The Cleveland Browns had some diva drama last week. They parted ways with WR Odell Beckham Jr., a wide receiver that has declined each season since his arrival on the shores of Lake Erie.
To show this, consider yards per route, a metric that captures the contribution of a receiver on all plays. For example, he gets credit for getting open on a higher fraction routes. Here are yards per route for OBJ over the past few seasons based on PFF data.
- 2018: 2.26 with the New York Giants
- 2019: 1.81 in his first year in Cleveland
- 2020: 1.79 as he struggled through injuries, 43 targets
- 2021: 1.34 on 34 targets
Maybe these receiving metrics went down because QB Baker Mayfield didn’t want to throw to him, as suggested by Beckham’s father. But believing that is as dumb as using the car exhaust pipe for oxygen. The NFL thrives on competition; even the analytics people are stupid competitive.
Cleveland won’t miss Beckham. Mayfield and the offense scored 41 points in an emphatic win over Cincinnati without OBJ. Players like TE David Njoku (2.3 yards per route) and WR Donovan Peoples-Jones (1.8 yards per route in limited action) will fill the void.
I thought Cleveland was overrated this preseason. Through nine weeks, I’ve been wrong.
Cleveland has excelled in the pass game on both sides of the ball. The offense ranks 7th in my adjusted success rate while the defense ranks 6th.
The defense had potential coming into this season with stars like DE Myles Garrett and CB Denzel Ward. However, these two stars led the Browns to a terrible 27th ranked pass defense in 2020. Defense is volatile from year to year, and the Browns defense has made my preseason takes look silly.
Cleveland travels to New England, a team with rookie QB Mac Jones that has now won three games in a row.
The offense has been a work in progress, as New England ranks 21st in my adjusted passing success rate. The offense seems conservative. For example, WR Jakobi Meyers had a stellar 2.24 yards per route when paired with Cam Newton in 2020, but his production has dropped to 1.39 yards per route this season.
The defense has been solid for New England, as they rank 13th in my adjusted passing success rate. CB Jonathan Jones is done for the season after shoulder surgery. However, second year CB Myles Bryant has stepped in with a solid 79 PFF coverage grade (out of 100).
New England has shown signs of improvement, but Cleveland is the better team. My numbers this preseason would have made Cleveland a 1.3 point favorite in this game. My metrics based on the markets and data from the current season also favor the Browns on the road. This suggests value in Cleveland +2.
Football betting with a PhD edge
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