Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals: 2020 Week 17 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (10-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (4-10-1)

The primary stat I use to handicap games is schedule adjusted first down rate differential, which tends to be more predictive than other stats because it minimizes the impact of stats that tend to be less predictable on a week-to-week basis, like turnover margins, return touchdowns, missed field goals, big plays, and third and fourth down conversion rates. It also takes into account level of competition. One thing that stands out when looking at this stat is the Ravens, who lead the league with a +130 point differential, but rank just 26th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -1.81%. 

Part of that is because the Ravens have played a significantly below average schedule, but beyond that a deeper dive into the numbers is needed. The Ravens had a stretch earlier this season where they lost 4 of 5 games, but one of those games was a game in which the Ravens were missing seemingly half their team due to COVID protocols and the Ravens have won 4 straight games since. Upon closer look into those 4 games, the reasons why the Ravens rank so much lower in first down rate than points start to show.

In their first win, they played the Cowboys and actually lost the first down rate battle by 2.63%, despite winning the game by 17. The Cowboys picked up 29 first downs in that game, but had one play over 20 yards and missed 3 field goals, so their first downs didn’t translate to many points against the Ravens. In their second win, it was a close game down to the wire against the Browns and the Ravens won the first down rate battle by just 0.93%. In their third win, they won the first down rate battle by 9.57%, but against Jacksonville, who ranks dead last in the NFL.

Last week, they beat the Giants by 14, but lost the first down rate battle by 0.21%. The Giants had trouble sustaining drives because they went just 1 for 10 on third down and 1 for 3 on fourth down, while the Ravens went 8 for 11 on third down and didn’t have to attempt a fourth down, but third and fourth down performance tends to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and it’s very concerning to see that the Giants got 22 of their 24 first downs on first and second down, as performance on those downs tends to be more predictive. 

Looking back even further reveals a similar pattern. Their one win during the stretch in which they lost four of five came against the Colts by 14 points, but the Ravens lost the first down rate battle by 0.26%. The Colts primarily lost because they went 2 of 12 on third down, 2 of 4 on 4th down, and gave up a return touchdown. The Ravens’ last win before that rough stretch came by 2 against the Eagles in a game in which the Eagles won the first down rate battle by 2.99%, but went 3 for 12 on 3rd down, 1 for 3 on 4th down, and lost the turnover battle by 1. 

In total, the Ravens are just +3 in turnover margin and +1 in return touchdown margin on the season, but they lead the league in opponent’s field goal percentage allowed at 65.22% and have played significantly better on third and fourth down than first and second down, which are both metrics that have less predictive value. The Ravens pick up 3rd downs at a 47.37% rate and 4th downs at a 64.71% rate, while allowing 35.16% and 45.71% respectively. 

This is actually an overall improvement over last season, when they picked up 3rd downs at a 48.29% rate and 4th downs at a 60.71% rate, while allowing 38.16% and 33.33% respectively, and they were a much better team overall last season, particularly on offense, before they lost Ronnie Stanley, Marshal Yanda, and Nick Boyle and before the league started figuring out how to defend this offense better. Last year, they were far and away the top team in the league in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, but it has been much more of a struggle this season, leading to them ranking 26th. 

The Ravens are much more talented than the 26th best team in the league on paper, as they rank 11th in my roster rankings, but any way you look at it, they’re not nearly as good as they were last season. They’re totally overvalued as 14-point road favorites in Cincinnati, against a Bengals team that has played better on both sides of the ball in recent weeks and has slightly moved out of the league’s cellar, ranking 28th in my roster rankings. The Bengals also will have at least some homefield advantage with fans in the stands.

My calculated line is Baltimore -7, so we’re getting great line value with the Bengals, who are also in a good spot, as teams typically tend to underperform in must win games against sub-500 opponents. Teams with a winning percentage between 50% and 67% cover at just a 40.8% rate as favorites against teams with a sub-.500 winning percentage in weeks 16 or 17. Between that and the line value, there is a lot to like about Cincinnati this week, who should be able to keep this relatively close even if they can’t pull the upset. I’m making this a high confidence pick and even considering it for Pick of the Week, which I will announce Sunday morning.

