Cleveland Browns at Denver Broncos: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (5-7-1) at Denver Broncos (6-7)

This line favored the Broncos by 6.5 points a week ago, but the line has since dropped all the way down to 2.5. Normally I love going against significant week-to-week line movements like that, as they tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play, but I think that line movement was justified, even crossing key numbers of 3, 4, and 6. In fact, at 6.5, Cleveland might have been my Pick of the Week this week. The Broncos were underrated a few weeks ago, as they started the season with the toughest schedule in the league through 11 games, going 5-6, with close losses to the Texans, Rams, and Chiefs (twice) and wins over the Chargers, Steelers, and Seahawks. However, now they are a little overrated, as they’ve lost so many key players in recent weeks.

Just since week 9, the Broncos have lost starting wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, starting tight end Jeff Heuerman, top offensive lineman Matt Paradis, valuable edge rusher Shaq Barrett, top cornerback Chris Harris, and his replacement Isaac Yiadom. They also lost right guard Ron Leary, probably their 2nd best offensive lineman, for the season after week 6 and his replacement Max Garcia went down for the year a few weeks later. Now finally in the easier part of their schedule, the Broncos are a shell of their former selves. For this reason, it wasn’t a huge surprise that they lost in San Francisco last week.

This week, the Broncos return home to face the Browns, who are one of the worst teams the Broncos have faced this season in terms of record at 5-7-1, but they’re also better than their record suggests, as their offense has played significantly better since parting ways with head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Led by the emergence of rookies Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb, the Broncos have picked up first downs at a 42.45% rate in 5 games without Jackson and Haley, as opposed to 30.25% in their first 8 games. They’ve also played better defensively since getting talented every down middle linebacker Joe Schobert back from injury a few weeks ago, though they are not 100% on defense with top cornerback Denzel Ward set to miss his 2nd straight game with a concussion.

The Browns lost a lot of close games early in the season, with 3 of their first 4 losses coming by a field goal, and they arguably could be a playoff team right now if they began the season with Mayfield under center and anyone other than Hue Jackson as their head coach. They’ve certainly played like a playoff team in recent weeks, which is not something I expect out of the Broncos this week, given all of their injuries. Unfortunately, we’ve lost all real line value with the Browns at +2.5, so this is just a low confidence pick, but I like the Browns chances of winning straight up at +120. At the very least, this game is a toss up.

Cleveland Browns 24 Denver Broncos 23 Upset Pick +120

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +2.5

Confidence: Low

Denver Broncos at San Francisco 49ers: 2018 Week 14 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (6-6) at San Francisco 49ers (2-10)

The Broncos have had a tough season. They had the toughest schedule in the league over the first 11 games of the season, including close losses to the Texans, Rams, and Chiefs (twice) and wins over the Chargers, Steelers, and Seahawks. Now that their schedule has gotten easier, they’ve had so many losses that they aren’t the same team. Already without their top-2 offensive linemen, right guard Ron Leary and center Matt Paradis, with injury and starting wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who was traded to the Texans for a draft pick, the Broncos are now without #1 cornerback Chris Harris and #1 wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who have both suffered season ending injuries in the past week.

The Broncos’ opponents this week, the San Francisco 49ers, are one of their easiest opponents all season, but it’s hard to be confident in the Broncos as 3.5-point road favorites given the current state of their roster. With a banged up offensive line and a depleting receiving corps, the Broncos have little talent around quarterback Case Keenum and their defense isn’t nearly as good without their top cornerback Chris Harris. The 49ers have been killed by the turnover margin this season at an NFL worst -20, but turnover margins tend to be unpredictable week-to-week and the 49ers are the kind of team that can easily pull an upset if they can play a turnover neutral game. I have this line calculated at Denver -4, so I’m still taking the Broncos, but this is a no confidence pick.

Denver Broncos 20 San Francisco 49ers 16

Pick against the spread: Denver -3.5

Confidence: None

Denver Broncos at Cincinnati Bengals: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (5-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-6)

The Bengals got off to a solid start to the season, but they’ve had terrible injury luck and are now one of the worst teams in the league with backup Jeff Driskel, a 2016 6th round pick, making his first career start this week. It’s a shame Dalton went down because he was one of the bright spots for this team and they were just starting to get healthier around him, with top receiver AJ Green, every down linebacker Nick Vigil, and starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick returning to the lineup this week, after their other every down linebacker Vontaze Burfict returned last week. If Dalton were healthy, this team might have enough to compete for a playoff spot, as Dalton could mask some of their flaws, but they’re in serious trouble without him.

