Carolina Panthers at Cleveland Browns: 2018 Week 14 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (6-6) at Cleveland Browns (4-7-1)

The Panthers are on a 4-game losing streak after a 6-2 start, but they’ve actually won the first down rate battle in each of their last 3 games. The Panthers lost by 1 in Detroit, in a game in which they missed a field goal, an extra point, and a 2-point conversation late when they didn’t trust their kicking unit to tie the game. They lost by a field goal at home to the Seahawks, but outgained the Seahawks by 1.9 yards per play in a game in which the Panthers missed another field goal, threw a red zone interception, failed on a 4th down, and allowed the Seahawks to go 2 for 2 on 4th downs. And then they lost by 3 in Tampa Bay in a game in which they outgained the Buccaneers by 1.5 yards per play, but lost the turnover battle by 3. If not for a couple plays, they could have easily won any of those games, but instead they are 6-6 and going to Cleveland desperately in need of a win.

Even though they’ve been better than the final scores have suggested recently, I’m not so sure they’re going to get that win this week. The Browns have been better defensively since getting stud linebacker Joe Schobert back from injury and they’ve been better offensively since plugging running back Nick Chubb into the lineup and getting rid of head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. They lost by 16 in Houston last week, but were more competitive than the final score suggested, as they actually won the first down rate battle by 7.17%, losing the game primarily because of a -4 turnover margin and a return touchdown by the Texans. Even with the Browns banged up, with top cornerback Denzel Ward and possibly top defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi out with injury, I still have this line calculated at even.

That’s not a ton of line value, but it suggests the Browns should be the pick at +1.5. The Browns are also in a much better spot, as the Panthers have to turn around and play an even tougher game against the Saints next week. Road favorites are 22-44 ATS since 2012 before being home underdogs and the Panthers are 6.5-point home underdogs on the early line. Even though the Panthers are only road favorites of a point and a half here in Cleveland, the logic still stands and teams are 34-63 ATS in general since 2012 before being home underdogs of 6 points or more. There is not quite enough here for the Browns to be worth betting against the spread given the players who are injured, but they should be the right side in this one.

Cleveland Browns 26 Carolina Panthers 24 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +1.5

Confidence: Low

Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (4-6-1) at Houston Texans (8-3)

The Browns have been playing pretty well lately. Their offense has moved the chains at a 44.75% rate in 3 games since firing Hue Jackson and Todd Haley, while their defense has allowed a first down rate of just 33.78% in 7 games started and finished by stud middle linebacker Joe Schobert, who is back healthy for the Browns. Their offensive improvement can also be credited to the Browns’ trade of Carlos Hyde to the Jaguars, which allowed rookie running back Nick Chubb to flourish as the lead back.

The Texans are obviously also playing well, winning 8 straight games, but most of the games have been close, including 4 wins by 3 points or fewer, and they haven’t had the toughest schedule, with their best win record wise coming against the early season Cowboys, now at 7-5, in overtime by a field goal. The Browns, on the other hand, have had the 8th toughest schedule thus far this year in terms of opponents’ record. I like the Browns chances of making the Texans play another close game. They’re an underrated team right now and are better than their record. They’ve also only lost 3 games by more than 3 points. They’re worth a small bet this week.

Houston Texans 20 Cleveland Browns 17

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +6

Confidence: Medium

Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals: 2018 Week 12 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (3-6-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-5)

Earlier in the week, I was considering betting the Bengals in this one. They have not played as well in recent weeks as they did earlier in the season due to injuries, but it looked like there would be a chance they’d get both #1 receiver AJ Green and every down linebacker Nick Vigil back from injury this week, after getting Vontaze Burfict back last week. Instead, both Green and Vigil are expected to be out again and the Bengals could also be without left tackle Cordy Glenn and starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who both missed practice on Friday.

Given that, I’m actually going to take the Browns, who have been better offensively since getting rid of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley and who are much better defensively with linebacker Joe Schobert back from injury. Schobert missed about 3 and a half games with injury, but made his presence known in his first game back, as the Browns pulled the upset over the Falcons in their last game prior to the bye. In the 6 games Schobert has started and finished this season, they have allowed a first down rate of 32.59%, as opposed to 46.69% in their other 4 games.

