in much better shape on the offensive line now and are clearly better than their 5-4 record.
However, I do feel that, while the Patriots’ are more commonly known to be better than their record, it’s not as well known that the Browns are better than their record and, as a result, they are a more underrated team. This line, favoring the Patriots by 2.5 points at home, suggests these two teams are about even, but I have the Browns a couple points better in my roster rankings and I have this line calculated at even, giving us some line value with the Browns +2.5.
On top of that, the Patriots are in a bad spot, having to turn around and play another game in four days in Thursday Night Football. Favorites cover at just a 41.6% rate all-time before a short week when their opponent is not going into a short week and, while the Patriots are only small favorites this week and do only face the Falcons, that game could still serve as a distraction. I would need a full field goal to bet the Browns against the spread, but they are the pick for pick ‘em purposes even at +2.5 and they are worth a bet on the money line, as they should be considered no worse than 50/50 to win this game.
Cleveland Browns 24 New England Patriots 23 Upset Pick +115
Pick against the spread: Cleveland +2.5