Following a chastening couple of weeks, Fabian Sommer returns with renewed vigour as we reach the halfway point of the NFL regular season!
We had a tough opening streak with the Insights NFL tips column, starting the season 1-6. But we are looking to start a bounce-back streak with an AFC North team at a discount.
Barring injuries, which holds for each team, the Cleveland Browns are primed for tons of success going forward. They just need to get more consistent play out of quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Last week was the first step in the right direction, and the majority of experts would probably agree that the Odell Beckham experiment didn’t pan out.
It’s hard to grasp, but Beckham was certainly not suited for this kind of complementary offense. And the Baker-Odell connection never worked, which is also a fault of the quarterback.
Let’s rewind a little bit. Over the first nine weeks, the Browns were dealing with many injuries on both sides of the ball.
Here’s a list of players who missed games on offense and were also banged up when playing:
- Baker Mayfield (1 game missed)
- LT Jedrick Wills (2)
- RT Jack Conklin (3)
- RB Nick Chubb (2)
- RB Kareem Hunt (3)
- WR Jarvis Landry (4)
- Donovan Peoples-Jones (1)
- FB Andy Janovich (3).
It’s also worth mentioning that Odell Beckham came off an ACL and dealt with a shoulder injury when playing.
Let’s play the same game on defense:
- LB Anthony Walker (3)
- LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (3)
- CB Denzel Ward (1)
- CB Greedy Williams (1)
- CB Greg Newsome (2)
- DE Jadeveon Clowney (1)
The Browns missed several key players for at least one game on both sides of the ball, and they are starting to get a lot healthier.
Rookie sensation Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, PFF’s 3rd-highest graded linebacker on the season, has an excellent shot at returning to the formation against the Patriots.
Cleveland will have all defensive starters on the field this week – barring a surprising setback for Myles Garrett with his foot injury. DC Joe Woods said that Garrett “feels good.”
On offense, they will miss RT Jack Conklin and RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
Despite all that, the Browns rank 6th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric – 5th on offense, 12th on defense, and 5th on special teams. The Pats rank 13th.
Cleveland has also been one of the best teams on early downs, which is more predictive than performance on late downs and more variable. We should expect some positive regression on late downs on both sides of the ball.
Cleveland will be without RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Especially Chubb is a blow because he’s one of the rare running backs who consistently gains more yards than expected.
However, D’Ernest Johnson showed the same ability in a limited capacity thus far, so that might not be too much downgrade.Bet Now
Enter the Patriots’ defense that has shown some weaknesses against the run. They rank 17th in DVOA, 14th in EPA/rush, and 14th in rushing success rate.
They played the 3rd-easiest schedule of opposing rushing attacks and the 4th-easiest of fighting passing attacks.
Even though it’s Bill Belichick, there’s a path to success for the Browns, who rank 3rd in EPA/play and 1st in yards per play on early downs.
With all the injuries they’ve had, it could also be challenging for New England to key in on some specific matchup to take it away.
I don’t expect Cleveland to march all over the Pats’ defense, but they have enough firepower to put scoring pressure on Mac Jones and the Pats’ offense even without Chubb.
Mac Jones looks like the best rookie so far, and the whole offense has gotten progressively better. They are also getting healthier along the offensive line. But this is still an average offense at best that could be running into a buzz saw.
This is the biggest test for the Patriots all season – they already struggled against a decent Panthers passing defense. But their run game against a soft run defense in combination with Sam Darnold turning the ball over was simply enough.
Mac Jones hasn’t faced a lot of pressure this season, but he didn’t look good when he did.
The Browns have a top-5 run defense and one of the best pass rushes in the league. They rank 2nd in pressure rate, according to PFR, despite not blitzing a lot. They can get pressure without blitzing, which will make it tough on Mac Jones when he drops back.
Cleveland also has a good secondary that can take those rather underwhelming Pats receivers out of the game.
It also doesn’t help that New England could be without their two top running backs, Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. Both are dealing with concussions.
Harris is having an excellent season and could have had some success against the Browns in the open field when they stay in nickel and dime formations. Overall, this looks like a tough matchup for the Patriots offense.
Even though Baker Mayfield will face a formidable enemy in mastermind Bill Belichick, Cleveland’s offense should get more going than the Pats and Mac Jones on the other side.
This matchup shouldn’t be shaded towards the Pats in the betting markets as I think the Browns are simply the better team, and we shouldn’t apply too much home-field advantage anymore.
- Cleveland Browns ML (2.16)
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