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

Los Angeles Chargers at Cleveland Browns: 2018 Week 6 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (3-2) at Cleveland Browns (2-2-1)

The Browns have been near the top of my underrated list all season and I’ve picked them against the spread every week so far this season, including money bets on them against the Steelers, Jets, and Ravens. The Browns have covered or pushed in all 5 games, with their only non-cover coming in a push as 3-point underdogs in Oakland in a game they led by 8 with the ball under 2 minutes left. In fact, if not for a couple bad calls in that game and some missed kicks week 1 and week 2, the Browns could easily be 5-0 right now.

Of course, they also haven’t won a game by more than 4 points, so they could also easily be 1-4 right now, but my point is that the Browns are a competitive football team this season. They’ve drastically upgraded their quarterback situation, which has allowed a solid all around roster to shine more, after Deshone Kizer’s turnover proneness made it near impossible for them to win games in 2017.

Unfortunately, the public seems to be catching on a little bit, as the Browns are 1-point favorites this week at home against the Chargers. Last week, the Browns were field goal home underdogs against the Ravens. The Ravens and Chargers are about even in my rankings, with the Ravens only a couple spots ahead, so we’re not getting the same line value with the Browns this week. In fact, I actually have this line calculated at even, so, if anything we’re getting a tiny bit of line value with the Chargers.

The Chargers have no homefield advantage in Los Angeles, so I always like to bet on them away from home (30-19-3 ATS on the road since 2012, including 5-3-2 ATS since moving to Los Angeles last season), and the Browns could be a little tired this weekend after playing a ridiculous 3rd overtime game in 5 weeks last week. The Chargers aren’t exactly in a great spot either though, with a trip to London on deck (teams are 16-24 ATS all-time before a trip to London). In a game that’s a complete toss up, I’m taking the point for a no confidence pick. Maybe it’ll be another tie. Both teams have suspect kicking units.

Los Angeles Chargers 20 Cleveland Browns 20

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +1

Confidence: None

Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns: 2018 Week 5 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (3-1) at Cleveland Browns (1-2-1)

This line was Baltimore -1 a week ago, but it has since shifted to Baltimore -3, a fairly significant line movement, considering about 1 out of 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal. That’s because the Ravens won in Pittsburgh last week, but the Steelers have been an underwhelming team all year and were not nearly as good as their record last season either. Just 5 of their 14 wins over the past 2 seasons have come by more than 7 points, including just 2 since the midpoint of last season, a span of 13 games.

The Ravens are overrated coming off of that win, as many now regard them as a contender in the AFC. They are 3-1, but have yet to beat a top level team and most of their wins last season came against backup quarterbacks. They get cornerback Jimmy Smith back from suspension this week, but key defensive lineman Michael Pierce is highly questionable as he continues to deal with a foot injury he suffered a few weeks ago.

The Ravens a solid team, but they shouldn’t be favored by a field goal on the road against a quality Browns team. The Browns lost last week in Oakland, but they basically had a win taken off the board by an overturned first down that did not look conclusive. If not for that and some blunders in the kicking game early in the season, the Browns could actually be 4-0 right now or at least 3-1. They continue to be underrated because they’re the Browns, but they’re much better quarterbacked this season and have a good chance to win this one straight up at home.

Cleveland Browns 19 Baltimore Ravens 17 Upset Pick +145

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +3

Confidence: Medium

Cleveland Browns at Oakland Raiders: 2018 Week 4 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (1-1-1) at Oakland Raiders (0-3)

I’m torn on this one. On one hand, rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield looked like an upgrade on underwhelming veteran Tyrod Taylor in his debut and the insertion of him into the starting lineup could take a team with a capable supporting cast to the next level. If that’s the case, this line shouldn’t be Oakland -3, which suggests these two teams are about even. The Browns have easily the better supporting cast and could be about equal at quarterback if Mayfield continues playing well.