Struggling left tackle Cordy Glenn is the only regular starter actually listed on the injury report this week, but Dalton also joins a sizeable list of key players on injured reserve, including talented edge rusher Carl Lawson, starting defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow, swing tackle Jake Fisher, and their top-2 tight ends Tyler Eifert and Tyler Kroft. Making matters even tougher for the Bengals, they’ve faced the 2nd toughest schedule in the NFL this season, with their opponents having a combined 56% winning percentage, and their schedule doesn’t get much easier this week.

The Broncos are only 5-6, the same as the Bengals, but the Bengals are 1-5 since a 4-1 start, while the Broncos rank 10th in first down rate differential at +2.22%, despite being the only team to face a tougher schedule than the Bengals (58%). They’ve lost just 2 games by more than a touchdown, with 4 of their losses coming by a combined 16 points to the Texans, Rams, and Chiefs (twice), who are a combined 27-6.

The Broncos have lost key parts of their offense as the season has gone along, with right guard Ron Leary and center Matt Paradis both out for the season and starting wide receiver Demaryius Thomas traded to the Broncos, but quarterback Case Keenum is playing his best football of the season right now and the same is true for this team on defense. We’re not getting much line value with the Broncos at -5.5 and the Broncos haven’t exactly been blowing teams out, with just one of their wins coming by more than a touchdown, but the Bengals are the easiest team they’ve faced in weeks. There’s not enough here to bet the Broncos, but they should be the right side.

Denver Broncos 24 Cincinnati Bengals 16

Pick against the spread: Denver -5.5

Confidence: Low

Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos: 2018 Week 12 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2-1) at Denver Broncos (4-6)

The Steelers have traditionally disappointed as big road favorites outside of the division, going 7-19 ATS as non-divisional road favorites of 3+ since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach in 2007, frequently looking flat, especially early in games. We saw this last week when the Steelers trailed 16-0 late in the 3rd quarter in Jacksonville as 6-point road favorites. They ultimately made a huge comeback, but still only won by 4 at the last second and never had a shot to cover as 6-point favorites.

The Steelers were originally 6-point road favorites again in this one in Denver, but as a result of the Steelers’ underwhelming performance last week, combined with the Broncos’ upset victory in Los Angeles against the Chargers, this line has shifted to a field goal. The Steelers also might be more focused this week, after sleepwalking through 3 quarters against the Jaguars last week. Despite that, I still like the Broncos a decent amount in this one, as they’re a much more formidable foe than the Jaguars were last week.

The Broncos are just 4-6, but they’ve been much better than their record. In addition to their win in Los Angeles last week, they also have been competitive against the Chiefs (twice), the Rams, and the Texans, a trio of division leaders who beat them by just a combined 16 points in 4 games. On the season, they have a -7 point differential and are even better in first down rate differential, ranking 11th at 2.25%, despite having the 2nd toughest schedule in terms of opponent’s DVOA.

Their offensive line injuries concern me a little, as their top-2 offensive linemen, right guard Ronald Leary and center Matt Paradis, went down for the season a few weeks ago, but the Steelers are without stud defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt with injury for the second straight week, so they won’t be able to take full advantage of Denver’s injuries. I wish we were getting a better line, but the Broncos are worth a small play and have a good shot to pull off the straight up upset here at home.

Denver Broncos 24 Pittsburgh Steelers 23 Upset Pick +150

Pick against the spread: Denver +3

Confidence: Medium

Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers: 2018 Week 11 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (3-6) at Los Angeles Chargers (7-2)

I’ve thought the Broncos are underrated for most of the season, as they are about even in point differential (-8), despite their 3-6 record, with 4 of their losses coming by a combined 16 points to the Texans, Rams, and Chiefs (twice), who are all division leaders. In first down rate differential, they are even better, ranking 10th at +2.83%. However, the injuries have started to pile up for them, especially on the offensive line. Already missing talented right guard Ron Leary for the season, the Broncos lost center Matt Paradis, their best offensive lineman, for the year in their final game before the bye and then lost fill-in right guard Max Garcia with a torn ACL during practice this week.

