Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs: 2020 AFC Divisional Round Pick

Cleveland Browns (12-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (14-2)

After the Browns’ upset victory in Pittsburgh last weekend, I was expecting them to open as 7 or 7.5-point underdogs in Kansas City this week. When they opened as 10-point underdogs, I was surprised, leading to me locking this line in early, and I am even more surprised it hasn’t moved off that number since. I knew the Chiefs were a team the books could inflate the line on, but this is more than I was expecting. 

The Chiefs are defending Super Bowl Champions and only lost one meaningful game all season, but they weren’t the dominant team their record suggests they were in the regular season, especially down the stretch, when their last seven wins all came by one score or loss, with the Chiefs failing to cover the spread in any of those games. Some of that was due to garbage time, but, considering this line is as high as it is, garbage time, and the possibility of a backdoor cover even if this game isn’t close throughout, is very relevant to this pick.

Even dating back to earlier this season, the Chiefs have just five double digit wins all year, with three of them coming against teams that finished 5-11 or worse and one of them coming against a Patriots team that was starting a backup quarterback. Their week 3 win over the Ravens was their only double digit win over a capable opponent this season, so I don’t know why the Chiefs would be expected to blow out the Browns, especially since the Chiefs have not played as well since that early season matchup with the Ravens. The main reason for that is the absence of right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, a massive blow to this offense that hasn’t gotten enough discussion.

The general narrative is that Patrick Mahomes and the skill position players on this offense are so good that the Chiefs’ offense is invincible, but the Chiefs actually finished the season 2nd in schedule adjusted first down rate behind the Buffalo Bills, who were ahead of them by a pretty decent margin (+4.71 vs. +3.65%), and the Chiefs were noticeably worse after Schwartz went down in week 6, leading to many of their close late season contests. All of this is true even if you ignore the Chiefs’ week 17 performance when they rested their stars in a meaningless game. 

The Chiefs’ defense has always been somewhat shaky and finished this season 22nd in first down rate allowed over expected at -0.88%, and, as good as Mahomes and his skill position players are, the Chiefs’ concerns on the offensive line and on defense can’t be ignored as they head into the post-season. They’re obvious a top Super Bowl contender, but they’re far from a lock to even make it back to the big game. Their 6th ranked finish in schedule adjusted first down rate differential also shows them to be an obvious contender, but not the juggernaut the general public seems to think they are and the oddsmakers have priced them as.

Let’s take advantage of that with the 10-point underdog Browns. The Browns may not cover this spread if they play like they did last week, when they won by 11, but were largely gifted the game by the Steelers committing 5 turnovers (the Chiefs had 16 giveaways all season) and lost the first down rate battle by 9.71%. However, the Browns are getting reinforcements, with stud left guard Joel Bitonio and top cornerback Denzel Ward returning to give the Browns a boost on both sides of the ball. The Browns aren’t quite at 100% right now with right tackle Jack Conklin questionable and likely to play at less than full strength with a hamstring injury and key defensive end Olivier Vernon out for the season, but compared to earlier this season, the Browns are much healthier. 

Stud running back Nick Chubb (4 games missed), key right guard Wyatt Teller (5 games), #1 wide receiver Jarvis Landry (1 game), starting left tackle Jedrick Wills (1 game), dominant left guard Joel Bitonio (1 game), starting tight end Austin Hooper (3 games), edge defender Myles Garrett (2 games), top cornerback Denzel Ward (5 games), starting cornerback Kevin Johnson (4 games), and safety Ronnie Harrison (5 games) have all missed time with injury and are all expected to play this week, for the first time together since early this season. That also doesn’t include a rib injury to quarterback Baker Mayfield that slowed him significantly earlier this season that he is well past at this point.

The Browns rank just 25th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential on the season at -1.53%, but they’re noticeably better on offense, ranking 11th in first down rate over expected at 1.17%, which is the significantly more predictive side of the ball, and a lot of their bad performances were earlier this season when they were not as healthy as they are now. My calculated line has the Chiefs favored by just 5 points, so I love the Browns at +10. Even if this isn’t a close game throughout, they have a great shot at a backdoor cover in garbage time, but I expect this game to be as competitive as the Chiefs’ recent games have been.

