- Over the past six weeks, Cleveland has the third-highest rush rate in the NFL, while the Giants’ rush rate ranks sixth
Sunday Night Football brings us a matchup with big playoff implications for both sides, if only one has earned that. The Browns visit the Giants, and Cleveland sits at 9-4 coming off a loss in one of the games of the year last Monday night against Baltimore. It was the Browns’ first loss since November 1 as they’ve gelled of late and look built to succeed in the colder months. The Giants meanwhile sit at 5-8 but just one game out of the fraudulent NFC East.
After weeks of windy and poor weather games, the Cleveland passing offense has come alive over the past two weeks, with Baker Mayfield setting back-to-back season highs in his first two 300-yard passing games of the season. But the Browns at their core are a run-first team led by their backfield duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
The question is how aggressive they’ll be against a Giants team starting Colt McCoy. McCoy is known to be a game manager, less likely to take shots downfield or push the tempo than almost any quarterback in the league. A case could be made that McCoy might make this Giants team more competitive than Daniel Jones by taking fewer sacks and limiting turnovers, but you’re not going to find much explosiveness in the veteran backup’s offenses.
So this feels like a low-scoring affair, if not for the Browns’ recent pass-heavy trends. Complicating matters, the Giants have been more beatable through the secondary for most of the season, and now top cornerback James Bradberry is out, placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list as a close contact. That is a huge blow to a shaky coverage unit, and could push the Browns toward taking more shots, particularly early in the game.
Still, the Giants have trended toward a more balanced defense of late, in that they haven’t been quite as dominant against the run. Over the past six weeks, the New York defense has fallen to 10th in success rate against the run and risen to 13th in success rate against the pass. They have also been dead last in explosive rush rate allowed, a stat the Browns’ offense leads the league in.
It’s challenging to parse how Kevin Stefanski might attack the Giants. The secondary will be burnable, and Stefanski might want his quarterback to stay comfortable as the playoffs draw near. At the same time, Mayfield can make his share of mistakes, and the Browns shouldn’t feel overly threatened by what the Giants can do offensively.
My expectation is they take some shots early, and maybe even hit on a few. But much like the Giants-Cardinals game last week, the Browns may find the Giants unable to really challenge them offensively. Teams typically attack both of these defenses through the air at a higher rate than league average, but both of these offenses want to run, with the Giants in particular trending that way of late. Even if New York does throw at a reasonably high clip here, we’re likely to see a much higher rate of underneath passing and relatively few downfield shots.
If the Browns are successful through the air early, I still expect a run-heavy second half that keeps the clock running and the game low-scoring. The alternative is that Mayfield stumbles in what looks like something of a trap game, in which case I’d still expect a low-scoring affair where the spread may be in question. Either way, I expect both teams to play slow for significant portions of this game, and the most attractive bet on the board to me is the under on this game’s low total.
NFL Expert Picks
Under 45.5 @ -108
NFL Free Picks
Sunday Night Football is Browns at Giants and Monday Night Football sees the Steelers travelling into Cincy to face the Bengals. While those games may not be fantastic the fact we have two Saturday games. First up is Bills at Bengals, followed by Panthers at Packers. Outside of those games we have some interesting clashes elsewhere. The Seahawks enter Washington as favorites but it'll be a tough ask against a defense who are really coming into form. The Eagles are giving Jalen Hurts another chance to perform against the Cardinals in a battle between two former Sooners quarterbacks. We also have the Chiefs against the Saints. It's going to be a fun week of football.
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