Update: The Bengals will be my Pick of the Week. This is in part because the Ravens will be without some key questionable players (cornerback Jimmy Smith, edge defender Yannick Ngakoue, center Patrick Mekari, and wide receiver Willie Snead), but also because the other pick I was considering (Washington) saw significant late line movement. Both Cincinnati and Washington are strong picks if you locked in Washington when I did, but Cincinnati will officially be my Pick of the Week.

Baltimore Ravens 24 Cincinnati Bengals 17

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +14

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans: 2020 Week 16 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (3-12-1) at Houston Texans (4-10)

Neither side is particularly appealing in this matchup. The Bengals pulled a massive upset over the Steelers last week as 14.5-point underdogs, but big upset wins like that tend to be flukes that don’t lead to further success down the line. Teams cover at a 40.9% rate after a win as underdogs of 10 points or more, including 4-13 ATS over the past 30 seasons after a win as underdogs of 14 points or more. The Bengals’ win last week was the equivalent of their Super Bowl, so there will almost definitely be some hangover effect this week. On the other hand, the Texans are coming off of a crushing last second loss to the Colts and have a much tougher game against the Titans next week, so they may overlook the last place Bengals. 

Favorites cover at just a 45.2% rate when their opponents have a winning percentage that is worse than their next opponent’s winning percentage by over 40%. Despite the Bengals’ upset win, this line hasn’t really shifted much from the early line last week (-8.5 to -7.5) and I think we’re still getting a little bit of line value with the Bengals, as the Texans are slightly overrated, now missing several key players (Will Fuller, Bradley Roby, Justin Reid, among others) that they weren’t missing earlier this season. For that reason, I’m taking the Bengals for pick ‘em purposes, but it’s hard to be confident in one of the worst teams in the league, following a massive upset win in their Super Bowl.

Houston Texans 27 Cincinnati Bengals 21

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +7.5

Confidence: Low

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-10-1)

The Steelers started 11-0, but they’ve been exposed over the past two weeks, losing to Washington and Buffalo in back-to-back games. They have a very good chance at getting back into the win column this week against the lowly Bengals, but whether or not they’ll cover this 13-point spread is the question. The Steelers are a defensive led team (2nd in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.97%) that struggles on offense (29th in first down rate over expected at -2.92%), so they’re not built to blow teams out. Even when they were winning, just 3 of their 11 wins would have covered this 13-point spread, including 10-point or fewer wins over the Giants, Broncos, Texans, Cowboys, and the COVID depleted Ravens. The Bengals are arguably the worst team in the league, but I still have this line calculated at Pittsburgh -11, so we’re getting some line value with Cincinnati.

This is also a tough spot for the Steelers, in between last week’s tough game against the Bills and another big game against the Colts next week. The Bengals, meanwhile, only have the lowly Texans on deck. Favorites cover at just a 43.4% rate against opponents with a 35% winning percentage or worse when they next play an opponent with a winning percentage higher than 70% and when their opponent next plays an opponent with a winning percentage or 35% or less. 

On top of that, favorites cover at a 46.3% rate when their next opponent has a winning percentage 35%+ higher than their current opponent. I know the Steelers are coming off back-to-back losses and will want to end their losing streak, but I doubt anyone on this team really believes they can lose to the Bengals, so this might not be their best effort, in between two much tougher games. They can obviously still win without their best effort, but covering this spread is another thing.

The Bengals were blown out at home by the Cowboys last week, but teams typically fare better in their second straight game as home underdogs as compared to the first one, especially if they lost the first one. Home underdogs cover at a 54.1% rate after a loss as home underdogs, including 58.9% rate after a loss by 20 points or more. Overall, home underdogs of a touchdown or more are 22-9 ATS after a loss by 20 points or more as home underdogs over the past 30 seasons. The Bengals are always a risky bet and there isn’t enough here for them to be worth betting confidently, but they should be the right side.

Update: This line has increased to 14 in most places. I’m more confident at that number, so this is worth a small bet.

