NFL best bets for Week 14: Pick against Deshaun Watson and the Browns

Joe Burrow and the Bengals are surging. The Browns are not. (Washington Post illustration; Jeff Dean/AP)

Hello, friends.

Our buddy Neil Greenberg has returned to parental leave for the rest of the NFL season, so I’m here to take over the heavy burden of the weekly NFL picks. I’ll give out two picks each week for the remainder of the season, and hopefully I can maintain Neil’s high standards.

His final results for this season:

Best bets record: 13-13-1

Player props record: 6-2

Here are my selections for Week 14. All spreads and totals taken Tuesday from the consensus odds at VegasInsider.com.

Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions (-1½)

Sunday, 1 p.m. | Fox

Pick: Over 52½ points. (By Thursday afternoon, this total had moved to 51½)

This is the highest total on the Week 14 board, and I don’t think it’s high enough. Both defenses have been extremely generous.

On Sunday, the Jets drove into the Vikings’ red zone on all six of their second-half drives but only managed three field goals and a touchdown. (One drive ended on downs at the Minnesota 1, and another ended with an interception at the Minnesota 1.) Guess who leads the NFL in red-zone touchdown percentage? It’s the Lions, who have crossed the goal line on 73.9 percent of their red-zone possessions. Detroit doesn’t often settle for three points, ranking fifth in fourth-down conversions per game (1.1) and just 28th in field goal attempts per game (1.5). The Lions average 2.45 points per drive, trailing only the Chiefs, Eagles and Bills.

Switching sides, Detroit’s defense is improving but still is allowing an NFL-worst 6.2 yards per play. Getting to quarterback Kirk Cousins is key to throwing the Vikings’ offense off balance — in a 40-3 blowout Nov. 20, the Cowboys sacked him seven times — but the Lions have registered a sack on only 5.05 percent of their opponents’ drop-backs, which ranks 26th in the NFL.

The past two games between these NFC North rivals have featured 56 and 52 points, and I think Sunday’s contest will be high-scoring as well.

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Cincinnati Bengals (-5½) vs. Cleveland Browns

Sunday, 1 p.m. | CBS

Pick: Bengals -6 (By Thursday afternoon, this spread had moved to Bengals -5½.)

Whether it was because Deshaun Watson was rusty or because their offense struggled with the midseason change at quarterback, the Browns’ offense wasn’t great Sunday against the Texans. Cleveland won, 27-14, but its offense didn’t score a touchdown, with the team instead getting scores via fumble return, punt return and interception return. (It was only the fourth time since 2001 that one team got scores of that nature in the same game.) Of its 11 non-kneeldown drives, the Browns punted six times and had three others end because of turnovers or a safety, and one of its two field goals came after a drive of only eight yards. Watson averaged a terrible 3.91 adjusted yards per attempt.

The problem for Cleveland is that its defense (27th in DVOA) and special teams (25th in DVOA before Sunday’s game) usually are pretty lousy and probably can’t be counted upon to produce two games in a row, particularly when the opponent is not the awful Texans but rather a surging team like the Bengals, who have won four straight since a 32-13 loss to the Browns on Oct. 31.

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In that game, the Browns sacked Joe Burrow five times, which represents 20 percent of their sacks this season. Burrow’s protection has gotten a lot better, however: In the season’s first eight games, ending with the first game against Cleveland, the Bengals were allowing 3.6 sacks per game. In the four games since that Browns loss, Cincinnati has given up only five sacks total.

The Browns’ rushing defense ranks 31st in DVOA, so the Bengals also shouldn’t have much trouble moving the ball with its running backs, whether it’s Joe Mixon (who has missed the past two games with a head injury) or Samaje Perine (who had 106 rushing yards against the Chiefs on Sunday while also catching six passes). Running backs are averaging 4.8 yards per attempt against the Browns (26th in the NFL).

With Watson clearly not in game shape and the Bengals on the rise, I’ll take the favorite here.

Here are the rest of this week’s matchups and point spreads.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans (-3½)

Sunday, 1 p.m. | CBS

Pick: Jacksonville Jaguars +3½

New York Jets at Buffalo Bills (-10)

Sunday, 1 p.m. | CBS

Pick: New York Jets +9½ (By Friday morning, this spread had moved to Jets +10.)

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (-1½)

Sunday, 1 p.m. | CBS

Pick: Baltimore Ravens +2½ (By Friday morning, this spread had moved to Ravens +1½.)

Philadelphia Eagles (-7) at New York Giants

Sunday, 1 p.m. | Fox

Pick: Philadelphia Eagles -6½ (By Friday morning, this spread had moved to Eagles -7.)

Houston Texans at Dallas Cowboys (-17½)

Sunday, 1 p.m. | Fox

Pick: Dallas Cowboys -17 (By Wednesday morning, this number had moved to Cowboys -17½.)

Kansas City Chiefs (-9½) at Denver Broncos

Sunday, 4:05 p.m. | CBS

Pick: Kansas City Chiefs -9 (By Wednesday morning, this number had moved to Chiefs -9½.)

Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks (-4)

Sunday, 4:25 p.m. | Fox

Pick: Carolina Panthers +3½ (By Thursday afternoon, this had moved to Panthers +4.)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at San Francisco 49ers (-3½)

Sunday, 4:25 p.m. | Fox

Pick: San Francisco 49ers -3½

Miami Dolphins (-3½) at Los Angeles Chargers

Sunday, 8:20 p.m. | NBC

Pick: Miami Dolphins -3 (By Thursday afternoon, this had moved to Dolphins -3½.)

New England Patriots (-1½) at Arizona Cardinals

Monday, 8:15 p.m. | ESPN, ESPN2

Pick: Arizona Cardinals +1½

Las Vegas Raiders (-6½) at Los Angeles Rams

Thursday, 8:15 p.m. | Prime Video

Pick: Las Vegas Raiders -6 (By Wednesday morning, this spread had moved to Raiders -6½.)

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