Week 13 handicapping column

Posted Nov. 29, 2012 @ 7:39 p.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

It is the sort of thing that doesn’t end up on a résumé, and no one would claim it as part of his legacy, but the Cleveland Browns, by one metric, have been winners in Pat Shurmur’s two seasons on the job.

I am referring to the pointspread, a system of measurement that beats just about anything in my book.

In 27 regular-season games under Shurmur, the Browns are 14-10-3 against the spread, a 58.3 percent cover rate. This season, they are 6-4-1 against the number — a 60 percent success rate vs. the spread.

By contrast, the Browns have won just seven of these 27 games outright, leaving the money-line-inclined losers more often than not.

So what’s the secret to the Browns’ spread success?

Here’s my theory: they are better than they are given credit for, but not nearly good enough to significantly alter their perception as one of the NFL’s weakest clubs.

Look no further than their mixed record as an underdog, the role they have played most in the past two seasons. While the Browns have managed to cover the spread in 12-of-20 games as an underdog in this span, they have won just four of those games outright.

In short, the Browns under Shurmur haven’t been giant-killers — they just have been pesky.

Nor have they had any sort of sustained success in the past two seasons, with just one two-game winning streak in Shurmur’s tenure. That came in the first three weeks of Shurmur’s first season on the job, when the Browns beat feeble Indianapolis and edged Miami.

The next week, the Browns were 1½-point favorites vs. Tennessee.

The Titans romped, 31-13.

It’s one of only six times the Browns have been favored in the past two seasons. All came in 2011, when Cleveland played a weak slate to begin the season. The Browns were just 2-3-1 vs. the number in those games.

It has been more than a year since the Browns were favored, but they could find themselves in this uncommon spot Sunday at Oakland, which has dropped four games in a row.

The Browns — as favorites? I’ll pass, thank you very much.

Now, as big underdogs? Then we’ll talk.

Anyway, and without further adieu, my Week 13 picks:

• I haven’t shied away from taking the Jets all season, and save for their utter no-show against San Francisco, I have emerged fairly unscathed. We’ll see how I feel after taking them to cover 4½ points against Arizona on Sunday. What’s more, with the Over-Under dipping below a key number (37), I’ll also take Over 36½. The Cardinals’ defense hasn’t played well in recent weeks, with opponents averaging 368.3 yards in the past three games. The Rams, who are hardly known for their strong offense, had four offensive plays of 37 yards or more in Sunday’s 31-17 win at Arizona. The Jets are wildly inconsistent, but here’s an opponent more their speed. The Cardinals are reeling, and the Jets have had 10 days to prepare. Call me a square if you must, but give me the favorite and the Over.

• On paper, Seahawks-Bears doesn’t look like a high-scoring affair, but the last six games between these clubs have cleared the consensus Over-Under of 37½, and both defenses and special-teams units have some scoring punch. That’s one reason I like the Over. Two more reasons: Seahawks rookie QB Russell Wilson has played well for a sustained stretch, and I have a perhaps irrational belief that Chicago’s offense is better than this. At this price, I can dream a little. 

• Finally, I’ll take the points with Indianapolis (+5) at Detroit. Three of the Lions’ four wins have been by four points or less. Though Detroit looks to be the superior team on pure numbers, little has been easy for the Lions this season. I look for the Colts to keep this close, and an outright upset wouldn’t surprise me.

Mike Wilkening's Week 13 Picks

N.Y. Jets (-4½) vs. Arizona

Arizona-N.Y. Jets Over 36½

Seattle-Chicago Over 37½

Indianapolis (+5) at Detroit

Last week: 1-2-1

Season to date: 26-20-2

Click here to see the PFW editors' consensus selections for Week 13.