Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (7-7-1) at Baltimore Ravens (9-6)

The Ravens have gone 5-1 since turning to Lamar Jackson at quarterback, but they’ve actually moved the ball at a slightly worse rate, picking up first downs at a 34.28% rate in Jackson’s 6 starts, as opposed to 36.46% in Joe Flacco’s 9 starts. That’s despite the fact that 4 of the 6 teams they’ve faced over that stretch rank 29th or worst in first down rate allowed. They’ve been able to win because their defense has played at a high level, with their best defensive performance coming last week when it was needed most. They held the Chargers to a 26.32% first down rate in a game in which the Ravens’ offense moved the ball at a mere 26.67% rate against the best defense Lamar Jackson has seen so far.

The Ravens have another tough game this week though and their defense might not be able to match what was arguably their best defensive performance of the season last week. The Browns are not typically a tough opponent, but they beat the Ravens earlier this season and have gotten significantly better in recent weeks. Since week 9, the Browns rank 8th in first down rate differential at +2.50%, above the Ravens, who rank 18th at +0.51%. I also have these two teams about even in my roster rankings, so we’re getting significant value with the Browns as 6-point underdogs. In a week with only a few good, bettable games, this is my Pick of the Week.

Baltimore Ravens 19 Cleveland Browns 17

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +6

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (6-8) at Cleveland Browns (6-7-1)

It’s weird seeing the Browns as big favorites. Originally this line opened up at Cleveland -7, which didn’t make much sense. That line suggested the Browns are 4 points better than the Bengals on a neutral field, but when these two teams met earlier this year in Cincinnati, this was an even line, suggesting the Browns were 3 points better than the Bengals at the time. Given that the Bengals have lost starting quarterback Andy Dalton and were blown out in their previous matchup with the Browns, I would have expected the odds makers to have a bigger gap between these two teams this time around, but maybe they’re just not used to having the Browns favored by more than a touchdown, given that the last time that happened was 2010.

Unfortunately, Cleveland -7 disappeared pretty quickly, as heavy action came in on the Browns quickly and caused the oddsmakers to adjust. Now the Browns are favored by 9 points, most they’ve been favored by in a game since they were favored by 11.5 points against the 49ers in week 17 of the 2007 season. Even at Cleveland -9, I think this line is a little short, as I have the Browns calculated as 11-point favorites in this game.

That might sound crazy since it’s the Browns, but they’ve been playing legitimately good football since getting rid of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley, going 4-2. Led by rookies Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb, their offense has moved the chains at a 41.59% rate in 6 games without Jackson and Haley, as opposed to 30.25% in 7 games prior. To put that in perspective, 41.59% would rank 5th in the NFL on the season, right behind the Rams, while 30.25% would rank 29th on the season, right behind the Jaguars. The Browns’ defense has also been better in recent weeks since getting linebacker Joe Schobert back from injury. Now they get top cornerback Denzel Ward back from a two game absence with a concussion and are close to full strength on both sides of the ball.

The Bengals, on the other hand, are going in the opposite direction and are nowhere close to full strength. I already mentioned they’re without their starting quarterback, but they’re also without their top-2 wide receivers AJ Green and Tyler Boyd and, even before losing those two, their offense hasn’t been the same since losing top tight end Tyler Eifert early in the season. They have a decent offensive line and running back Joe Mixon has been running well, but they really lack skill position talent on offense.

That’s a huge problem for the Bengals because their defense has been horrible all season, ranking 29th in first down rate allowed at 39.50%. They’re getting healthier, with every down linebacker Vontaze Burfict set to return this week from a 2-game absence, but he has struggled when on the field this season, so it’s unclear how much of a boost that really is. We’re not getting enough line value with the Browns for them to be worth betting, but I would expect them to win this game with relative ease, given the talent gap between these two teams right now.

Cleveland Browns 24 Cincinnati Bengals 13

Pick against the spread: Cleveland -9

Confidence: Low

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

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