Of course, we’ve only seen Mayfield for about a half, so it’s tough to be confident in him as starter yet. On top of that, the Browns could be a little flat this week, against an 0-3 team, coming off the excitement of their first win in over a year. They might get a little bit ahead of themselves and have a disappointing performance against a team that has held the halftime lead in all 3 of their losses and that will be desperate for their first win. They also could get caught looking forward to a divisional clash with the Ravens next week. If the Browns aren’t fully focused and the Raiders can finally close, they could easily win this game, so I can’t take the Browns with any confidence, but they’re the pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Oakland Raiders 26 Cleveland Browns 24

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +3

Confidence: None

New York Jets at Cleveland Browns: 2018 Week 3 NFL Pick

New York Jets (1-1) at Cleveland Browns (0-1-1)

The Jets got screwed by the schedulers early in the season, as they played a Monday night game week 1 and now have to play a Thursday night game week 3, their 3rd game in 11 days. This scheduling quirk has not happened often, but the track record of teams in that Thursday night game is not good, as they are just 5-8 ATS, finishing an average of 4 points behind the spread, including just 1-5 ATS in the last 6 instances. That record alone doesn’t prove anything, but it makes sense that the Jets would be a little bit more tired than the Browns this week.

Making matters worse, the Jets have to go on the road on a short week. Home teams understandably do better on short weeks than road teams and that’s especially true when you exclude games between familiar division opponents and games where the road team is significantly better than the home team. Non-divisional home favorites are 30-15 ATS on Thursday Night Football (with both teams on short rest) all-time. That’s the case here as the Jets are not a significantly better team than the Browns. I actually have the Browns a point better than the Jets in my rankings, so we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Browns as 3 point home favorites.

The Browns haven’t technically won a game yet, but they are clearly an improved team over last year, coming within a competent kicking unit of possibly being 2-0 against a pair of 2017 playoff teams. The Jets won big week 1 in Detroit, but finished with just the 7th best first down rate differential at +5.94% that week and didn’t have a touchdown drive of more than 6 plays all game, benefitting from short fields off turnovers (5 takeaways), big plays on offense (2 touchdowns of 40+ yards), and return touchdowns (2 return touchdowns), all of which tend to be fluky and inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. Last week, they lost at home to a mediocre Dolphins team. I think the Browns have a good chance to cover the 3 and finally break into the win column this week.

Cleveland Browns 20 New York Jets 13

Pick against the spread: Cleveland -3

Confidence: Medium

Cleveland Browns at New Orleans Saints: 2018 Week 2 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (0-0-1) at New Orleans Saints (0-1)

I’ve gone back and forth on this one all week. On one hand, the line didn’t move from last week to this week, despite the Saints losing at home to the Buccaneers and the Browns tying the Steelers. The Saints remain 9.5 point favorites. On the other hand, that line seems about right. The Saints’ defense struggled mightily in the opener, but their offense played very well and they actually had an overall positive first down rate differential at +2.54%. The Buccaneers got a return touchdown, but the Saints and Buccaneers had an even amount of first downs and offensive touchdowns (26 and 5) and the Saints did it on 3 fewer plays.

The Browns aren’t in a good spot here either, as they just played close to 5 quarters and will have to turn around and play again in 4 days on Thursday Night Football at home against the Jets. The Browns are being cautious with their injured players this week as a result, with both wide receiver Josh Gordon, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, and linebacker Christian Kirksey already ruled out. The Saints aren’t in a good spot either, as the face the Falcons in Atlanta next week, but they should be focused after last week’s loss. This is a no confidence pick and the Browns could easily keep it close or get a garbage time backdoor cover, but the Saints are the pick here for pick ‘em pool purposes.

New Orleans Saints 34 Cleveland Browns 24

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -9.5

Confidence: None

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns: 2018 Week 1 NFL Pick

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

The Steelers went 13-3 last season, but were not as good as their record suggested, as they went 8-2 in games decided by 7 points or fewer. They especially struggled down the stretch, winning just 2 games by more than 4 points in the final 8 games of the season and then losing in their first playoff game at home to Jacksonville. That was in large part due to the loss of linebacker Ryan Shazier with injury and they did not adequately replace him this off-season. On top of that, the Steelers will be without running back Le’Veon Bell for at least the first game of the season, due to a holdout.

The Steelers may still win double digit games this season due to a weak schedule, but they should not be favored by 4.5 points on the road against a much improved Browns team. Outside of the turnover margin, the Browns were not a terrible team in 2018 and the switch from one of the most turnover prone quarterbacks in the NFL in Deshone Kizer to one of the least in Tyrod Taylor should at least make this team respectable, much like Alex Smith did when he arrived in Kansas City. They also added Jarvis Landry and should once again have a capable defense. If the Steelers win this game, I would expect it to be close like many of their wins were in 2017. I like the Browns’ chances of winning outright as well.

Cleveland Browns 24 Pittsburgh Steelers 23 Upset Pick +180

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +4.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week