Despite being a trendy Super Bowl pick and entering the week as a 6-to-5 co-favorite to win the AFC North per Westgate, the Browns are a decisive underdog entering the final game of Week 5. The 49ers come off their bye week and have won three out of four at Levi’s Stadium but haven’t been particularly strong over the past few years.
You can understand that logic fueling an opening number in the 3.5-to-4 range, but after initially dipping to Browns +3, the overwhelming amount of support has come in on the Niners. Although every wager is essentially a vote of confidence, this one feels like it packs a little extra because we’re not sure what to make of either of these franchises considering how accustomed we’ve grown to seeing them struggle.
San Francisco (3-0 SU, 2-1 ATS) hasn’t made the playoffs since 2013 and has lost 47 games over the past four seasons. Cleveland (2-2, 2-2) has made the playoffs once in the 20 years since returning to the NFL and has 15 seasons featuring double-figures in losses within that span. Last season’s 7-8-1 run delivered the Browns’ third-highest winning percentage since 1995.
First-year head coach Freddie Kitchens is essentially learning as he goes and a team with multiple big personalities is just starting to learn one another after a month of action, so the Browns remain vulnerable despite there being enough talent on the roster to end a playoff drought dating back to 2002. Odell Beckham, Jr. has started paying dividends and former top pick Myles Garrett is proving to be one of the NFL’s top defensive difference-makers week in and week out, so there’s plenty to be excited about if both units come together and play to their potential.
Cleveland has alternated wins and losses thus far, getting blown out at home by the Titans in Week 1 and losing a one-possession game to the Rams on a Sunday night two weeks ago in which Kitchens made some bad decisions to compound matters. His team is perfect on the road straight up and against the spread, defeating the Jets 23-3 and winning in Baltimore 40-25 last week in its most impressive performance to date.
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is in the third season of his tenure and was poised to take a step forward, but it still remains to be seen whether there’s substance to this early success. San Francisco’s three victims will close Week 5 with a combined record of 3-12. Following this Monday night game, the Niners will go down to L.A. for a divisional clash with the Rams, so we’ll know a lot more about the 49ers in a week’s time. At the moment, they emerge from their bye week as a group that has been able to capitalize effectively on the mistakes of bad teams.
On the bright side, it’s entirely possible that the best is ahead for the 49ers considering Garoppolo appears to be playing himself back into a rhythm after tearing his ACL in Week 3 last season. He was turnover-prone all preseason, struggling both in games and in joint practices and scrimmages, so San Francisco can only hope that he’s going to turn the corner and be more careful with the ball after a bye week. Garoppolo will eclipse his game total from last season after taking his first snap here and will be making just his 14th professional start, putting him four games behind Mayfield in that category despite entering the league in 2014.
He’s coming off his first multi-pick game of the season in helping a Steelers team led by first-time starter Mason Rudolph hang around two weeks ago and has thrown five touchdowns to go with his four interceptions. Mayfield has been picked off in every game and has an ugly 4-to-6 TD-to-INT ratio, so Monday night’s showdown may very well boil down to which secondary forces the most miscues. Injuries have been a big deal for both, so be sure to scroll down for the report below on the way out for news on who is in and who’s out
Richard Sherman has remained healthy and has brought his leadership and intelligence to San Francisco defensive backfield, making up for a lost step with his attention to detail. The Browns are led by aggressive safety Damarious Randall, a former first-round pick who has had 14 interceptions over four years with Green Bay and Cleveland and has really blossomed into a guy who can be counted upon to fly around the field.
Beckham, Jr. and Jarvis Landry form the Browns’ highly-regarded receiving combo, while San Francisco employs more of a collective approach in playing off elite tight end George Kittle. Rookie Deebo Samuel may ultimately emerged as the No. 1 receiver, but burner Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis and Richie James all have touchdown receptions. Shanahan has effectively utilized his run blocking schemes to get multiple guys going thus far, utilizing Matt Breida as the workhorse, Jeff Wilson around the goal line and Raheem Mostert in a change-of-pace role that may now be played by offseason acquisition Tevin Coleman, who will make his 49ers debut after healing up from an ankle injury.
The Browns’ run game is led by Nick Chubb, who helped take down Baltimore with an 88-yard fourth-quarter run. In all, he went for three scores, all in the second half, and wound up with 165 yards on 20 carries. The second-year standout from Georgia has led Cleveland in rushing in all four games but his 100-yard effort was the first of the season. As a whole, Cleveland is looking for improved offensive line play to stave off DeForest Buckner, Nick Bosa and a fierce 49ers front seven.
The Niners have played only once in Santa Clara this season, failing to cover against Pittsburgh prior to their bye week. They were 4-4 at home last season but covered in only three of their wins. The Browns have covered five of their last six road games, winning three outright. After an unseasonably warm day for October in NoCal, weather is expected to be gorgeous as the night unfolds, with typically windy weather not expected to factor in. The total has hovered in the 47.5/48 range since opening for business.