Sportsbooks are exposed on the Cleveland Browns to win Super Bowl LIV. The Browns, who haven’t won a division title since 1989, are favored to win the AFC North. Baker Mayfield was negative-5 years old and change when that happened. The hype train left the station and has been wildly careening down the tracks for weeks.
As a native Clevelander, I have to say, it is a really exciting time to be a Browns fan. They’re no longer a joke. They’re no longer a punch line. They’re no longer a perennial bottom-feeder. Are they a Super Bowl contender? Hell, I don’t know. I hope so. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done and a lot of games that need to be played. Hype. Spreadsheets. Paper. Hopes. Dreams. These are all constructs. What matters takes place between those lines and that’s how the 2019 Browns will be graded and remembered.
Still, it seemed like the day would never come that the Browns would have a season win total of 9 with the over juiced. After all, they’ve had a winning record twice since returning in 1999. They had one playoff appearance in 2002 and blew a 33-21 fourth-quarter lead to Tommy Maddox and the arch rival Pittsburgh Steelers.
We still have a while to wait, but we can at least look at the season win total odds and preview what 2019 may look like for the Browns.
Super Bowl Odds: +1400
Odds to Win the AFC: +700
Odds to Win the AFC North: +100
Season Win Total: 9
(lines Weeks 2-16 from CG Technology as of May 16, 2019)
|2||@ NY Jets (MNF)||PK||.50|
|3||LA Rams (SNF)||+3||.41|
|5||@ San Francisco (MNF)||+2.5||.45|
|8||@ New England||+8.5||.20|
|17||@ Cincinnati||-2 (est)||.55|
Total Expected Wins: 8.57
The Browns opted to stay in-house and promote Freddie Kitchens from offensive coordinator to head coach. They also made some home run hires with OC Todd Monken, QB coach Ryan Lindley, and DC Steve Wilks. This team is set up for success and so is Kitchens, as a fairly green coach at this level.
Odell Beckham Jr. and Olivier Vernon were acquired in mid-March and that’s when the hype train reached peak speed. The Browns gave up some talent in Jabrill Peppers, Kevin Zeitler, and the picks that became Dexter Lawrence and Oshane Ximines. But it was a deal that had to be done to get a star WR and a pass rusher to replace Emmanuel Ogbah, who was then traded for defensive back Eric Murray on April 1.
The Browns also inked Sheldon Richardson, Morgan Burnett, Demetrius Harris, Adarius Taylor, Eric Kush, and Kendall Lamm to improve at multiple positions. The Beckham deal made waves, but the Browns also made a lot of signings to add starters at positions of need and to enhance their depth.
The Draft, aka the Super Bowl for Browns fans, was actually really quiet. The Browns traded their first-round pick in the Beckham trade, but still wound up with seven picks. Greedy Williams, Sheldrick Redwine, and Donnie Lewis Jr. were taken to help with depth in the secondary. Sione Takitaki and Mack Wilson were taken to help at the second level. Austin Seibert is the new Browns kicker and Drew Forbes will hope to work in on the offensive line.
There is a lot of hype for a quarterback that had under seven adjusted net yards per pass attempt and threw 14 interceptions. It was nice to see mostly competent quarterback play, though Mayfield did throw seven picks over his last five games. The hope would be that an explosive target like Beckham to line up alongside Jarvis Landry and Antonio Callaway would cut down on the picks.
At least Kitchens seems to know how to use David Njoku, which is something we couldn’t say about Hue Jackson. Nick Chubb fell eight yards shy of 1,000 and Duke Johnson was utilized as a pass-catcher more effectively. The Browns will also add Kareem Hunt at midseason after he serves his suspension. Mayfield is set up for success at the skill positions and the Browns have continued their reputation for building solid offensive lines.
The hiring of Steve Wilks is a coup. Wilks was the architect of some very good Carolina defenses before getting a one-year audition as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. It “failed” with a 3-13 season and the Browns became benefactors. Leading tackler Jamie Collins is gone, but second-leading tackler Joe Schobert, who is one of the game’s best run-stoppers, is back. Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon will occupy the edges, which is ridiculous.
Denzel Ward battled concussions in his rookie season, but he looked the part when he was out there. Greedy Williams is an athlete. The Browns don’t have a ton of star power outside of Garrett, but they are solid at every level on defense and having Wilks doesn’t hurt one bit. They also won’t be lining up their safeties 25 yards off the ball this season! That should help a defense that allowed a 62.8% completion rate and 4.7 yards per carry last season.
Notes & Nuggets
This schedule is bruuuuuuuuuuutal. The Browns essentially play three short-week games in the first five weeks, including a cross-country flight back from San Francisco to play Seattle and Russell Wilson. Cleveland also goes to New England and Denver in back-to-back weeks. The back part of the schedule is a lot lighter, but the Browns could be chasing this number early on.
On the other hand, if they start hot, the hype train will be moving at the speed of sound.
As much as it pains me to say this, the value on the Browns is on the under. Using the spreads to convert the games to an expected win probability, the Browns are well under the total of 9 and the strength of the schedule is the primary reason why. If this new coaching staff gels with the personnel and the Browns can navigate those first eight games at 4-4 or better, then they’re probably going to go over. A 3-5 start leaves very little margin for error with 6-2 required to simply push.
They’re going to be a lot better. A division title wouldn’t surprise me. A Super Bowl absolutely would. But, this schedule does them no favors, so the under is the pick for me.