Pittsburgh Steelers 20 Cincinnati Bengals 10

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +14

Confidence: Medium

Dallas Cowboys at Cincinnati Bengals: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (3-9) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-9-1)

This is one of the least appealing games of the week, on a number of levels. The Cowboys have had a very disappointing year and are one of the worst teams in the league due primarily to the amount of key players they have unavailable due to injury, but it doesn’t compare to the Bengals, who were one of the worst teams in the league even before losing quarterback Joe Burrow to injury and replacing him with a bottom of the roster caliber talent in Brandon Allen. The Bengals are also without left tackle Jonah Williams and running back Joe Mixon, two of their best offensive players, among others on defense. As much as the Jets and Jaguars have struggled this season, the Bengals ranked noticeably behind both teams in my roster rankings.

The Cowboys offense actually ranks 8th in first down rate over expected at +1.55% and, while a lot of that is from when they had Dak Prescott healthy, they have shown some ability to move the ball in small chunks consistently with Dalton under center. The big plays haven’t been there, but their lack of pass protection has been the biggest issue, which won’t be nearly as big of an issue against the Bengals and their underwhelming defensive front. That should allow the Cowboys to set up more big plays downfield for their talented receiving corps. 

Unfortunately, this line takes into account the big talent gap between these two teams, favoring the Cowboys by 3.5 points on the road, despite the Bengals having some limited fans in attendance. In fact, this is my exact calculated line, so we’re not getting line value in any direction. The Cowboys should have the motivational edge though as, not only is this Andy Dalton’s return to Cincinnati, but the Cowboys are actually still in the NFC East race technically, while the Bengals have been eliminated. 

The Cowboys may overlook the Bengals a little bit, with a tougher home game on deck against the 49ers (road favorites are just 52-83 ATS since 2008 before being home underdogs), but this is also a must win game, while the Bengals could be looking forward to next week’s big home game against the Steelers. Teams are 50-102 ATS since 2008 before being home underdogs of 7.5 points or more, which the Bengals almost certainly will be next week. I’m taking the Cowboys for pick ‘em purposes, but I have no confidence in them, especially since the Bengals could easily get a backdoor cover and cut the final margin to 3 points or fewer, as 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer.

Update: This line has dropped to 3 in most places. I’m more confident in the Cowboys at that number, but not enough to bet them.

Dallas Cowboys 24 Cincinnati Bengals 20

Pick against the spread: Dallas -3

Confidence: Low

Cincinnati Bengals at Miami Dolphins: 2020 Week 13 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (2-8-1) at Miami Dolphins (7-4)

The Dolphins are 7-4, but they haven’t been as good as their record. They have faced an easy schedule, including three wins over the Jaguars and Jets (twice), and they have benefited significantly from things like a +6 turnover margin, a +3 return touchdown margin, and a 61.54% opponent’s field goal percentage (best in the NFL by a wide margin ahead of the 2nd ranked team at 75.00%), three things that tend to be totally unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Dolphins rank 20th at -0.54% and even that is outplaying their talent level, as they rank 24th in my roster rankings.

On top of that, the Dolphins are also in a terrible spot, facing an easy Bengals team before a much tougher game against the Chiefs. Favorites of 8 or more are 15-31 ATS since 1989 before being home underdogs, including 9-20 ATS before being home underdogs of 3 or more (the early line is Kansas City -7.5). Hosting the defending Super Bowl Champions next week, it’s hard to see the Dolphins getting up for the last place Bengals enough to cover this 10.5-point spread. My calculated line is Miami -7.5, even before considering the bad schedule spot, so we’re getting good value with the visitor.

That being said, it’s hard to be excited about a Bengals team that has struggled this season and now is starting a bottom of the roster caliber quarterback in Brandon Allen, with talented starting quarterback Joe Burrow out for the season with injury. Along with the Jets and Jaguars, the Bengals are one of the worst teams in the league and I don’t like to bet on teams this bad unless there are really good reasons, but there are this week. This is much more of a fade of an overrated Dolphins team in a bad spot than a bet on the Bengals, but they’re worth a small play this week.

