Browns vs 49ers NFL betting picks and predictions: Look for big plays from Cleveland

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Two up-and-coming young teams face off on Monday Night Football as the Cleveland Browns, fresh off a 40-point performance against the Ravens, take on the 3-0 San Francisco 49ers. From the first whistle to the last we break down the odds and give our best bets and predictions for this matchup.

CLEVELAND BROWNS AT SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (-5, 47 @ BETAMERICA)

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The Browns will be the best defense the 49ers have faced this year. So far San Fran’s offensive line has managed to keep quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s jersey relatively clean, letting him get sacked just twice in three games.

However, the Browns led by Myles Garrett are fourth in the league in sacks with 3.5 per game and should be able to apply more pressure than what Jimmy-G has faced this year.

The 49ers defense has been excellent against both the run and the pass; holding opposing running backs to just 3.3 yards per carry and opposing quarterbacks to a completion percentage of 57.14. So both offenses could struggle out of the gate in this one.

We like the Under 9.5 on the 1Q total.

PICK: First quarter total – Under 9.5 (-110)

FIRST-HALF BET

San Fran has put points on the scoreboard this year but they tend to do most of their damage in the second half. In the opening half they average just 11 points per game. Cleveland scores 9.5 ppg in the opening half and even in their 40-point performance last week, scored only 10 points through the first 35 minutes of the game.

On the defensive side of the ball, both teams have been stout in the early going. The Browns hold opponents to just 6.2 ppg in the opening half, the third-best number in the league. The Niners defense, which features a front seven just littered with first-round draft selections, isn’t far behind them giving up 7.7 points in the first half.

Take the Under on the 1H total.

PICK: First Half total Under 23 (-110)

TEAM/PLAYER PROP

We’ve already described how much the 49ers defense has improved and one stat in particular makes this clear: interceptions. In 2018, the 49ers set an NFL record for the fewest interceptions in a season, picking off just two passes! This year, through just three games, they’ve already more than doubled that total with five INTs.

Browns QB Baker Mayfield has plenty of potential but he’s a gunslinger who’s not afraid to force passes. Unfortunately for Cleveland fans that also means he gets picked off a lot. Mayfield has been intercepted in every game this season, and going back to last year he’s thrown 13 interceptions over his last nine games.

Odell Beckham Jr. has been limited to just 86 yards on eight catches over the last two games (with not a single reception of 20 yards or more), so you might see Mayfield force the ball downfield a bit more on Monday night. We like Mayfield to throw an interception even with the number juiced heavily towards that happening.

PICK: Baker Mayfield Over 0.5 interceptions (-150)

FULL GAME TOTAL

Both defenses have looked very strong this season while the offenses have been inconsistent. Cleveland’s offense finally broke through last week, but through the first three games of the season looked out of sync on that side of the ball, averaging just 330.3 yards and 16.3 points per game.

San Francisco has racked up a lot of yards this year but if you look below the surface there are troubling signs. The best defense they’ve faced this year was Pittsburgh who rank 19th in the league in yards allowed, and the Niners have turned the ball over more than any team in the league with 2.7 giveaways per game. They also have one of the worst red-zone offenses in the NFL, scoring a touchdown just 42.86 percent of the time they enter the red zone.

We think the second half will be higher scoring than the first but we’re still leaning towards the Under.

PICK: Under 47 (-110)

FULL GAME SIDE

San Francisco might be 3-0 but they’ve beaten up on some pretty weak opponents in the Buccaneers, Bengals, and Roethlisberger-less Steelers. The Browns got stomped by the Titans in Week 1 but are coming off an impressive win against a good Ravens team and the previous week were leading against the Rams until the fourth quarter.

The Browns also have a terrific group of skill players, in Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Nick Chubb that are all capable of making big plays. That big-play ability could make the difference in a back-and-forth defensive battle.

The Niners might play spoiler every now and then but they don’t do a good job of covering when they are the chalk. They’re 0-5 ATS as a favorite going back to last year, and have covered as a favorite only once since 2015 (1-9 ATS in that span). With the Browns 4-0 ATS in their last four games on the road, take them to cover again.

PICK: Cleveland +5 (-110)

Longshots to consider when betting the Shoemaker Mile

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Monday’s Shoemaker Miles Stakes at Santa Anita Park is a great race for a number of reasons. For starters, the Shoemaker Mile is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” race that offers the winner a guaranteed spot in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland.

Watch the Shoemaker Mile on Monday, May 25 from 6-8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

The race also features last year’s Preakness Stakes winner, War of Will, making his season debut. Despite his triumphs on the dirt in 2019, War of Will started his career on the turf and his pedigree suggests that he’s very likely to be just as successful on the grass. That said, the Shoemaker Mile will be his first start off of a six-month break, and I’m going to try to take a swing or two with some horses who could upset the apple cart at longer odds.

