Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (3-5-1) at Cleveland Browns (6-3)

This season has possibly been defined by all of the injury absences teams have had thus far and the Eagles have been among the most affected. However, last week coming out of their bye week, they were significantly healthier, with left tackle Jason Peters (4 games missed), wide receivers Alshon Jeffery (8 games) and Jalen Raegor (5 games), right tackle Lane Johnson (3 games), running back Miles Sanders (3 games), tight end Dallas Goedert (4 games), defensive tackles Malik Jackson (1 game) and Javon Hargrave (1 game), and linebacker TJ Edwards (3 games) all suiting up. 

The Eagles still lost in New York to the Giants, but the Giants are an underrated team with a capable offense that has been made to look bad by a brutal schedule, and the Eagles will be even healthier this week, with left guard Isaac Seumalo (7 games missed) also returning, giving the Eagles back three of their four missing starters from this offensive line. In their current state, I have the Eagles ranked 15th in my roster rankings. The general public may look at the Eagles’ loss to the Giants last week and think the Eagles being healthy again doesn’t matter and that they are still a below average team, which gives us some value with the Eagles.

This week, the Eagles go to Cleveland where they are field goal underdogs against a Browns team that is 6-3, but hasn’t looked good in the process. The Browns six wins have come by a combined 45 points, while their three losses have come by a combined 73 points, giving them a -28 point differential. The Browns are even worse in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, ranking 27th at -1.92%. 

It helps that the Browns have a capable offense (16th in first down rate over expected, despite missing key players like Wyatt Teller and Nick Chubb for an extended period of time) and that their problems are primarily on defense (27th in first down rate allowed over expected), because defensive play is much less consistent on a week-to-week basis. However, it’s hard to imagine the Browns being much better defensively this week than they’ve been because they’ll be missing easily their top defensive player Myles Garrett, which offsets the boost this offense got from Teller and Chubb returning last week. With the Eagles being as healthy as they’ve been all season, I have this line calculated at even, so we’re getting good value, getting the full field goal with the Eagles. The Eagles should be a smart play.

Philadelphia Eagles 24 Cleveland Browns 23 Upset Pick +130

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +3

Confidence: High

Houston Texans at Cleveland Browns: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (2-6) at Cleveland Browns (5-3)

The Browns are 5-3, but their 5 wins have come by a combined 42 points, while their 3 losses have come by a combined 73 points, giving them a point differential of -31 which ranks 24th in the league. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Browns have been even worse, ranking 27th at -1.56%. However, there is reason to believe they can be better than that going forward. 

For one, their issues have been concentrated on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank 30th in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.96%, while their offense ranks 9th in first down rate over expected at +1.39%. Defensive performance tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance and my roster rankings suggest the Browns have significantly underperformed their talent level on defense, so I would expect them to be better on that side of the ball going forward, possibly a lot better.

On offense, meanwhile, the Browns are getting significantly healthier. Wide receiver Odell Beckham isn’t coming back, but quarterback Baker Mayfield played at less than 100% for much of the first half of the season and the Browns also get a trio of starters back from absences coming out of their bye this week, with running back Nick Chubb, right guard Wyatt Teller, and tight end Austin Hooper returning from absences of 4 games, 3 games, and 2 games respectively. All three players are key players, especially Chubb and Teller, who led the way for this dominant rushing attack earlier in the season, and with them back in the lineup, the Browns figure to be even better offensively in the second half of the season.

In their first game out of the bye, the Browns will host the Texans, which should be a relatively easy matchup. The Texans have faced above average teams all of their losses, but they’ve lost by an average of 13.4 points per game, while their two wins have come by an average of 9.0 points per game, both against a Jaguars team that is one of the worst in the league. They rank 30th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -3.15% and, though they are better than that in my roster rankings, they aren’t well coached and could easily continue to underachieve. Unfortunately, we’re not getting much line value with the Browns at -4 (my calculated line is Cleveland -6), but the Browns should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Cleveland Browns 30 Houston Texans 24

Pick against the spread: Cleveland -4

Confidence: Low

Las Vegas Raiders at Cleveland Browns: 2020 Week 8 NFL Pick

Las Vegas Raiders (3-3) at Cleveland Browns (5-2)

Last week when looking at the early lines for week 8, I had the Raiders +3.5 at Cleveland circled. The Raiders are just 3-3, but they have had probably the toughest schedule in the league thus far. The easiest opponents they’ve faced are the Panthers and Patriots, which were both road games, and they’ve pulled out upset victories over the Saints and Chiefs. The Browns, who rank 24th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -1.20% and 14th in my roster rankings, aren’t much better than the easiest teams the Raiders have faced, so the Raiders had a good chance to come in and pull the straight up upset, especially if they were to get back left guard Richie Incognito and right tackle Trent Brown, who have been limited to 74 snaps and 73 snaps respectively this season.