Kansas City Chiefs 38 Cleveland Browns 34

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +10

Confidence: High

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2020 AFC Wild Card Round Pick

Cleveland Browns (11-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)

Earlier this week, I was expecting to bet on the Browns. I had the Browns as the slightly better of these two teams, but the Steelers were being favored by a field goal at home, where they wouldn’t have any homefield advantage. The Steelers won one more game than the Browns this season, despite not even trying in their week 17 matchup with the Browns with the division locked up, and the Steelers have the edge in schedule adjusted first down rate differential (+0.93% vs. -1.12%), but the Browns’ issues were primarily concentrated on the defensive side of the ball, ranking 27th in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.14%, while the Steelers’ issues were primarily concentrated on the offensive side of the ball, ranking 30th in first down rate over expected at -3.56%. 

Offensive performance is much more predictive than defensive performance, which was a good sign for the Browns’ chances going forward, compared to the Steelers. The Steelers did beat the Browns easily in their first matchup this season, winning 38-7 in week 6, and then last week the Steelers’ backups came within a 2-point conversion of tying the game late in a 24-22 Browns victory, but those scores don’t tell you the whole story. 

In the first matchup, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield was playing at far less than 100% through an injury and he was missing stud running back Nick Chubb and key right guard Wyatt Teller. In the second matchup, the Browns actually won the first down rate battle by 6.18% and led 24-9 late before Pittsburgh converted two 4th downs and stopped the Browns on a 4th down attempt of their own, to make the final score look closer than the game was throughout. The Browns seemed to be underrated, with casual fans putting a lot of stock in the first two matchups between these teams. 

The Browns also seemed to be getting healthier, with stud running back Nick Chubb (4 games missed), key right guard Wyatt Teller (5 games), #1 wide receiver Jarvis Landry (1 game), starting left tackle Jedrick Wills (1 game), starting tight end Austin Hooper (3 games), edge defender Myles Garrett (2 games), top cornerback Denzel Ward (4 games), and safety Ronnie Harrison (5 games) all looking likely to play this game after missing significant time earlier in the season. Unfortunately, that changed very quickly.

Most of the aforementioned players will still play, but Ward is considered a gametime decision and Harrison is out due to COVID protocols, as is left guard Joel Bitonio, who is just as important to this offensive line as Teller, who could be playing at less than 100%. Also possibly at less than 100% is right tackle Jack Conklin, who didn’t practice at all on Friday. The Browns also lost talented starting defensive end Olivier Vernon to a torn Achilles and also won’t have head coach Kevin Stefanski and some key assistants. 

Despite all that, I could still be talked into taking the Browns, as this line has shifted appropriately by 3 points, favoring Pittsburgh by 6. My calculated line now has the Steelers favored by 2.5 or maybe 3 points, with the Steelers having nominal homefield only and being just 2 points better than the Browns in my roster rankings, even with the Browns at less than 100%. I’m not going to place a bet on the Browns just yet, but when I have confirmation of who is playing in this game for Cleveland, I may decide to place a bet at +6. The Steelers won half of their games by fewer than 6 points this season, including matchups against the Broncos, Cowboys, and the COVID depleted Ravens, so the Browns could definitely keep this game close, even if they can’t pull the upset.

Update: The Browns won’t have Denzel Ward or fellow cornerback Kevin Johnson this week, but they will have cornerback Terrance Mitchell, linebacker Malcolm Smith and right tackle Jack Conklin, who were all listed as questionable, while safety Ronnie Harrison, originally out after a positive COVID test, was confirmed to be a false positive and will play. With all of the Browns’ Sunday COVID testing out of the way, I feel comfortable placing a bet on the Browns at +6, which I am locking in now because the lines have dropped to 5 and 5.5 in some places.

Pittsburgh Steelers 23 Cleveland Browns 20

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +6

Confidence: Medium

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns: 2020 Week 17 NFL Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (12-3) at Cleveland Browns (10-5)

This one is a tough call and I don’t want to spend too much time on it because the Steelers will be resting most of their key players, with either the 2 or 3 seed locked in. The line has ballooned to Cleveland -9.5 with that news, even with the Browns losing several players, including most notably their top cornerback Denzel Ward, to the COVID list. Benefitting the Browns is that they are expected to get stud right guard Wyatt Teller back from a 2-game absence, which is a big key to their run based offense, as well as left tackle Jedrick Wills and their top-4 wide receivers, who missed last week on the COVID list and were badly missed along with Teller in a poor offensive showing in New York against the previously 1-win Jets. 

My calculated line would be Cleveland -2 in normal circumstances, as they have a slight talent edge over Pittsburgh, with Teller and without Ward, and have a slight homefield advantage with some limited fans in attendance. The question becomes if all of the starters that Pittsburgh is resting are worth 7.5 points to this game. That’s not really clear to me, nor is the effort level from the Steelers in what the coaching staff has telegraphed as a meaningless game by resting key players. It’s also possible Pittsburgh could play the Browns in back-to-back weeks if the Browns win this game and qualify for the post-season, so Mike Tomlin and his coaching staff are likely saving their better game plan for next week as well. I’m taking the points, but only because there is no reason to be confident in either side of this one.