Let’s start out with the horse on the rail, Without Parole. He won the Group 1 St. James’s Palace Stakes going a mile at Ascot back in 2018. His three other career wins have all came at this mile distance as well. Granted, he hasn’t won in six races since the St. James’s Palace but he did finish a fast-closing third two starts ago in a much tougher U.S. debut in the TVG Breeders’ Cup MileIrad Ortiz Jr. rode Without Parole in that race and he will reclaim the mount on him again on Monday.

Without Parole has only had one race this year and it was in the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational in which he finished second to last. However, he had several excuses right from the start of that race when he got squeezed coming out of the gate. He also raced in traffic throughout and got cut off several times in the stretch before Frankie Dettori — who had come from Europe to ride him at Gulfstream — finally just wrapped up on him. The Pegasus World Cup Turf also was a race that didn’t allow him to run on Lasix (furosemide) after he’d shown significant improvement racing on Lasix for the first time at the Breeders’ Cup.

Stream the 2020 Shoemaker Mile live here

How much of a factor might Lasix be for some horses? Well, let’s next look at the horse who finished last in the Pegasus World Cup Turf: Next Shares. In his following start (back on Lasix) in the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes, Next Shares finished third (beaten just a neck) to River Boyne. Both Next Shares and River Boyne return in the Shoemaker Mile and I prefer the former as a pace play who has plenty of back-class. If you rewatch the Kilroe Mile, Next Shares covered a lot more ground than River Boyne. With a similar effort, Next Shares could certainly turn the tables.

The other thing to like about Next Shares is that his trainer, Richard Baltas, has entered speedster Neptune’s Storm in the Shoemaker Mile. That horse, along with Voodoo Song, should ensure a very brisk pace up front — they’ll also be kept honest by Blitzkrieg and War of Will, both of whom usually race on or near the lead. All of that speed adds up to good news for Next Shares. He’s a Grade 1 winner who has always done his best running when he’s had some pace to run into. The other two keys for him (like all stalking or closing-type runners) is clear running room late, and hopefully he’ll get that with Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez taking the mount.

Lastly, we should take a look at True Valour. It’s hard to make much of an excuse for his flat finish in the Kilroe last out, but he’s truly performed better than what his results on paper might indicate. In the Thunder Road Stakes in February, he looked pretty keen early and it took him a few strides to settle down without throwing his head around and fighting his rider. Turning for home, it was clear that jockey Andrea Atzeni had plenty of horse under him but was just waiting for some running room. It ended up coming too late because River Boyne was in a better spot and had already taken command. True Valour did split horses nicely in the closing stages and was half a jump away from finishing second.

If you go back to the Breeders’ Cup Mile, True Valour had excuses there, too. He was up on heels early and he again took a little bit of time to settle down into a comfortable stride. Then, turning for him, he was just waiting for running room but instead got stuck behind a wall of horses. True Valour ended up steadying pretty badly and lost all chance at that point. I’m a little worried about how headstrong he tends to be early in races, but there’s a scenario here that could have at least two horses battling for the lead early and opening up some daylight on the rest of the field. That means he’ll be less likely to be running up on anyone’s heels and it also ensures that he’ll have a nice setup. Whether he can navigate clear passage late in the race is a separate matter.

Longshot Selections

#1 Without Parole

#3 Next Shares

#2 True Valour

Watch the Shoemaker Mile on Monday, May 25 from 6-8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

How to bet an exacta on a horse race

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Betting an exacta can present a challenge on several levels.

There is, of course, the primary need to analyze past performances and decide which horses are going to finish first and second.

Yet because of the inherently lower payoffs as opposed to what you’ll find in a Pick 3 or Pick 4, you’ll need to structure your wagers effectively in order to turn your selections into a profitable wager.

For starters, an exacta can be a simple wager. If you like two horses equally, you can just box them in the exacta and collect so long as they finish 1-2 in any order. If you like one of them a little more, you can then bet more on the one you prefer, say $10 on a 1-2 exacta and $5 on 2-1.

If you’re a little more uncertain, make sure you structure your bet around the size of the field and the probable payoffs.

If you like a longshot, the higher probable payoffs give you the cushion you need to wager on more combinations and still turn a nice profit.

But if you’re dealing with favorites or horses at relatively low odds, you have to wager more efficiently to preserve your profit.

In a field of six or less, you’re best to either focus on one horse or box two of them instead of boxing three or more horses because of the small payouts the bet will most likely generate.

In a field of seven, a wise strategy would be to box your top two choices and then, if you are worried about other horses, play them top and/or bottom other the other horses. For example, box 1-2, then bet 1-2 over 3-4 and 3-4 over 1-2. This way you are getting coverage on four horses without having to box them.

Once you get an eight-horse field, as long as there is not an overwhelming favorite, you can expand the number of horses you box since the payoffs will typically be higher, giving you a better opportunity to offset the inevitable array of losing tickets in a boxed wager.