Unfortunately, a couple things have changed in the past week to make the Raiders a less favorable bet. For one, Incognito remains out and Brown is apparently truly questionable for this game, so the Raiders still aren’t going to be full strength upfront. On top of that, this line has shifted from 3.5 to 2.5, a big swing, considering 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal. That happened despite the Raiders losing by 25 points at home, though I don’t really hold that against the Raiders either, against a Buccaneers team that is arguably the best in the league.

The line movement in the Raiders’ favor isn’t warranted though and is almost definitely due to the Browns losing wide receiver Odell Beckham to injury, which I don’t think will be as big of a deal as most think. Wide receiver isn’t as important of a position as the general public thinks and Beckham has been more of a 1b than a true #1 since arriving in Cleveland. In fact, Baker Mayfield’s stats in his career with and without Beckham suggests he’s been a better quarterback without Beckham in the lineup. 

I don’t necessarily buy that the Browns are better without Beckham, but it’s worth noting that Baker has thrown about 20% of his passes to Beckham over the past two seasons and 28% of his interceptions, likely due to his tendency to force the ball into coverage for his star wide receiver. I don’t think Beckham will be missed much. Given that this line is 2.5 now, I actually like the Browns this week, although only slightly and if Brown is able to play for the Raiders, I would probably flip this pick to the Raiders. That’s how close it is.

Cleveland Browns 34 Las Vegas Raiders 31

Pick against the spread: Cleveland -2.5

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

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (4-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-0)

The Steelers are undefeated, but I haven’t been that impressed by them. They rank just 13th in first down rate differential at +1.39% and all of their games have been competitive, even though they’ve played probably the easiest schedule in the league, with their opponents combining for a record of just 3-15-1. The Steelers are better on paper than they’ve looked so far this season, but their schedule gets much tougher this week, with the Cleveland Browns coming to town, fresh off an impressive win over the Colts that pushed their record to 4-1.

The Colts were without a key player in linebacker Darius Leonard last week and the Browns will be without a key player in right guard Wyatt Teller this week, but the Steelers will also be without a talented right guard in David DeCastro, whose absence will be bigger for a couple reasons. For one, DeCastro is a more proven player, with Teller playing at a high level to start this season, but almost entirely having no track record of being a high level player before this season. On top of that, the Browns have a more proven backup for Teller than the Browns have for DeCastro, with veteran Chris Hubbard set to step in, and the Steelers are already in trouble on the right side of their offensive line with week 1 starting right tackle Zack Banner also out.

This line, favoring the Steelers by 3.5 at home, suggests the Steelers are about 1.5 points better than the Browns, but I actually have the Browns slightly higher than the Steelers right now. The Browns have a good chance to pull the straight up upset and, even if they don’t, 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or less, so there’s a good chance the Browns cover anyway. The most likely results of this game are either team winning by a field goal, both results that would cover this spread. I wouldn’t make this a big play, but the Browns are worth a bet this week in what should be a close game either way.

Pittsburgh Steelers 24 Cleveland Browns 23

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Indianapolis Colts at Cleveland Browns: 2020 Week 5 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (3-1) at Cleveland Browns (3-1)

Coming into the season, I expected the Colts to be one of the best teams in the league and, even with a disappointing performance week 1 in Jacksonville, the Colts still rank 3rd in the NFL in first down rate differential at +6.71%. They haven’t faced the toughest schedule, but none of their wins have been that closely fought, including a game last week in Chicago against the previously 3-0 Bears in which the Bears trailed 19-3 before a garbage time touchdown made the final score look closer than the game was.

Going into this week, I was expecting to be betting the Colts again, as small road favorites in Cleveland, but the Colts are starting to get hit by injuries, something that hasn’t affected them in a significant way yet this season. This week, they’ll be without left tackle Anthony Castonzo and linebacker Darius Leonard. Castonzo’s absence isn’t as big as it might seem because the Colts have a capable backup and a strong overall offensive line at the other four positions, but Leonard’s absence is huge because he’s not only one of the best linebackers in the league and arguably the best defensive player on one of the best defenses in the league, but the Colts also don’t have anyone close to filling in what he does on this defense, as their linebacker depth is very suspect. Leonard’s absence should move this line 2-3 points by itself.

