If you told someone before the season that 49ers-Cowboys would get flexed out in Week 15 for better playoff potential with Browns-Giants, they probably would never believe it. Yet here we are with the Giants (5-8) hosting Sunday Night Football against the 9-4 Browns with both teams still having division title hopes.
Cleveland Browns vs. New York Giants
Sunday, December 20, 2020 – 08:20 PM EST at MetLife Stadium
The Browns just lost the game of the year on Monday night, 47-42, against the Ravens. The Giants just had their season-worst game on offense in a 26-7 loss to the Cardinals. Naturally, the Browns are a 6.5-point favorite in this game at most betting sites with a total of 44 points.
Baker Mayfield: On the Right Path
The Browns are having their best season since returning to the NFL in 1999, but their playoff fate is likely tied to how well Baker Mayfield plays in January. In the last two weeks, he has had arguably his best stack of games in his young career given the caliber of opponents and the 83 points he led his team to. It is the first time the Browns scored 41 points in consecutive games since 1968.
Sure, the Browns still lost on Monday night to the Ravens, making Mayfield the only quarterback in NFL history to lose multiple starts in which he led his team to 42 points. But the accuracy he showed and poise to lead three straight touchdown drives after an interception were big improvements in his game despite the loss. Cleveland’s run game with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt has also not been dominant the past two weeks, so Mayfield had to pick up the slack there with back-to-back games over 330 passing yards.
On the season, Mayfield has moved up to No. 9 in QBR (72.1). He has six games with a QBR of 80 or higher this season after having one in 2019 and four as a rookie. Throughout his career, Mayfield’s play has been tied to his pass protection. When he is protected, he plays well. When Mayfield is pressured on at least 30% of his dropbacks in a game, the Browns are 2-8. When he takes at least four sacks, the Browns are 1-8.
The Giants are adequate on defense, but Leonard Williams (8.5 sacks, 24 QB hits) is the only reliable pass rusher right now. The Browns like to roll Mayfield out of the pocket, so they may be able to neutralize the threat of Williams that way. The team’s top cornerback, James Bradberry, will be out due to COVID-19, so another advantage for Cleveland.
New York’s run defense just allowed a season-high 159 yards to Arizona, though quarterback Kyler Murray contributed 47 of those yards. Still, the Browns are more than formidable on the ground, rushing for at least 118 yards in every game where Chubb and Hunt were both available.
New York’s Giant Letdown
Cleveland has been explosive at scoring throughout the season, so this is not a game where the Giants can afford to play poorly on offense as they have often in 2020. Sunday against Arizona was the offense’s worst performance yet despite the return of Daniel Jones at quarterback. The Giants were held to season lows in points (seven), first downs (10), yards (159), net passing yards (81), and tied a season high with three turnovers and allowed eight sacks.
Jones came out of the game with an ankle sprain that could cost him another missed start this Sunday. That would make this a Colt McCoy Revenge Game as he was a third-round pick by Cleveland in 2010. McCoy is just 2-6 as a starter since leaving Cleveland and has always been a limited quarterback in the NFL. McCoy is not a statue at 34, but he lacks the mobility that Jones provides the offense when he is healthy.
McCoy is 0-18 as a starter when his team allows at least 20 points. That is a bit of a problem when McCoy has only led his team to more than 20 points in five of his 29 starts (17.2%). Say what you will about Mayfield, but he has led the Browns to more than 20 points in 59.5% of his starts.
The good news is the Browns allow 28.3 points per game and everyone has scored at least 20 on Cleveland outside of those three significant weather games in November. This is not a good defense despite having a great player in Myles Garrett, who could make life miserable for McCoy as he has 10.5 sacks. But the Giants will be wise to lean more on Wayne Gallman and the running game, hoping to capitalize on any Cleveland mistakes and win a low-scoring game.
Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett will miss the game after a positive COVID-19 test. Freddie Kitchens, the former Cleveland coach, will be calling plays, so it can be a revenge game for him too if you want to believe in that stuff making up for a talent gap.
Cleveland has played in the two highest-scoring games of 2020: 47-42 vs. Baltimore on Monday night and 49-38 in Dallas in Week 4. You might think a team that plays such a shootout would be involved in another high-scoring game the next week, but we only need to go back to last season to find a
The opponent still matters, and the Giants ranking 31st in scoring this year is a problem for this game’s potential to go over. The over is just 3-10 in Giants games this year, the worst record in the league.
For my NFL picks this weekend, I like for Mayfield to outplay McCoy in a 23-16 type of win that covers the spread for Cleveland but keeps the game under the total.