That’s not all him, but he’s playing at a legitimately All-Pro level this season, ranking 2nd among middle linebackers on Pro Football Focus, so his presence in the lineup is much more important than casual bettors realize. There’s not enough line value with the Browns as 3-point underdogs to take them with any confidence and I’m concerned that the Bengals will have an advantage with Hue Jackson joining their staff immediately after being fired by the Browns, but the Browns are my pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Final Update: Both Glenn and Kirkpatrick are out for the Bengals and heavy sharp action on the Browns has pushed this line all the way down to even. With Glenn and Kirkpatrick out, I have this line calculated at Cincinnati -1.5, so we’re now getting a little bit of line value with the hosts. This is still a no confidence pick though.

Cincinnati Bengals 20 Cleveland Browns 19

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati PK

Confidence: None

Atlanta Falcons at Cleveland Browns: 2018 Week 10 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (4-4) at Cleveland Browns (2-6-1)

This line has moved significantly since the early line last week, as the Falcons have gone from being 1-point favorites to now being 6-point favorites. That’s a 5-point line movement that moves through key numbers of 3 and 4, the kind of line movement typically reserved for quarterback injuries. The reason for that is the Falcons blowout win in Washington last week, but that win isn’t as impressive as it looks at first glance because the Redskins are nowhere near as good as their record at 5-3. They have a negative point differential at -12, despite a +7 turnover margin, and rank 22nd in first down rate differential at -2.42%. They also happened to basically lose their entire offensive line to injury in the game.

The Browns didn’t play that well at home for the Chiefs last week, but it was good to see their offense perform well in their first game without Hue Jackson or Todd Haley. New offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens is a former running backs coach and he’s put more of an emphasis on running the ball with talented rookie lead back Nick Chubb and also getting pass catching back Duke Johnson more involved in the offense to combat their lack of depth and experience at wide receiver.

The Browns’ defense is also getting better, with safety Damarious Randall likely returning from a one-game absence, cornerback Denzel Ward returning after getting hurt early in last week’s game, and linebacker Joe Schobert likely returning from a 3 and a half game absence. Schobert was playing at a high level before going down and their recent defensive struggles have coincided with his absence, so his return, even if he’s not quite at 100%, will be huge for this defense. They lost fellow linebacker Christian Kirksey for the season last week, but he had not been playing well of late.

With the Browns getting closer to full health, the Falcons should not be favored by this many points on the road against them. This is not the same Falcons team as recent years, with Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, and Devonta Foreman all on injured reserve. Prior to last week’s win over the mediocre Redskins, they played close games at home against the Buccaneers and Giants. Their offense is strong, but even after last week’s win, they still rank dead last in first down rate allowed at 43.85%. I like the Browns’ chances of keeping this one close and give them an outside chance at pulling the upset.

Atlanta Falcons 34 Cleveland Browns 31

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +6

Confidence: Medium

Kansas City Chiefs at Cleveland Browns: 2018 Week 9 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (7-1) at Cleveland Browns (2-5-1)

I’ve been going against the Chiefs in recent weeks because when everyone knows a team is good, it’s tough to get good line value with them. As well as they’ve played, they are just 2-2-1 ATS in their last 5 games. This week though, it’s the Chiefs or nothing in this game, as the Browns are unbettable in the wake of their coaching change. It’s not that Hue Jackson was doing a good job or anything, but with both him and Todd Haley going out the door and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams taking over as interim head coach, the Browns’ offense is now in the hands of running backs coach Freddie Kitchens, a career position coach who has never called plays at any level. With an inexperienced rookie quarterback under center and a banged up receiving corps, the Browns could easily be a dysfunctional mess on offense this week, more so than usual.

The Browns haven’t been playing well in recent weeks anyway, hence why Jackson was let go. After a promising 2-2-1 start, the Browns have lost 3 straight and sit at 2-5-1 with a -41 point differential (27th in the NFL). That’s despite the fact that they’ve benefited from a league leading +11 turnover margin, which is not reliable week-to-week. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank just 30th at -6.07%, only ahead of the Cardinals and the Bills.

The Chiefs are also in a great spot because they have another easy game against the Cardinals on deck, a game in which they are 14.5-point favorites on the early line. Favorites of 7+ are 79-49 ATS before being favored by 7+ again the following week, as top level teams tend to take care of business against inferior teams with no upcoming distractions on their schedule. The Chiefs still have issues on defense and Justin Houston could be held out of a game they can easily win without him, despite his return to practice after a 3-week absence this week, so it’s hard to get too excited about the Chiefs as 9-point road favorites, but this could easily be a blowout in Cleveland.

