Free Expert NFL Picks: Cleveland Browns at Atlanta Falcons Odds and Predictions
by Alan Matthews - 11/20/2014
Here's another week where I'm previewing a game I never would have thought of back in the preseason. Shoot, even a month ago I wouldn't have guessed that Sunday's Browns-Falcons would be an intriguing matchup. This is the second of two games featuring an AFC North contender against an NFC South one. The other is Monday's Ravens-Saints matchup, and I'll get into how crazy both divisions are in that preview.
The AFC North could have a team with a winning record finish last -- the four North clubs have combined for a 17-7-1 record (.700) against non-division opponents in 2014, the best of any division in the NFL -- and the South could have one with six wins claim the crown and host a playoff game. That doesn't seem fair, but it's how the setup is. I don't think you can make a rule where a division champion doesn't qualify for the postseason, but I could see at least seeding the playoffs by record. A 6-10 Falcons team shouldn't be hosting, say, a 10-6 Lions or Seahawks team in the wild-card round.
Entering Week 12, the Browns (6-4) are +600 long shots to win the AFC North, and Atlanta (4-6) is a +180 second-favorite for the NFC South. I don't expect either to win the division.
Browns at Falcons Betting Story Lines
By far the big story line for this one is return from suspension of Browns star receiver Josh Gordon. The guy is one of the most electric players in the NFL when he stays away from the wacky weed and off suspension. Gordon originally was suspended this entire season but an early-season deal between the owners and NFLPA altered the drug policy, making some penalties tougher (HGH) and some less so (marijuana).
This might be Gordon's last chance because had had drug problems in college and missed the first two games of last season due to suspension. He still managed to catch 87 passes for an NFL-leading and franchise-record 1,646 yards as well as nine touchdowns. Gordon had the greatest two-week stretch for any receiver in league history in Weeks 12-13. Cleveland lost both games, but Gordon had 14 catches for 237 yards and a score against Pittsburgh and 10 catches for 261 yards -- including a 95-yarder -- and two scores against Jacksonville. It should be noted that current Browns starting QB Brian Hoyer didn't play in either game as he was out for the season.
To no surprise, Bovada has some Gordon props this week on its specials: "over/under" five catches and 75 yards (all -115), will he score a touchdown ("no" -130, "yes" even) and total regular-season touchdowns (2.5, with over at -140). Atlanta ranks last in the NFL in passing yards allowed but does have one of the league's best cornerbacks in Desmond Trufant. I'm guessing he draws Gordon.
Browns coach Mike Pettine has said he will ease Gordon back into the offense, but you don't ease your best player in. The Cleveland running game has been stuck in the mud for weeks, and Gordon can only open things up. Incidentally, the Browns cut former starting running back Ben Tate this week. He had fallen behind rookies Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell and made his displeasure known about it. Tate already has been picked up by Minnesota.
The Browns defense will be down two starters for several weeks as starting linebackers Karlos Dansby (knee) and Jabaal Sheard (foot) went down with injuries last week. Dansby is a really big loss.
The Falcons are baffling. The entered a Week 8 bye on a five-game losing streak, blowing a sure win in London against the Lions. I actually expected Coach Mike Smith to be fired during the week off, but now management is looking wise for holding off as the Falcons have come out of the bye with wins at Tampa Bay (27-17) and Carolina (19-17). I'm still not too excited considering Atlanta hasn't beaten a team with a winning record this year. The Falcons are 4-0 in the division, beating Tampa Bay twice and Carolina and New Orleans once each. So that's a huge potential tiebreaker.
Atlanta star receiver Julio Jones is having a nice season with 67 catches for 912 yards and three scores, but he hasn't gotten into the end zone in the past seven games, the longest drought of his career. Cleveland is 11th against the pass but No. 30 vs. the rush.
The Falcons lost the starter opposite Trufant, Robert Alford, for 2-4 weeks with a broken wrist last week. Robert McClain takes over. Alford had 31 tackles and three interceptions.
Cleveland Browns at Atlanta Falcons NFL Week 12 Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Atlanta is a 3-point favorite (-120) with alternate lines of 3.5 (-+105) and 2.5 (-145). The Falcons are -170 on the moneyline and Browns +150. The total is 47 points. Cleveland is 5-3-2 against the spread (2-1-1 on the road) and 4-6 O/U (2-2 on road). Atlanta is 4-6 ATS (3-1 at home) and 3-7 O/U (2-2 at home).
The Browns have covered six of their past eight after a loss of at least 14 points. Cleveland has covered only two of its past 10 against teams with a losing record. It is 1-4 ATS in its past five September games. The Falcons are 3-7 ATS in their past 10 after a win. They are 2-5 ATS in their past seven at home vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 6-0 in Cleveland's past six and Atlanta's past six. The under is 4-0 in Cleveland's past four following a loss of at least two touchdowns. The under is 4-0 in Atlanta's past four against teams with a winning road record.
Cleveland Browns at Atlanta Falcons Expert Picks and NFL Betting Predictions
These teams haven't met since 2010, so nothing to gain from that game. Amazingly, Cleveland hasn't won consecutive road games in six years. Supposedly home field is worth three points in the NFL, so oddsmakers believe this is even. In that even scenario, I always go with the better quarterback. That's Matt Ryan, who has a rating of 115.7 at home this season compared to 81.4 on the road, over Hoyer. I lean the Falcons, so give the 2.5 points. Atlanta has been a much better offensive team at home, but the Browns have been solid on that side of the ball in three of four road games. Thus, go over.
Doc's Sports has been successfully handicapping the NFL for years - more than four decades in the business - and wants to give new clients a chance to try our service for free. Click here for the hassle-free sign up and get $60 in free NFL picks today . Also, get three handicappers for the price of one when you sign up for a full-season football package! Click Here for details.
Read more articles by Alan Matthews
Get all of this Weeks NFL picks
Get all of this Weeks Guaranteed Expert NFL Picks