Miami Dolphins 17 Cincinnati Bengals 10

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +10.5

Confidence: Medium

New York Giants at Cincinnati Bengals: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

New York Giants (3-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-7-1)

Coming out of their week 11 bye, the Giants are an underrated team, especially on offense. The Giants are generally considered to be a weak offense and in terms of first down rate they rank just 28th at 31.76%, but they’ve also faced a brutal schedule, somehow facing top-10 defenses in terms of first down rate allowed over expected in nine of their ten games, facing Pittsburgh (1st), Tampa Bay (2nd), the LA Rams (4th), Washington twice (5th), Chicago (6th), San Francisco (9th), and Philadelphia twice (10th). The Giants first down rate is 2.22% below average, but their schedule suggests they should be 2.96% below average right now, so the Giants actually rank 15th in first down rate over expected at +0.74%. 

That’s despite the fact that the Giants have had some absences on offense and are now mostly healthy, most importantly top wide receiver Sterling Shepard, who they have been noticeably better with on the field this season. The Giants haven’t been as good on defense, ranking 27th in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.09%, but defensive play tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offense, so their defensive concerns aren’t as much of a problem as you’d think, especially since my roster rankings suggest they’re more talented on that side of the ball than they’ve played.

Given that they’re underrated compared to their 3-7 record, I was expecting to bet the Giants frequently over the rest of the season, but we’re not getting quite the line value I was expecting with them in their first game out of their bye, as they have ballooned to 6-point favorites in Cincinnati in the wake of Joe Burrow’s season ending injury, a massive swing from being 2.5-point underdogs on the early line last week. The Bengals have one of the worst backup quarterback situations in the league with Ryan Finley and presumed starter Brandon Allen both being borderline NFL quarterbacks, but an 8.5-point swing like that is normally reserved for an MVP caliber quarterback getting hurt, so this line isn’t that attractive.

That’s not to say I’m going to be taking the Bengals though, as not only are the Giants underrated, but the Bengals are truly dreadful without Burrow. Even with Burrow in the lineup for most of the season, the Bengals rank just 30th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -3.82%, including a defense that ranks 31st in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.64%. Without Burrow, the Bengals rank on the same level as the Jaguars and Jets in my roster rankings, so, even if I disagree with a 8.5 point swing, I actually think this line is about right, as the Bengals would have been very overvalued as 2.5-point favorites with Burrow. 

The Giants are also in a great spot as big road favorites off of a bye, as teams are 61-33 ATS as road favorites of 3.5 or more off of a bye since 1989, including an 8-4 ATS record by teams with a sub-.500 record like the Giants. There’s not enough here for the Giants to be worth betting, but I would probably bet on them if this line drops back down to 5.5. Either way, the Giants should be the pick for pick ‘em purposes, as they should win this game pretty easily.

Update: This line has dropped to 5.5 in some places, so this is worth a play.

New York Giants 26 Cincinnati Bengals 17

Pick against the spread: NY Giants -5.5

Confidence: Medium

Cincinnati Bengals at Washington Football Team: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (2-6-1) at Washington Football Team (2-7)

Neither of these teams have impressive records, but Washington has been clearly the better of these two teams this season. Washington has the slightly better point differential at -38 vs. -46, but the difference is more pronounced than that. Washington has faced a much tougher schedule and has struggled more in metrics that are inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and could improve going forward, like turnover margin (-3 vs. -7, in large part due to Washington’s league worst 32.14% fumble recovery rate) and net field goal percentage (+9.53% vs -23.85%). 

In terms of first down rate differential, which minimizes the impact of outlier plays that are inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, Washington has a massive edge at +1.64% vs. -3.65%. The Bengals have played a lot of close games, with four of their six losses coming by one score or less, but they are worse than their box scores suggest, as their close losses to the Colts and the Browns came in games in which the Bengals lost the first down rate battle by 8.20% and 5.56% respectively. The Bengals lost to the Colts despite winning the turnover battle and they needed to go 5 for 5 on 4th down and get a last second garbage time touchdown to cut it to a single score against the Browns. 

Offense is the more consistent side of the ball and, as a result, it’s the more important side of the ball for projections and the Bengals have the edge on that side of the ball, with Washington being led by their defense, but it’s a slight edge for Cincinnati, as they rank 23rd in first down rate over expected at -1.17%, while Washington ranks -2.34% at 27th, and that slight edge may be made up for by the fact that, with Alex Smith resembling his old form at quarterback, Washington has their most competent quarterback under center right now, for his 3rd start of the season. 