Kansas City Chiefs 27 Cleveland Browns 17

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -9

Confidence: None

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2018 Week 8 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (2-4-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2-1)

Going into the season, the Browns were high on my underrated teams list. Despite going winless in 2017, they were just 6th worst in first down rate differential at -3.45% and their -28 turnover margin was highly unlikely to continue with a completely new quarterback situation. The Browns have been a bit disappointing this year though. Their turnover margin has done a 180, as they rank 1st in the NFL with a +10 turnover margin, but despite that they are just 2-4-1 and have a -26 point differential. Their first down rate differential is just -5.48%, 30th in the NFL, actually worse than last season, and their turnover margin could easily regress going forward.

Their defense has been solid, ranking 12th in first down rate allowed at 35.50%, but they are without talented every down linebacker Joe Schobert with injury and their offense has been terrible, ranking 30th in first down rate at 30.02%, only ahead of the Cardinals and Bills. Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield won the starting job with one good half against the Jets when they didn’t gameplan for him on a short week, but he’s seemingly gotten worse every week and Hue Jackson’s offensive coaching staff seems incapable of turning him around. At this point, it might be best for the Browns to go back to their original plan of starting Tyrod Taylor and letting Mayfield develop behind the scenes as a rookie, but they’ve given no indication that that’s something they are considering.

The Browns are also in a tough spot with a home game against the AFC leading Chiefs on deck, a game in which they are 7-point home underdogs on the early line. Teams are just 30-55 ATS since 2014 before being home underdogs of 6+, as big upcoming home games tend to be a distraction for teams. Underdogs of 6+ are also just 46-66 ATS before being underdogs of 6+ again, as it’s tough for inferior teams to keep up with superior teams when they have another tough game on deck.

Despite all of that, I actually like the Browns this week as 8-point underdogs in Pittsburgh. As bad of a spot as the Browns are in, they won’t overlook the Steelers, while Pittsburgh is also in a terrible spot of their own, with a trip to Baltimore on deck. Teams are just 16-34 ATS since 2008 as divisional home favorites before being divisional road underdogs the following week. The Steelers are also an overrated team that has just 6 wins by more than a touchdown since the start of last season (23 games) and just 3 wins by more than a touchdown since the midway of last season (15 games). They are also missing key right tackle Marcus Gilbert with injury. The Browns should be able to keep this one close enough to cover.

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 Cleveland Browns 19

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +8

Confidence: Medium

Cleveland Browns at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2018 Week 7 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (2-3-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3)

Going into the season, the Browns were high on my underrated list. Their defense has possibly exceeded my expectations, ranking 8th in first down rate allowed at 34.17%, but their offense has struggled mightily, ranking 30th in first down rate at 29.71%, only ahead of the Cardinals and Bills. Both quarterbacks they’ve started have been inconsistent at best and their supporting cast hasn’t been much help, especially their banged up receiving corps. As a result of their struggling offense, the Browns rank 28th in first down rate differential at -4.47%.

The Browns have a 2-3-1 record and have been competitive in every game until last week’s blowout loss at home to the Chargers, but that’s largely because they rank tied for first in the NFL in turnover margin at +7. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week and year-to-year basis, so the Browns won’t necessarily be able to count on that going forward. One of the reasons I liked the Browns coming into the year was that I expected them to improve drastically on their abysmal -28 turnover margin from 2017, but I wouldn’t expect them to keep up their current pace for the rest of the season.

The Browns defense also takes a big hit this week with the loss of every down linebacker Joe Schobert with injury. Fortunately for them, they have one of their easier opponents this week, as they travel to Tampa Bay to take on the Buccaneers. Even at full health, the Buccaneers are a mediocre team because of a horrendous defense that ranks 31st in first down rate allowed at 46.08%, but they will also be without two of their better defensive players, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Vinny Curry, with injury this week, making matters even worse. As bad as the Browns’ offense has been this season, they shouldn’t have much trouble moving the ball against this defense.

Despite the Buccaneers’ injuries, this line has shifted significantly in Tampa Bay’s favor in the last week, moving from Tampa Bay -1.5 on the early line to Tampa Bay -3.5 this week, crossing over the ultimate key number of 3. The Browns didn’t look good at home last week against the Chargers and Schobert’s absence will likely be a big deal, but, at the very least, these two teams are about even as currently constructed, so we’re getting some line value with the visitors. It’s not enough to bet the Browns this week, but they have a good chance to keep this within a field goal or to pull the straight up upset.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27 Cleveland Browns 24

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +3.5

Confidence: Low