This line has moved down to even from 1.5 earlier this week, but that’s a pretty insignificant shift, so we’re not getting real line value with the Colts. The Browns have a high level player missing as well in running back Nick Chubb, but the Browns have a proven feature back behind him on the depth chart in Kareem Hunt, who should be more than capable of carrying the load for a few weeks, and they have arguably the best run blocking offensive line in football. I’m still taking the Colts for pick ‘em purposes, but I have no confidence in that pick.

Indianapolis Colts 24 Cleveland Browns 23

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis PK

Confidence: None

Cleveland Browns at Dallas Cowboys: 2020 Week 4 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (2-1) at Dallas Cowboys (1-2)

Coming into the year, I liked the Cowboys’ chances of being a contender, after tough luck in close games in 2019 (0-5 in games decided by 7 points or fewer after going 8-2 in those type of games with roughly the same team in 2018) led to the Cowboys missing the playoffs at 8-8, despite finishing 6th in the league in point differential at +113 and 4th in first down rate differential at +4.28%.

The Cowboys are just 1-2, but they’ve played better than that suggests, with their two losses coming on the road in close games against tough opponents in the Seahawks and Rams. Their one win was an improbable comeback over the Falcons, in which they needed to recover an onside kick to win, but there were some fluky things that led to the Cowboys needing to come back in the first place, like the Cowboys losing a trio of fumbles early. The Cowboys won the first down rate battle in that game by 10.80% and overall rank 7th in the league on the season at +4.38%, very much in line with how they played last season. That’s a good sign for their chances going forward.

What’s even more impressive is that the Cowboys have done this while not being close to full strength, missing their dominant offensive tackle duo of Tyron Smith and La’El Collins, pass catching tight end Blake Jarwin, every down linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and his potential replacement Sean Lee, and starting cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Anthony Brown. They’re not the only team in the league to have significant injuries right now, but they’ve played well in spite of them, primarily due to quarterback Dak Prescott seemingly being on his way to his best season yet. If they can get healthy soon, they could easily be a dangerous team.

The Cowboys do get one key player back from injury this week in left tackle Tyron Smith, who is set to return from a 2-game absence. Unfortunately, the Cowboys have a tough matchup for Smith’s first game back, as even with Smith in the lineup, I have the Browns slightly higher in my roster rankings. The Browns’ season has started with a blowout loss to a dominant Ravens team and easy wins against the Bengals and Redskins (The Bengals needed to go 5 for 5 on 4th down just to cut the lead to 5 points at the last second). They haven’t been overly impressive, but they’re getting healthier and have been particularly impressive on the offensive line, where all five starters have played at a high level, a great sign, given that their offensive line was the primary reason for their disappointing 2019 season.

The Browns enter this game 10th in my roster rankings, a couple spots ahead of the Cowboys, who don’t have full homefield advantage either, so this 4.5-point line is too high. I wouldn’t go crazy betting on the Browns because I still like the Cowboys’ chances long-term if they can get healthier, but this should be a close game, with the most likely results being either team winning by exactly a field goal, two outcomes that would both result in a Browns cover.

Dallas Cowboys 30 Cleveland Browns 27

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +4.5

Confidence: Medium

Washington Mascots at Cleveland Browns: 2020 Week 3 NFL Pick

Washington Mascots (1-1) at Cleveland Browns (1-1)

The Browns got blown out in week 1 in Baltimore, losing 38-7 in a game in which they lost the first down rate differential by 17.39%, but the Ravens are on a dominant regular season run dating back to last season, and the Browns bounced back in week 2. They only beat the Bengals by 5, but the Browns actually won the first down rate by 10.78%, with the Bengals only able to keep it close because they went 5 for 5 on 4th down and got a late meaningless touchdown. 

The Browns have some injuries, missing defensive end Olivier Vernon and probably top cornerback Denzel Ward, but they’re hardly the only banged up team right now and they still rank 15th in my roster rankings. Their opponents this week, in addition not having a team name, are missing one of their few top level players, Brandon Scherff, without whom they have one of the worst offensive lines in the league. They pulled off the upset week 1 against a banged up Eagles team that looked bad again in week 2 even when they were healthier, but they’re still one of the least talented teams in the league, about 8 points behind the Browns in my roster rankings. That suggests a line favoring the Browns by about 10, so we’re getting good line value with this number at 7. This isn’t a big play, but the Browns are worth a bet this week.

Update: Denzel Ward is a surprise active for the Browns, and Adrian Clayborn, a valuable situational rusher who was questionable, will play as well. Strangely, this line has stayed put at a touchdown. I like the Browns enough for this to be a bigger play. They should win this one fairly easily.