Cleveland Browns 31 Pittsburgh Steelers 22

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh +9.5

Confidence: None

Cleveland Browns at New York Jets: 2020 Week 16 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (10-4) at New York Jets (1-13)

The Jets won their first game of the season last week, shocking the Rams as 17-point underdogs, but I wouldn’t expect anything close to a repeat of that this week. Even with that win, the Jets still rank dead last in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -5.96% (no other team is lower than -5.71%) and in point differential at -207 (no other team is lower than -148), with their average defeat coming by a whopping 16.2 points per game. They are also among the league’s worst in my roster rankings, especially with arguably their best player this season, defensive lineman Quinnen Williams, now out for the season.

On top of that, teams typically struggle to cover after big upset wins, covering 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 Jets’ win last week was the equivalent of their Super Bowl, so there will almost definitely be some hangover effect this week, and the line shifted from Cleveland -11 to Cleveland -9.5 in the wake of the Jets’ upset, which gives us some line value with the Browns. 

My calculated line is Cleveland -12, as, not only are the Jets still arguably the worst team in the league, but the Browns have emerged as a contender in recent weeks. The Browns have played a relatively easy schedule and have won just four of their ten games by multiple scores, so they rank just 23rd in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -1.36%, but their issues have been primarily concentrated on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank 29th in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.62%, which is definitely the better side of the ball to have issues on, because defensive performance tends to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. On offense, which is the much more consistent side of the ball, the Browns rank 10th in first down rate over expected at +1.26%. 

The Browns aren’t a great defense, but they’re more talented than they’ve played thus far and they have their top-2 defensive players Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward in the lineup together again after both missed time, so I would be surprised if they weren’t better defensively going forward, which will make it much easier for them to win by big amounts. I would expect this to be one of those wins. This isn’t a big play on the Browns because they’re not in a great spot either, ahead of a much tougher game against the Steelers (favorites cover at just a 42.8% rate when their opponents have a winning percentage that is worse than their next opponent’s winning percentage by over 50%), but the Browns are bettable at 9.5.

Update: The Browns will be without their top-4 wide receivers due to being COVID contacts of linebacker BJ Goodson, who will also be out for this game. This is frustrating for my -9.5 bet, but this line has re-posted at 6.5 and I’m going to double down on the Browns at that number. The Browns are a run heavy team, so their wide receiver absences won’t be as big of a deal as they would be for most teams. My calculated line is actually still Cleveland -10. Hopefully they can win by double digits and cover both bets, but I like doubling down at 6.5 to offset losses from a 7-9 point win. And if you were lucky enough not to lock this in earlier, Cleveland -6.5 would be one of my top plays of the week.

Cleveland Browns 27 New York Jets 17

Pick against the spread: Cleveland -6.5

Confidence: High

Cleveland Browns at New York Giants: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (9-4) at New York Giants (5-8)

Coming out of their bye week a couple weeks ago, the Giants looked like they would be a good bet going forward. They were just 3-7, but they had faced a tough schedule to start their season, including 9 out of 10 games against teams that rank in the top-10 in first down rate allowed over expected, the Steelers (2nd), the Rams (1st), Washington twice (3rd), the Eagles twice (9th), the 49ers (8th), the Bears (6th), and the Buccaneers (5th). The Giants were also healthier coming out of the bye than they’ve been most of the season. 

That lasted about a half unfortunately, as the Giants were up 13-10 with the ball in Cincinnati’s red zone early in the 3rd quarter (with the Bengals’ only touchdown coming on a return touchdown), but then quarterback Daniel Jones suffered a hamstring injury and, while they held on to win that game, backup Colt McCoy struggled mightily and nearly blew the game, as the lowly Bengals were a field goal away from winning the game on a late drive in which they ended up fumbling at midfield.

Based off McCoy’s struggles in that game, I stayed away from the Giants when they went to Seattle two weeks ago, but they shocked everyone, winning straight up as 11-point underdogs by final score of 17-12, in a game in which their defense shockingly had a dominant performance to cover for an underwhelming McCoy. Last week, with Jones back, I bet on the Giants, but Jones looked far from 100% and was arguably a downgrade even from McCoy. Seeing that Jones clearly needed more time to get healthy, the Giants will go back to McCoy this week.

