The Atlanta Falcons will try to climb above .500 for the first time all season when they pay a visit to the Cleveland Browns this weekend. The fun gets started at 1:00 EST on Sunday, November 11, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland. Fans in local markets can see the game on Fox.
Oddsmakers list the Falcons as 4.5-point favorites on the road. That line has increased slightly after Atlanta began the week favored by 3.5 points. The over/under for the game is set at 51 points. Click here to see a full list of this week’s NFL odds and game previews.
It’s been a long climb back for the Falcons, but they are close to putting themselves back in the playoff picture heading down the stretch. A month ago, most people had left Atlanta for dead. But with wins over the Buccaneers, Giants, and Redskins, they are 4-4 and suddenly one of the hottest teams in the NFL. Last week’s 24-point shellacking of the Redskins on the road has left little doubt that the Falcons have found themselves and are ready to fight for a wild-card spot.
Of course, there’s still a lot of work left for Atlanta to do. The Falcons will be on the road for five of their final eight games, so continuing to pick up wins away from home will be vital for them. Atlanta also knows that if they can’t catch up to the Saints or Panthers inside the NFC South, there will be just one playoff spot for the rest of the NFC. With that in mind, nearly every week is a must-win game for them.
In Cleveland, the Browns are back to being the Browns. Firing Hue Jackson and inserting Gregg Williams as the interim coach didn’t do much to help the Browns last week, as they lost their fourth game in a row. During that stretch, the Browns have lost by an average of 14.5 points per game, so Cleveland is once again struggling to compete week after week.
At this point, competing for a playoff spot is back to being a pipe dream for the Browns. They are 2-6-1 and will play six of their last seven games against teams that are currently .500 or better. A few weeks ago the Browns could take some solace in knowing that they at least they aren’t the worst team in football. But they’re getting close to being in that conversation once again.
Forget about the notion of avoiding road favorites, I’m buying Atlanta’s recent resurgence. After all, it’s not like we didn’t expect the Falcons to be good this year, so it’s not a shock to see them get their act together. On top of that, the Browns have been dreadful for the past month no matter who’s coaching. I like my chances with the Falcons covering on the road.
The Atlanta offense has been outstanding all season. But the reason the Falcons are finally winning is their defense, which is giving up 21 points per game during their three-game winning streak. Holding the Redskins to just 14 points last week on the road was enough to convince me that the Falcons are actually turning things around on that side of the ball. If the Atlanta defense can keep teams to around 21 points from here on out, the Falcons have to like their chances with the way Matt Ryan and the offense have performed.
Fittingly, the Browns are averaging 21 points per game on the season. They’ve also exceeded that number just once in the last five weeks. Baker Mayfield continues to show plenty of positive flashes. But his week-to-week consistency still isn’t there. Cleveland still needs Nick Chubb and the running game to lead the offense and put Mayfield in a position to make plays. If the Falcons can slow down Chubb the way they stopped Adrian Peterson last week, the Browns will struggle to top 20 points.
If that’s the case, I don’t have much confidence in the Cleveland defense to slow down Ryan and the Falcons enough to keep this game close. The Browns are no longer showing the resistance defensively that they did earlier in the year. Opponents are averaging 33.5 points per game during Cleveland’s four-game skid, and I fully expect that to continue this week.
Cleveland’s secondary has some genuine talent. But they’ve been vulnerable to the big play, often giving up big chunks of yards at once. Unfortunately for the Browns, that’s one area where the Falcons excel. Both Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley are deep threats. If the Browns give too much attention to one of them, the other can hurt them.
In fact, the Falcons have been even better offensively the last couple of weeks because they’re finally getting something from their running game. Losing Devonta Freeman has hurt them immensely. But the tandem of Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith is starting to kick it into gear. With the Browns giving up 4.7 yards per carry on the ground this year, that’s likely to continue this week. With a viable running game, Jones and Ridley become even more dangerous down the field.
Ultimately, the Browns don’t have the explosiveness on offense to keep pace with the Falcons or the consistency on defense to keep them contained for four quarters. The Browns will be lucky to surpass 20 points in this game while the Falcons are usually a safe bet to score at least 30. That should be enough for Atlanta to cover the 4.5-point spread.