Halloween is on the way, which means it’s horror movie season. But if you think those flicks are scary, consider the Cleveland Browns’ quarterback situation heading into Week 6’s home stand with the San Francisco 49ers.
QB Deshaun Watson has been ruled out with a shoulder injury and so it's now up to backup P.J. Walker to face a San Francisco defense ranked near the top of most statistical evaluations.
It’s a situation that’s spooked the NFL odds enough to move Cleveland from a 5-point home underdog to a +10.5 point pup.
49ers vs Browns odds
49ers vs Browns predictions
When originally written, this “best bet” was a double-result prop on San Francisco to win the first half and win the game. Considering Deshaun Watson was still questionable at that time and the spread had just jumped to 49ers -7, it seemed like a good way to wager.
Well, Watson is out. P.J. Walker is in. And I’m rewriting the “best bet” for a game that has seen the spread moved from Cleveland +5 to as high as +10.5.
We still have a showdown between this high-powered San Francisco offense and a defense that ranks tops in the league in many advanced and basic stats. But how long can the Browns stop unit stay on the field for? That all depends on Walker.
Last season, Walker made six appearances for the Carolina Panthers. The bulk of his passes were either behind the line of scrimmage or shorter than 10 yards, keeping the passing attack pretty tame. Browns bettors can expect more of the same, with Walker looking to shorter – safer – options in Week 6.
Given the rising spread, game script screams Cleveland playing from behind, which means Walker will have to throw. His best option is WR Amari Cooper, who seems to be malleable to fit the needs of his quarterback, whomever it may be.
Cooper connected well with QB Jacoby Brissett last season before adapting to Watson at the end of the year and bringing that chemistry into 2023. He was targeted six times by rookie passer Dorian Thompson-Robinson in Week 4, but hauled in just one of those passes. With Walker as the next man up, Cooper isn’t worried at all.
"This is my ninth year. I've been with a multitude of different quarterbacks, been in situations similar to this before," Cooper told the media. "I don't really see much of a challenge… It's just the same. I go out there, create separation. I catch the ball. I do my job."
Cooper is just as good in the short passing games as he’s been beyond the sticks. While he’s seen more intermediate targets with Watson so far, last season he was beast in short-yardage play calls, with a receptions percentage of 70.8% under 10 yards.
Before Week 4’s flop against the Ravens, Cooper had caught seven balls in two straight games. His player projections for Week 6 obviously take a dip with no Watson under center, but the majority of models have him catching at least four balls with a ceiling of 5.1 receptions. My number comes out just shy of 4.5 catches from Cooper.
His NFL prop odds have a receptions total set at 3.5 with the Over out there as high as EVEN money. Given his role in this offense, ability to adapt to different passers, and his positive projections, we’re cashing in on Cooper catching at least four passes from P.J. in Week 6.
My best bet: Amari Cooper Over 3.5 Receptions (+100 at Caesars Sportsbook)
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49ers vs Browns same-game parlay
San Francisco is a sizable favorite to win outright, and rightfully so against backup P.J Walker. Considering the 49ers' time of possession dominance and their defense, Cleveland will have a tough time putting points up.
Cooper can adapt to his QB and player projections have him hauling in as many as five receptions in an offense that will be pushing the pass as it plays from behind.
Kyle Juszczyk is a live touchdown option considering the Niners may sit star Christian McCaffrey in the second half and RB Elijah Mitchell is questionable (knee). The big fullback is a goal line tank and caught a TD pass last week.
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49ers vs Browns spread and Over/Under analysis
Back in the spring, with early odds released for every game on the schedule, the Browns were 1-point home underdogs hosting the Niners for this 1 p.m. ET start (10 a.m. PT back in California).
The look-ahead line in Week 5, with the Browns on a bye and the 49ers facing Dallas at home, was at Cleveland +3. But after San Francisco smashed the Cowboys on primetime Sunday night, the official Week 6 opening spread as 49ers -5.
However, when news of Watson’s lingering shoulder injury started to trickle out, this spread jumped to San Francisco -6. And when Watson missed Wednesday’s practice, it took off to a touchdown.
The Browns officially made the call Thursday, ruling Watson out. That boosted this spread all the way to Cleveland +10.5 before buyback on the Browns quickly slimmed it back to +10. As of Friday afternoon, the market is bouncing between San Francisco -9.5 and -10 on the road.
Cleveland has stated that backup P.J. Walker would get the nod over rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who got an abrupt start against Baltimore in Week 4. Walker was last seen stinking it up for the Carolina Panthers last season, completing less than 60% of his passes with three touchdowns and three interceptions over six appearances.
Cleveland could be feeding him to the wolves this week, considering how dangerous this San Francisco defense is. The Niners are fresh from throttling the Cowboys 42-10 in Week 5 and have allowed more than 20 points just once through five games.
The Niners have a disruptive pass rush that doesn’t need extra blitzers to collapse the pocket, ranking Top 5 in QB hurries and QB hits with a pressure rate of 25.4% per dropback.
The Browns offensive line was very dinged up heading into the bye week, but this group has done a good job at keeping the quarterback clean, sitting No. 1 in pass block win rate. Watson was getting 2.6 seconds in the pocket (third most) and the Browns will lean into the run game to alleviate the pressure from the 49ers in Week 6.
That could be the best plan of attack for Cleveland, considering the Niners have shown a weakness to the run. While their pass defense is elite, the 49ers have allowed the seventh-highest success rate to run plays and sit 19th in EPA allowed per handoff.
The Browns ground game took a big hit with the loss of Nick Chubb in Week 2 and have used multiple ball carriers to make up for that hole over the past two games. Running back Jerome Ford was limited in practice earlier this week which means more weight could be put on retread RB Kareem Hunt, who was signed following Chubb’s injury.
The Over/Under total opened at 41 points and much like the spread, has moved according to the news on Watson. The number was low as 37.5 points as of Thursday but is now down to as low as 35.5 points on Friday.
San Francisco runs the most methodical pace on offense, with Kyle Shanahan’s pre-snap motion chewing up more seconds per play than any other team in the league. The Niners do face a very sound Browns defense, that ranks No. 1 in EPA allowed per play and Defensive DVOA.
Cleveland is allowing only 3.8 yards per play, is tops in third-down defense (22.64%), and sits second in pressure rate per dropback (30.3%). This will be the most vaunted stop unit that Brock Purdy & Co. have played in 2023, especially when it comes to stuffing the run. The Browns rank No. 1 in run stop win rate and allow a success rate of just 30% on running snaps.
The forecast for Cleveland could also limit scoring, or at least make deeper throws and kicking an issue. Winds are expected to hit gusts up to 27 mph at kickoff.
49ers vs Browns betting trend to know
Kyle Shanahan is 15-12 ATS in non-conference regular season games since taking over the head coaching gig in San Francisco (2017), including a 9-5 ATS mark inside AFC stadiums. Find more NFL betting trends for 49ers vs. Browns.
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49ers vs Browns game info
|Cleveland Browns Stadium, Cleveland, OH
|Sunday, October 15, 2023
|1:00 p.m. ET
|Browns +5, 39.5
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