The Chargers, meanwhile, might be getting stud edge rusher Joey Bosa back for the first time this year, after he returned to practice this week. He’s not a guarantee to play and likely wouldn’t be 100% in his first game back, but he’d be a big boost to a defense that was one of the best in the league with him healthy in 2017. The Chargers finished the 2017 season 4th in first down rate allowed at 31.09%, but they rank just 13th at 35.84% this season. Bosa’s absence isn’t the only difference between last year and this year for this Chargers’ defense, but, assuming he returns to form, he’ll be a huge re-addition for this team down the stretch.

The Chargers are also in a much better spot. While the Broncos have to follow this game up with a big home game against the Steelers, the Chargers get yet another easy game next week with the Arizona Cardinals coming to town. The Broncos obviously won’t look past their division rival Chargers, but it’s very tough for inferior teams to compete when they have another tough game on deck, as underdogs of 6+ are 47-71 ATS since 2014 before being underdogs of 6+ again. Teams are also 31-60 ATS in general since 2014 before being home underdogs of 6+, as big upcoming home games tend to be a bit of a distraction.

On the other side, favorites of 6+ are 88-53 ATS since 2014 before being favored by 6+ again, including a ridiculous 28-7 ATS if their opponent will be 6+ point underdogs again the following week. Big home favorites tend to take care of business with easy games on deck, especially against an opponent that has to play another tough game the following week. That situation definitely applies to this game.

It worries me a little that there will be more Broncos fans than Chargers fans at this game, as the Chargers still can’t draw fans in Los Angeles even at 7-2, but, even with the Chargers’ lack of homefield advantage taken into account, I still have this line calculated at Chargers -8 over a banged up Denver team, so we’re still getting some line value with the Chargers, who also happen to be in the better spot. They are worth a bet and I will probably make this a bigger play if it’s announced Bosa is playing and the line doesn’t move to compensate.

Sunday Update: Bosa is expected to play, but will likely be limited to about 10-15 snaps, so I’m leaving this pick as is.

Los Angeles Chargers 27 Denver Broncos 17

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -7

Confidence: Medium

Houston Texans at Denver Broncos: 2018 Week 9 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (5-3) at Denver Broncos (3-5)

Earlier in the week, I would have probably taken the Broncos in this one, as I had these two teams about even in my rankings, following Houston’s loss of wide receiver Will Fuller for the season with a torn ACL, and the Broncos are favored by just 1 point at home. However, then the Demaryius Thomas trade happened, with the former Pro-Bowl wide receiver going to Houston from Denver for a 4th round pick in a deadline deal.

That doesn’t move the needle much in either direction for either team right away, as the Broncos have a great internal replacement for Thomas in second round rookie Courtland Sutton and Thomas will likely be limited in his first game in Houston, without much knowledge of the playbook. Thomas also hasn’t played at his peak level in years, now in his age 31 season. However, he will bring knowledge of the Broncos’ playbook, which could be invaluable for the Texans this week. For that reason, I’m taking the Texans, but I can’t be confident in them given that we’re getting no line value with them.

Houston Texans 21 Denver Broncos 20

Pick against the spread: Houston +1

Confidence: None

Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs: 2018 Week 8 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (3-4) at Kansas City Chiefs (6-1)

The Broncos are just 3-4 and don’t get a lot of attention because they don’t do any one thing really well, but they’ve quietly been better than their record. They rank above average in both first down rate (14th at 37.25%) and first down rate allowed (7th at 32.89%). They’ve won the first down rate battle in 5 of 7 games, including 3 of their losses. One of those losses was at home to the Chiefs in a game they won the first down rate battle by 4.26%, led by double digits in the 4th quarter, and had a chance to win late on a missed open touchdown. They also won the first down rate battle in losses to the Jets (2.82%) and the Rams (5.56%). On the season, they have 16 more first downs than their opponents.

The Chiefs, despite their record, have 15 fewer first downs than their opponents. Their offense has obviously been incredible, but their defense has allowed opponents to pick up first downs at a high rate (43.15%, 30th in the NFL). They’re coming off their best defensive performance of the year and could end up being a capable unit if they get both Justin Houston and Eric Berry back for the stretch run, which would make them a very scary team, but this week the Broncos could easily keep it close with the Chiefs for the second time this season. Even if the Chiefs get up big early, the Broncos have been a good garbage time team this year and could easily get the backdoor cover against an underwhelming defense. I would need at least 10 points to bet any money on Denver, but they should be the right side this week.

Kansas City Chiefs 31 Denver Broncos 24

Pick against the spread: Denver +9.5

Confidence: Low