Sunday Night Football Betting Preview: Will the Browns Bounce Back and Beat the Giants?
In a matchup of two surprising playoff hopefuls, the 9-4 Cleveland Browns go on the road to play the 5-8 New York Giants on Sunday Night Football. The Browns will need to quickly regroup after a hard-fought loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night in Week 14, while the Giants are unsure of the injury status of their starting quarterback ahead of a must-win contest, making this game a bit tricky to bet -- though it sounds like Daniel Jones is going to miss this game.
On FanDuel Sportsbook, the Browns are a 6.5-point road favorite after opening at -3.5, and bettors continue to flock to the favorites. Per our oddsFire betting tool, 81% of the bets and 78% of the money have come in on Cleveland's side of the spread. The moneyline has jumped from Browns -195 to -290, with 58% of the bets and 70% of the money backing Cleveland. Finally, the point total opened at 45.5 but has since dropped to 44.5, and while the money is fairly split on over/under bets, there is a slight lean on the number of bets, with 61% of the bets taking the over.
Can the Giants overcome a shaky quarterback situation to keep this game close? Or was the Browns' thrilling loss to Baltimore just a bump in the road on their way to the playoffs? Let's check our projections for some intriguing bets.
Passing Game Preview
While the Browns haven't had a prolific passing offense in 2020, they have at least been efficient. Cleveland ranks as the 10th-best passing game in the league with 0.20 Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back despite being one of three teams in the league with more rush attempts than pass attempts on the year.
They will face off against a Giants defense that ranks 17th in pass defense, registering 0.15 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back. The Giants will be without their best corner in James Bradberry, who was placed on the COVID-19 list this week. That's a big blow to a defense that has played well when facing below-average competition this year. For the Browns, tight end Austin Hooper is looking to return to the field after getting in limited reps in practice this week.
With Baker Mayfield playing better as of late and opening up the passing game, two options stand out as Cleveland's best targets. Jarvis Landry became the number-one receiver after Odell Beckham's injury, and after some down games due to poor weather, he has begun to emerge as a consistent option. Landry is the clear leader on the team with 78 targets, and his 0.77 Reception NEP per target is second-best on the team among players with 20 or more targets. Over the past three weeks, Landry has seen nine or more targets in each game and has turned that into six or more receptions each week.
As Mayfield has opened up the offense the past two weeks, it has made room for Rashard Higgins, and he has taken advantage of his opportunity. Higgins has a touchdown and six receptions in back-to-back weeks, and his 1.20 Reception NEP per target leads all Browns among those with 10 or more targets on the year. With Bradberry out of the picture this week in the Giants' secondary, Higgins has a chance to keep his streak going as the more dynamic option in Cleveland's aerial attack.
With question marks at both quarterback and offensive coordinator, the Giants' 26th-ranked passing offense looks like a mess heading into Week 15. Daniel Jones is nursing two different leg injuries, and it appears likely Colt McCoy will get the start for New York. Producing just 0.03 Adjusted Passing NEP per drop back on the year, this offense can't afford much of a dip in production. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett will also miss the game due to a positive COVID-19 test, so Freddie Kitchens will take over play-calling.
In a normal situation, this Browns defense would be exploitable, as they rank 29th in the NFL, allowing 0.23 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back. The Browns will be without safety Andrew Sendejo but may get back corner Denzel Ward this week after he missed the past three games.
New York's best option in the passing game has been Darius Slayton, as he holds a significant lead over the rest of the pass-catchers with 0.77 Reception NEP per target. However, after a fairly consistent role early in the season, Slayton's usage has dropped off, combining for just 4 receptions and 45 yards over the past three games. In the Week 13 game in which McCoy played, Slayton saw just one target in a 17-12 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
Sterling Shepard is the primary volume option in this offense, but he has also seen his production drop as the quarterback situation has deteriorated. In Week 13 with McCoy under center, Shepard saw 6 targets but turned that into just 1 reception for 22 yards. Tight end Evan Engram was the top target in that Seattle game with 8 looks, but those opportunities resulted in only 4 catches for 32 yards. Engram leads the team with 84 targets on the season, but his 0.41 Reception NEP per target is hugely disappointing, as his downfield ability still feels untapped in this offense. Engram popped up mid-week on the injury report with a calf issue, so monitor his situation up until kickoff.