Washington also has a massive edge on defense, ranking 4th in first down rate allowed over expected at -3.98%, while the Bengals rank 28th at +2.49%, which can’t be ignored, even if defense tends to be inconsistent week-to-week and even if Washington has some injuries on that side of the ball. Washington holds the slight edge in my roster rankings as well and, even without any fans in the stadium, they should be favored by at least a field goal in this home game against the Bengals, if not more. Given that, we’re getting decent line value with Washington as mere 1-point favorites. This isn’t a big play, but Washington is worth a bet this week.

Washington Football Team 17 Cincinnati Bengals 13

Pick against the spread: Washington -1

Confidence: Medium

Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (2-5-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (8-0)

The Bengals are 2-5-1, while the Steelers are the league’s last remaining unbeaten team at 8-0, but the Bengals have been competitive in most of their games, losing just once by more than a touchdown, while the Steelers haven’t been blowing people out, with just one win by more than 10 points and five wins by one score or less. That’s despite the fact that the Steelers haven’t faced that tough of a schedule, including close contests with the Texans, the Jeff Driskel led Broncos, and the Garrett Gilbert led Cowboys. 

Given that both of these teams play a lot of games and that this line is 7, you might think I’m leaning strongly towards the Bengals, but the Bengals are worse than their box scores suggest, as their close losses to the Colts and the Browns came in games in which the Bengals lost the first down rate battle by 8.20% and 5.56% respectively. The Bengals lost to the Colts despite winning the turnover battle and they needed to go 5 for 5 on 4th down and get a last second garbage time touchdown to cut it to a single score against the Browns. They’ve also faced a relatively easy schedule and, in total, rank just 29th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -3.10%.

The Steelers, meanwhile, rank 6th in schedule adjusted first down rate at +2.22%. They’ve been carried by a defense that ranks 3rd in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.21%, while their offense ranks 28th in first down rate over expected at -1.99%, and typically defensive led teams are not as good of bets as offensive led teams because defensive performance is much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance, but the Steelers have been one of the best defenses in the league for a year and a half now and, even if they have some regression from their defense going forward, they should be able to more than compensate for it with improved offensive play, as my roster rankings suggest they’ve significantly underperformed their offensive talent this season. 

My calculated line is Pittsburgh -9, so we’re getting some line value with the Steelers at -7, and Pittsburgh is also in a good spot, with only an easy game against the Jaguars on deck. Since 2014, favorites of a touchdown or more are 56-31 ATS before being favorites of a touchdown or more again the following week, which the Steelers almost definitely will be again next week. It’s very tough for inferior teams to keep it close with superior teams when the superior team is focused without any upcoming distractions on the schedule. In a normal week, I might consider a bet on Pittsburgh, but with Ben Roethlisberger and others missing practice this week due to control tracing protocols, I’m leaving this as a low confidence pick.

Pittsburgh Steelers 26 Cincinnati Bengals 16

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -7

Confidence: Low

Tennessee Titans at Cincinnati Bengals: 2020 Week 8 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (5-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-5-1)

This is one of the toughest calls of the week. On one hand, while the Titans are 5-1, most of their wins have been close, with 4 of their 5 wins coming by 6 points or fewer, despite facing a relatively easy schedule and benefitting from a +9 turnover margin (+1.5 per game), which is unlikely to continue going forward. Their one win that wasn’t close was a surprisingly dominant effort against the Bills, winning 42-16 and winning the first down rate battle by 6.99, but the Titans still rank just 18th in the NFL in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +0.13%.

At first glance, the Bengals seem like the kind of team that can at least give the Titans a close game. Not only have the Titans struggled to put away inferior teams like the Broncos, Texans, and Jaguars, but the Bengals have played a lot of close games over the past two seasons. They haven’t won a lot of games, winning just 3 games total over 23 games between the two seasons, but the Bengals also have a tie and 12 losses by one score or fewer, as opposed to 7 losses by more than one score.