With that in mind, the Browns are a very intriguing bet this week as 6-point road favorites. Some may think McCoy isn’t a big downgrade from a healthy Jones because he was the quarterback when the Giants beat the Seahawks and because his statistics aren’t a huge drop off from Jones, but they don’t realize that Jones has faced tough competition in almost every healthy start he’s made this season, while McCoy has gotten to play the Bengals and Seahawks, two below average defenses. 

Even with much easier competition, McCoy has led a noticeably less effective offense, as their win over the Seahawks was almost entirely because of their dominant defensive performance. Defensive performance is highly inconsistent week-to-week and the Giants rank just 15th in first down rate allowed over expected on the season at +0.20%, so I wouldn’t expect that again. Unless they can get a similar performance from their defense as they had against the Seahawks, I have a hard time seeing the Giants keeping it close with the Browns with McCoy under center. I think we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Browns as a result of McCoy being under center when the Giants beat the Seahawks, as my calculated line is Cleveland -7.5.

The Browns haven’t been as good as their 9-4 record, playing a relatively weak schedule and needing to go 6-1 in one score games to get to 9-4. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Browns rank 25th at -2.14%. However, their issues have been primarily concentrated on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank 31st in first down rate allowed over expected at +3.16%, which is the best side of the ball to have issues on, because defensive performance tends to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. 

On offense, which is the much more consistent side of the ball, the Browns rank 12th in first down rate over expected at 1.02%. The Browns aren’t a great defense, but they’re more talented than they’ve played thus far and they’ll have their top-2 defensive players Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward in the lineup together for the first time since week 10 this week, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them be a more serviceable unit going forward, which would allow the Browns to get more big wins. I expect this to be one of those big wins, so the Browns are worth a bet as 6-point road favorites.

Cleveland Browns 27 New York Giants 17

Pick against the spread: Cleveland -6

Confidence: Medium

Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (7-5) at Cleveland Browns (9-3)

These two teams met way back in week 1 in Baltimore, where the Ravens won in dominant fashion by a final score of 38-6 as 7-point favorites. After that game, it looked like it would be more of the same for these two teams this season as last season, when the Browns disappointed against high expectations and the Ravens won most of their games with ease en route to a 14-2 regular season, but a lot has changed since then, as the Browns have won 9 of 11 games since that blowout loss week 1, while the Ravens are just 7-5, two games behind the Browns in the standings.

The Ravens finished last season easily #1 in first down rate differential at +6.34% (no one else higher than +4.13%), but this year they rank just 25th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -2.20%. Their defense has been solid, but their offensive dropoff has been jarring, as they’ve gone from far and away the best in the league to just 26th in first down rate over expected at -2.24%. Part of it is that quarterback Lamar Jackson hasn’t kept up his MVP caliber play and their offensive schemes haven’t caught teams off guard the way they did last year either, but they also are simply missing key parts of last season’s offense. 

Right guard Marshal Yanda retired before the season started, despite a dominant 2019, and the loss of left tackle Ronnie Stanley and tight end Nick Boyle to season ending injuries just made things even worse, as those three were arguably their three best run blockers in 2019, which was a key to their offensive system. The Ravens have gotten back the players they were without due to COVID, but they’re still far from 100% with key players out indefinitely. 

Their defense isn’t in as bad shape as their offense, but they’ve still had some injury issues on that side of the ball, including the current injury to stud defensive end Calais Campbell, who is expected to be very limited if he can play at all. The Ravens could still be a playoff team and I would expect them to be better than they’ve been thus far on offense, but they’re far from the dominant team they were last season or that they looked like after their week 1 win over the Browns.

The Browns, meanwhile, have had other clunker performances, scoring single digit points and losing by double digits in all three of their losses, leading to them being -15 in point differential despite a 9-3 record. Their record is largely the result of a 6-0 record in one score games, which is not sustainable long-term, and they haven’t played a particularly tough schedule either, with some of their one score wins coming against the likes of the Jaguars, the Eagles, and the Bengals (twice). In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Browns are about even with the Ravens, ranking 25th at -2.18%.

However, there is reason to believe the Browns can be better than that going forward, perhaps significantly so. For one, their issues have been primarily concentrated on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank 28th in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.35%, which is the best side of the ball to have issues on, because defensive performance tends to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. The Browns aren’t a great defense, but they’re more talented than they’ve played thus far, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them be a more serviceable unit going forward, which would allow the Browns to get more big wins. 