Cleveland Browns 24 Washington Mascots 12

Pick against the spread: Cleveland -7

Confidence: High

Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns: 2020 Week 2 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (0-1) at Cleveland Browns (0-1)

Both of these teams lost their season opener. For the Bengals, it was their 22nd loss in their last 25 games, dating back to their week 9 bye in the middle of the 2018 season, including a league worst 2-14 in 2019. The Bengals were better than last season’s record suggests though. Of their 14 losses, 8 were decided by 8 points or fewer, while both of their wins came by 10 points or more, even though they had the 3rd worst turnover margin in the league at -14.

Turnover margins and close game records tend to be unpredictable on a year-to-year basis and, in terms of first down rate differential, the Bengals ranked 24th at -3.47%, certainly not good, but not at the worst in the league either. They also should have better quarterback play with rookie #1 overall pick Joe Burrow coming in and they should have better health in the receiving corps and on the offensive line, particularly with top receiver AJ Green and left tackle Jonah Williams returning after missing all of 2019.

The Bengals’ opener was more of the same though, losing the turnover battle by two and the game by three, despite winning the first down rate battle by 1.68%. That doesn’t necessarily mean that will continue though. Case in point, the Bengals’ week 1 opponents, the Chargers, had a 2-9 record in games decided by 8 points or fewer and a league worst -17 turnover margin in 2019, leading to them going just 5-11 despite ranking 7th in first down rate differential, but in week one they managed to win a close game and win the turnover battle. 

This week the Bengals go to Cleveland and are 6-point underdogs even though it’s a short trip and the Browns will be limited to 6,000 fans in the stadium. That suggests the Bengals are a little underrated because of all of their recent close losses. The Bengals are missing key defensive tackle Geno Atkins with injury and fellow starter Mike Daniels as well, but the Browns, while they aren’t missing anyone of Atkins’ caliber, are very thin at cornerback and linebacker, where they are missing multiple expected contributors at each position. I have this line calculated at Cleveland -4.5, so we’re not getting a ton of line value, but the Bengals should be the choice for pick ‘em purposes. They might not win, but they should at least keep it competitive like they have most of their recent games. 

Update: The Browns will be without defensive end Olivier Vernon as well, while right tackle Jack Conklin is reportedly only going to be available in emergency situations. Both got limited practice in this week, but it wasn’t enough for them to be cleared to start on a short week. Those are two significant absences, but this line hasn’t moved in most places. If you can still get +6, this is worth a bet. The Browns are very banged up and the Bengals have enough talent to be at least competitive in most of their games.

Cleveland Browns 26 Cincinnati Bengals 23

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +6

Confidence: Medium

Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens: 2020 Week 1 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (0-0) at Baltimore Ravens (0-0)

The Ravens finished last season as far and away the top team in the league in first down rate differential at +8.87%, a significant edge over the 2nd ranked 49ers at 5.29%. They were even better after making some defensive additions, including cornerback Marcus Peters, with a 13.32% first down rate differential from week 7 (their first week with Peters) to week 16 (their last meaningful regular season game). 

That all fell apart in their first playoff game, when they lost 28-12 at home to the Titans, but that game was a lot closer than the final score suggested, with the game swinging on a -3 turnover margin and an 0 for 4 on 4th downs by the Ravens, two things that were both very uncharacteristic for the Ravens and that are highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. The Ravens only lost the first down rate differential by 3.24% in that game and they were facing a Titans team that was playing at a high level at the time, so I don’t really hold that against them much.

The oddsmakers don’t seem to hold that against them much either, as the Ravens enter the season with the 2nd best odds to win the Super Bowl at +650 according to SBD, right behind the defending champion Chiefs who are at +600. I would like the Ravens’ chances better if they didn’t have to cut Earl Thomas for disciplinary reasons, but on paper the Ravens are clearly one of the top few teams in the league and I have them representing the AFC in the Super Bowl in my season preview

That being said, I do think the Ravens are a little overvalued in this one as 7.5-point home favorites over the Browns, without any fans in the stadium. I have the Browns as a top-15 team going into the season and about 5 points behind the Ravens in my rankings, as they should benefit from improved offensive line play and coaching. I have this line calculated at around 6, so we’re getting some line value with the Browns, though I wouldn’t be eager to bet on them in this one because of how the Ravens ended last year’s regular season.

Baltimore Ravens 30 Cleveland Browns 24

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +7.5

Confidence: Low