Rushing Game Preview
Surprisingly the Cleveland rushing attack ranks just 13th in the NFL with 0.07 Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry on the season. As high volume as the ground game is, however, that ranking is more than good enough to get the job done, and Nick Chubb is playing excellent football as the playoffs approach.
Among all running backs with 75 or more carries on the season, Chubb ranks second with 0.16 Rushing NEP per carry on 133 opportunities. Kareem Hunt has been significantly less effective on the year, producing -0.01 Rushing NEP per carry, but he is certainly an asset in the passing game with 0.58 Reception NEP per target on 35 targets. The two running backs have settled into a consistent 50/50 snap share over the past several weeks.
The Browns will be without right guard Wyatt Teller on Sunday, arguably their best run blocker, as they take on the Giants' 15th-ranked run defense. New York has allowed 0.04 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per carry on the year and will be tested early and often by one of the most run-heavy offenses in the league.
The Giants actually boast the league's 10th-best running game, producing 0.08 Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry. Some of that is boosted by Jones' rushing from the quarterback position, which is likely to be off the table this week. But since the Giants have settled on their current backfield, this has been a productive unit.
Wayne Gallman has excelled in the lead back role with an impressive 0.11 Rushing NEP per carry on 109 attempts. Gallman's snap rates have fluctuated between 50% and 60% most weeks, with Dion Lewis filling in on passing downs. But most of the production has come from Gallman, with Alfred Morris actually being somewhat productive when Gallman needs a breather.
With the quarterback situation what it is, look for the Giants to feed Gallman in an effort to replicate their gameplan from the Seattle victory, when McCoy was the starter. In that game, Gallman rushed 16 times for 135 yards. The Giants will face a Browns defense that ranks 24th in the NFL against the run, though teams have typically been more pass-heavy against this defense, at least partially due to game script.
Of the 10 most comparable games to this matchup, the favorite has won 6 times while covering just 4 times. There has been an even split on the over/under, so these trends aren't particularly strong this week. It is worth noting that in three of the four instances of the underdog winning outright, the over hit.
Game Projections and Props
Our algorithm gives the Browns a 66.8% chance to win outright, which means that the Giants moneyline is the preferable option of the two sides. We give the Giants at +230 a projected return on investment (ROI) of 9.7%. We also like the Giants' side of the spread -- barely -- with a 5.9% projected ROI on +6.5. We give the over at 44.5 a small 3.0% projected ROI, so none of these bets are particularly strong. Let's check out the player props and same-game parlays for some higher paying bets.
On FanDuel Sportsbook, the over/under on Nick Chubb's rushing yardage is set at just 74.5, which looks like a prop that we should attack. Chubb has topped that number in each of his past five games, making that a great bet on its own. But we can parlay that with the under on Kareem Hunt's rushing yardage (41.5) for a solid +262 payout. Chubb has been the superior runner as of late, and I expect him to see most of the opportunities on the ground.
In the passing game, I will take a look at Rashard Higgins against a Giants secondary that is sans James Bradberry. Higgins has a reasonable receiving yardage over/under of 48.5, but parlaying that with him reaching the end zone sets up a +420 payday.
There are fewer props on the Giants side of the ball with the quarterback situation not set in stone until late this week. Wayne Gallman feels like a solid value at +145 to score a touchdown, so if you think this game will be close -- like our algorithm does -- you can parlay that with Giants +6.5 for a +294 potential win. I also have my eye on the under on Darius Slayton's receiving yardage total (37.5) as he has disappeared from the offense as of late.