Browns vs. Vikings Odds, NFL Picks, Week 4 Predictions: Points Will Be At A Premium In Sunday’s Matchup
Getty Images. Pictured: Kirk Cousins
|Time||1 p.m. ET|
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Fresh off a dominant win over the Bears, the Browns travel to Minnesota for a clash with Kirk Cousins and the Vikings.
Will both defenses be able to hold up against highly efficient offenses? Can Minnesota’s passing game expose Cleveland’s secondary? Let’s dig in.
Cleveland Humming As Expected So Far
Cleveland’s performance this season has been in line with market expectations. A close loss to Kansas City before two easy wins against weaker competition is where this team should be.
The Browns offense is a known quantity, featuring the best offensive line in football and a strong set of skill players. So far, Cleveland’s rush attack is second in EPA/play and fourth in Success Rate. The offensive line has dominated so far, ranking second in Adjusted Line Yards and top five in Power Success Rate. It helps when you have two elite backs to keep on the field at all times.
Cleveland’s passing game is efficient and meticulous, ranking fourth in Passing Success Rate. However, they only rank 15th in EPA/play, suggesting that the big play threat hasn’t been there. This offense thrives using its backs and tight ends in the passing game, going down the field occasionally to keep defenses honest.
Despite an aDoT of 10.4 against Chicago, Mayfield only managed 0.03 EPA/play (not a big number). Odell Beckham Jr.’s return should help over the course of the year, but it may take time for him to ramp back up.
The question marks going into this season for the Browns were on defense, where they spent money in the secondary to upgrade a fairly poor (and injured) unit. So far the results this season are mixed.
New signings such as John Johnson and Troy Hill have underperformed so far, and rookie CB Greg Newsome II is now hurt. Their performance against Justin Fields was admirable, but the Chiefs and Tyrod Taylor moved the ball at will against them. How the Browns defense (15th in EPA/play, 19th in passing DVOA) plays going forward will determine their ultimate ceiling in the AFC.
Vikings Need Defensive Improvement
The Vikings should certainly be 2-1, if not 3-0. Heartbreak in Arizona and poor officiating in Cincinnati have cost this team two wins that should be theirs. That said, the early release line on this game in May? Cleveland -1.5, which is where we’re at now.
The Vikings offense has remained the strength of this team, led by elite play from Kirk Cousins. Cousins is playing at a top-10 — maybe top-five — level so far this season. He’s PFF’s No. 3 QB, top 10 in both EPA/play and CPOE, and has yet to throw an interception. It helps to have an elite WR duo in Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen — as long as both remain healthy, this offense should remain quite solid.
The Vikings’ problems in 2020 were primarily on defense, and this unit has yet to take a step forward this year despite high hopes. The pass rush has been decent with the run of Danielle Hunter, ranking top five in pressure rate despite a bottom-10 blitz rate.
Everything else? Nothing special. The Vikings are bottom eight in both Rush EPA/play and Rush Success Rate allowed. They have missed the fourth-most tackles in the NFL. None of their CBs are giving them anything above replacement level play.
DVOA pegs them as the 25th best defense, which seems a bit too harsh. I have them at 22nd, and they’re 20th in defensive EPA/play allowed and Success Rate allowed. This is despite playing some good competition — Arizona and Seattle are top-flight offenses — but is still uncharacteristic of a Mike Zimmer unit.
The Matchup: Offensive Efficiency But No Explosiveness
There are advantages for both offenses in this game, but scoring may not keep up with the yardage.
Despite the investments in the defensive line, Minnesota has struggled against the run this season. Furthermore, the Vikings CB room has just been flat out brutal this season.
Bashaud Breeland has been PFF’s lowest-graded CB in the NFL, and slot CB Mackensie Alexander isn’t far behind. Veteran Patrick Peterson is certainly over the age hump and isn’t the same player he was in 2016.
The Vikings WR tandem of Jefferson and Thielen is tough for any defense to stop, and emerging second year player K.J. Osborn has provided Minnesota a sorely needed third option. Cousins is a good player at navigating a hectic pocket — he’s averaging 2.34 seconds per throw, fifth fastest in the NFL.
Cleveland’s edge rushers are dominant, but Cousins and the Vikings are good at getting rid of the ball quickly. And while the Vikings rush offense has been middle of the pack so far, we all know this ground game has lots of potential.
The Browns offense will be missing WR Jarvis Landry, a huge piece to their short passing game. Furthermore, two of their offensive line starters, JC Tretter and Jedrick Wills, didn’t practice Wednesday. I imagine both will play, but likely not at 100%.
Minnesota may be without Dalvin Cook again. Alexander Mattison is an extremely capable backup, but he doesn’t have Cook’s explosive upside. Furthermore, the Vikings may be getting some reinforcements defensively.
LB Anthony Barr may be back, which would help the rush defense. CB Harrison Hand, who was decent last season, is off the COVID list and may play. Hand is an average player at best, but that’s definitely better than what Breeland has given them.
Both the Browns and Vikings are bottom six in neutral-situation pace, and Cleveland is dead last in second-half pace. If the Browns have the lead, they will look to keep the ball on the ground and run that clock. The Vikings, with conservative head coach Mike Zimmer, will likely do the same. Both coaches will want to keep this clock moving.
Furthermore, both offenses run the ball a lot on early downs. We won’t be getting explosive plays early in these down sequences as both teams value success rate and keeping the chains moving quite a bit.
I can see the Browns defensive line disrupting the Vikings offensive line if their coverage is able to hold up. This is a good WR corps, but Garrett and Clowney are going to be very difficult for the Vikings to block. Minnesota has been called for the most holding penalties for a reason this season.
This won’t be a fun bet during what should be a great game, but given how slow these teams are and the methodical nature of the offenses, 51.5 is an awfully high number — I’d bet this down to 51.
Pick: Under 51.5