However, even though the Bengals’ only loss by more than one score this season came against the Ravens, the Bengals have been much worse than that suggests, as the Bengals’ close games with the Colts and the Browns came in games in which the Bengals lost the first down rate battle by 8.20% and 5.56% respectively. They lost to the Colts despite winning the turnover battle and they needed to go 5 for 5 on 4th down and get a last second garbage time touchdown to cut it to a single score against the Browns. In total, the Bengals rank just 28th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -2.77%, actually down from their 23rd ranked finish in 2019 (-1.98%). 

The Bengals offense is better this season with quarterback Joe Burrow and wide receiver Tee Higgins making impacts as rookies and left tackle Jonah Williams and wide receiver AJ Green making an impact after missing all of 2019 with injury, but the Bengals’ defense is significantly worse, as their veteran leaders in 2019, Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins, have been traded and benched respectively, in favor of younger players playing. 

On top of that, the Bengals are extremely banged up on the offensive line this week, missing four of their regular starters from a group that isn’t good to begin with, including Jonah Williams, who is one of their top offensive players, which has pushed them down to 29th in my roster rankings. My numbers suggest the Bengals should still be the pick by the slightest of margins, but this is definitely a no confidence pick and a push might be the most likely outcome.

Tennessee Titans 23 Cincinnati Bengals 16

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +7

Confidence: None

Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals: 2020 Week 7 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (4-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-4-1)

I expected the Bengals to be a competitive team this season. Though they went just 2-14 last season, they lost 8 of those games by one score or less and finished 24th in first down rate differential at -3.47%, primarily due to a capable defense that ranked 18th in first down rate allowed. This season, they looked likely to be improved on offense, with the addition of quarterback Joe Burrow and the return of left tackle Jonah Williams and wide receiver AJ Green from injuries that cost them all of 2019. 

Based on box scores, the Bengals seem like a competitive team, losing just once by more than one score, but they’ve been worse than that suggests, ranking 27th in first down rate differential at -4.23% and 29th in first down rate differential at -4.78% when you factor in the Bengals’ relatively easy schedule. The Bengals’ close games with the Colts and the Browns came in games in which the Bengals lost the first down rate battle by 10.78% and 10.75% respectively. They lost to the Colts despite winning the turnover battle and they needed to go 5 for 5 on 4th down and get a last second garbage time touchdown to cut it to a single score against the Browns, while their one win came by 8 points against a terrible Jaguars team. 

The Bengals’ offense has been marginally better, but AJ Green has not returned to form and this week they’ll be without lead running back Joe Mixon, while their defense has played worse this season than last season, in large part due to injuries. The Bengals’ injury situation on defense has changed since their last matchup with the Browns, but it hasn’t necessarily gotten better. The Bengals will have defensive tackles Geno Atkins and Mike Daniels this time around, but they won’t have fellow defensive tackle DJ Reader, defensive end Sam Hubbard, or top cornerback William Jackson. On top of that, Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who led this defense last season, are both over 30 and have taken a significant step back in 2020.

However, the Browns haven’t been that much better statistically than the Bengals this season and they have their own injury concerns on offense, missing right guard Wyatt Teller, running back Nick Chubb, and tight end Austin Hooper, while Baker Mayfield is dealing with a rib issue that seemed to limit him significantly against the Steelers last week. That 38-7 loss in Pittsburgh last week and their 38-6 loss in Baltimore week 1 are the reason why the Browns rank 24th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -2.07%, despite winning and playing pretty well in their other four games. 

It’s possible the Browns would have been much more competitive if Mayfield was healthy, but it’s also possible Mayfield is still not healthy, in which case the Bengals would have a decent chance to pull the home upset this week. There’s too much uncertainty with Mayfield for either side to be worth betting and my calculated line, factoring in Mayfield being less than 100%, is Cleveland -3 anyway, so we’re not getting any line value in either direction. I’m taking the Bengals for pick ‘em purposes, but this is essentially a coin flip and a push is very likely.

Update: The Bengals seem to have internal issues going on with their defense and the defensive coordinator. I still don’t have a strong lean on this game, but that’s enough for me to flip this to Cleveland.

Cleveland Browns 30 Cincinnati Bengals 27

Pick against the spread: Cleveland -3

Confidence: None