Sunday Night Football Preview: Can the Browns Pull Off the Upset as Home Underdogs?
The Cleveland Browns find themselves as 3.5-point underdogs at home on Sunday Night Football against a Los Angeles Rams team that is getting heavily backed by the public. According to oddsFire, 91% of the money is being placed on the Rams to cover the spread, while 85% of the money is picking the Rams to win outright on the moneyline.
With 94% of the money taking the under on 47.5 points scored, the public sees this as a low-scoring game that the Rams win on the road. Do our projections agree, or is there value going against the public here?
Passing Game Preview
It's looking like the Browns will be without two key options in their passing game on Sunday night. Tight end David Njoku is definitely out, having been placed on the injured reserve list with a broken wrist, while number three wide receiver Rashard Higgins looks like a game-time decision with a knee injury that also kept him out of Week 2. This could be a problem, as the Browns have the 28th-ranked passing offense through two weeks, per our metrics, with -0.10 Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points per drop back. Outside of an 89-yard passing touchdown to Odell Beckham in Week 2, Baker Mayfield has largely looked uncomfortable and under pressure, and this may not be the week for that to change.
The Browns will be facing a Rams defense that will likely have Aaron Donald, as he is questionable with a back injury but likely to play. The Rams' defense has been stingy against the pass, allowing -0.08 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back, good for the fifth-best mark in the league. They have yet to face a serious test, however, as they contained the struggling Cam Newton in Week 1 and saw Drew Brees exit partway through the game in Week 2.
The Rams' offense may be facing a depleted Browns defense, as linebacker Christian Kirksey and safety Damarious Randall have already been ruled out, while the rest of the Browns starting secondary is listed as questionable. There is a real chance that LA could be up against the Browns' backup secondary, which would be a big help to Jared Goff, who is traditionally a much better passer at home. Through two games, Goff has continued his home and road splits, recording 0.00 Passing NEP per drop back in Week 1 on the road and 0.29 Passing NEP per drop back at home in Week 2.
Overall, the Rams' offense has produced 0.13 Adjusted Passing NEP per drop back through two weeks, good for 16th-best in the league. The Browns' D has allowed -0.06 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, the seventh-best mark in the league, though it is fair to wonder if they can maintain their solid play with an injury-depleted secondary.
Rushing Game Preview
The Cleveland offense hasn't fared much better on the ground through two weeks, registering -0.16 Adjusted Rushing NEP per play, ranking them 25th in the league overall. The Browns have been the 10th-most pass-happy team in 2019, passing twice as often as they run. There are reasons to believe they may go with a more balanced approach against the Rams, however.
The Rams' D has allowed -0.07 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play, ranking 12th in the league, which is more inviting than their fifth-ranked passing defense. Coupled with injuries to several of Cleveland's pass catchers, it would make sense for the Browns to attempt to get the running game going early. While Nick Chubb has not impressed so far this year, his 0.07 Rushing NEP per rush in 2018 was similar to marks from elite running backs like Christian McCaffrey and Ezekiel Elliott.
The Rams' offense has been the seventh-most efficient rushing team this year, with 0.18 Adjusted Rushing NEP per play in 2019. The Browns' defense has allowed -0.02 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play through two games, good for 13th-best in the league.
Both Todd Gurley and Malcolm Brown have been efficient thus far, with Brown leading the way with 0.38 Rushing NEP per rush. Gurley's 0.19 Rushing NEP per carry tops his 2017 and 2018 clips, so the early numbers don't show a drop-off for Gurley despite all the talk surrounding his arthritic knee. Gurley has received 67.35% of the running back snaps for the Rams this year, so look for him to continue to dominate the work against the Browns.
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