The Browns’ offense has been nothing to write home about overall, ranking 17th in first down rate over expected at +0.17%, but they’ve been a lot better in recent weeks, since getting Nick Chubb and Wyatt Teller back from four-game absences and since quarterback Baker Mayfield got over the rib injury he played through earlier in the season. That strong offensive play should continue going forward, so, if their defense can even be a mediocre group going forward, this is not going to be an easy team to face. I have the Browns 10th in my roster rankings, about two points better than the Ravens, so my calculated line has the Browns favored by a field goal, at home with limited fans in the stands. Instead, they are home underdogs of a field goal, so we’re getting great line value. The Browns are worth a big play if you can get the full field goal and a smaller play at +2.5.

Cleveland Browns 27 Baltimore Ravens 24 Upset Pick +130

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +3

Confidence: High

Cleveland Browns at Tennessee Titans: 2020 Week 13 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (8-3) at Tennessee Titans (8-3)

I have bet heavily on the Titans in back-to-back weeks and they’ve come through both times, pulling straight up upsets in Baltimore and in Indianapolis. The Titans were an underrated team because the public was making too big of a deal of their defensive issues and not paying enough attention to their offensive prowess, probably not recognizing that offensive play is much more consistent and predictable on a week-to-week basis. Unfortunately, those back-to-back wins seem to have lost us all line value with the Titans, as they shot up from being 3-point favorites against the Browns on the early line last week to being 5.5-point favorites this week.

With that in mind, I actually like the Browns a little bit this week, as they are a little underrated for the same reason the Titans were, being a much better offensive team than defensive team. Their point differential (+39 vs. -21) is significantly worse than Tennessee’s, despite these two teams having the same record, and the Browns’ offense, which ranks 16th in first down rate over expected, is significantly behind the Titans 2nd ranked offense, but the Browns are more talented on offense than that would suggest, as they’ve gotten key players like stud running back Nick Chubb (4 games missed), talented right guard Wyatt Teller (3 games missed), and starting tight end Austin Hooper (2 games missed) back from injuries that cost them time earlier this season.

My roster rankings have the Titans about 2 points better than the Browns, suggesting this line should be calculated around Tennessee -3, giving the Titans minimal homefield advantage for having some fans in the stadium. There’s not enough here for the Browns to be worth betting at 5.5, especially since Tennessee is in a better spot, with only an easy trip to Jacksonville on deck, while the Browns will host the Ravens, but this line could move up to 6 and the Titans have a pair of key players in left guard Rodger Saffold and defensive tackle Jeffrey Simmons that appear to be legitimately questionable for this game, so I wouldn’t role out betting the Browns under the right circumstances. If an update is necessary, it would likely happen around when the inactives are released unless we get more clarity on Saffold and Simmons on Saturday.

Tennessee Titans 31 Cleveland Browns 27

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +5.5

Confidence: Low

Cleveland Browns at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (7-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9)

The Jaguars will start their third quarterback of the season, opting to go with veteran backup Mike Glennon, with starter Gardner Minshew still out with injury and rookie backup Jake Luton struggling mightily in his 3-game stint as the starter, including a 4-interception performance at home against the Steelers last week. As strange as it sounds, when Glennon was named the starter, I thought I was going to be betting the Jaguars this week. 

Glennon is a journeyman backup, but even a low end backup quarterback would represent an upgrade on Luton. Meanwhile the Browns have not been nearly as good as their 7-3 record, with a negative point differential at -23, despite a +6 turnover margin that is tied for the 4th best in the NFL and a relatively easy schedule. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Browns rank 26th at -2.17% and, making matters worse for the Browns, they saw their top-2 defensive players, defensive end Myles Garrett and cornerback Denzel Ward, both ruled out early in the week. 

It seemed like Glennon and company could move the ball and keep this one somewhat close and it didn’t hurt that the Jaguars were in a good spot, as home underdogs cover at a 53.7% rate after a loss as home underdogs, including 42-30 ATS since 1989 after a loss by 20 or more points. However, then the Jaguars’ own injury issues came to light, which made them a significantly less attractive bet. 

Already down top edge defender Josh Allen on defense after an early week rule out, the Jaguars’ offense will be without talented left guard Andrew Norwell and two of their top wide receivers DJ Chark and Chris Conley, which limits Glennon’s chances of keeping this close. My calculated line is Cleveland -6, so we’re still getting line value with the Jaguars, which, combined with the Jaguars good spot, leads me to think they’re the right side, but I don’t really want to bet on it, especially with the uncertainty of this being Glennon’s first start since 2017.

Cleveland Browns 31 Jacksonville Jaguars 26

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +7

Confidence: Low

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