Detroit Lions (0-8-1) at Cleveland Browns (5-5)
Ordinarily, this would be a look ahead spot for the Browns, who have a much tougher game next week in Baltimore, after this game against the winless Lions. Favorites of a touchdown or more cover at just a 41.5% rate all-time before facing an opponent with a winning percentage that is 60% higher or more than their current opponent’s winning percentage, which would apply to the Browns. On top of that, winless teams tend to be a good bet after a certain point in the season, covering at a 63.0% rate all-time in week 9 or later.
However, the Browns are coming off of a blowout 45-7 loss in New England and will probably be more focused than they normally would have in this game, as they try to bounce back from an embarrassing loss. Teams cover at a 58.2% rate all-time after a loss by 35 points or more, as a result of being some combination of undervalued, overlooked, and embarrassed. The Lions, meanwhile, could be tired after a tie with the Steelers last week, with teams going 11-17 ATS all-time after a tie. The Lions have played a lot of their losses close, but they also haven’t had back-to-back close losses, following up every single digit loss with a double digit loss and they could be flat again this week after coming so close last week.
Meanwhile, despite the Browns’ blowout loss last week, they are still much better than their record suggests, as they have faced a tough schedule and have three one-score losses, including a pair of games in which they won the first down rate and yards per play battle, but lost the turnover battle. They rank 10th, 5th, and 5th respectively in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency on the season, despite dealing with a significant amount of short-term injury absences, many of whom have since returned. Still one of the more talented teams in the league, I have the Browns calculated as 14-point favorites in this matchup with the Lions.
This line favors the Browns by 12, so we are getting some line value with the Browns, but not nearly enough to bet them, especially with the conflicting trends and other uncertainties in this game. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield will be playing at less than 100% with several injuries and the extent to which he’ll be limited is unclear, while the Lions will be turning to unproven backup Tim Boyle, who has thrown four passes in four seasons in the league.
It’s possible Boyle’s lack of experience could work to the Lions’ benefit, as the Browns won’t have much tape of him to prepare with, but it’s also possible he shows why he hasn’t played much in his career and proves to be completely overmatched. Not knowing which will be the case makes this game even tougher to predict. The Browns are still the pick for pick ‘em purposes, but I am not confident in them at all.
Cleveland Browns 26 Detroit Lions 13
Pick against the spread: Cleveland -12