NFL 2018 Season - Week 16
 

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Minds Right
by Dennis Ranahan

The Cleveland Browns have won one of their past 37 games and tonight they are favored to beat the New York Jets. That’s right, a team that hasn’t won a game since the 2016 season, a year in which they were 1 and 15, is a three point home favorite tonight.

What does this mean?

Are the Jets really that bad, or has the Browns most recent two games, a tie on opening day against the Pittsburgh Steelers and a narrow defeat last Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, convinced the betting world they are better than their record? Sixty-four percent of the wagers made on this game are taking the Browns and laying the field goal spread.

The Browns are 2-0 against the point spread this season, but that was while they were getting points on the line and they needed them. As a favorite, really, the Browns? How many times have they been favored over the past two plus seasons?

Well, once since 2016. They were favored by a point over the Indianapolis Colts last year on the road in a game that was also played during third week action. The Colts won, 31-28. The most recent time Cleveland was favored before that was back in 2015, when they beat the San Francisco 49ers behind the only good game Johnny Manziel played in his NFL career. The Browns downed San Francisco, 24-10, for one of their three wins that season, but Cleveland was favored three other times in 2015, and lost all three games.

Since that victory over the 49ers in 2015, the Browns have registered only one other win. That occured in Week 16 of the 2016 season, a 20-17 triumph over the visiting San Diego Chargers.

Alright, I will be the first to say that if a line looks out of whack, it deserves close inspection on why it is set where it is. The books have their reasons, and when the public sees a line too good to pass up, it is more often than not a trap that favors the books.

So, why do the books choose tonight to make the Browns a point spread favorite?

In this case, it is not the book makers trying to lure the gamblers in the wrong direction, but rather the point spread is set in response to the public wagering. Their justification for Cleveland being favored is found in the betting backing the Browns even while Cleveland is giving points. The rationale apparently employed to land on the Browns is all based on an improved Cleveland squad and the Jets being suspect following a home loss last Sunday to the Miami Dolphins.

But, the Jets loss last week, while favored against their AFC East Division rivals, was a product of New York blowing out the Detroit Lions at Ford Field in their Monday Night Football opener. A national television audience saw rookie quarterback Sam Darnold slice, dice and mutilate the Lions defense while the Jets put up 48 points, their highest point total since 2012.

If the point spread on this game had Cleveland favored and the public was betting 70% on the underdog Jets, then we could easily ascertain that the line was fishing for Cleveland money. But, given the line has the Browns favored and the public is backing them in droves leads to a different conclusion, the public is trying to win one in the most unlikely of places.

The public wagering patterns have also been whipsawed by the Jets over the first few weeks. In their Monday night opener, the money was on the touchdown favored Lions, and the Jets won 48-17. Last week, the Jets were the second most wagered on game by the public, and they lost to the Dolphins, 20-12.

Tonight, the Browns are getting the majority of the wagers, and I suggest you don’t join that group betting on the Browns to both win and cover a point spread. The Jets won their opener because they were challenged, and lost their game last week because they were overconfident.

This week, brace yourself, the Browns are overconfident. They think that a tie and close loss are a path to a win, when in actuality what is more likely to happen before the Browns win one is not a close call, but a lopsided loss to get their minds right.

In a contest that may turn into a battle between the quarterback the Browns selected and the one they could have had, Baker Mayfield was chosen with the first pick by Cleveland and the Jets took Darnold two picks later, this one is a game more to watch and learn than bet on. We get to see if the Jets will fly with points, or the public is right, and the Browns are no longer the worst team in the league.

If I was looking to separate that paper thin edge and give a side, I’d fly with the visitors.