The Browns were the paper champions before the start of the 2019 season, but they quickly reverted back into the same old Brownies on their way to their 12th consecutive losing season. Cleveland started gaining momentum with a strong finishing kick to the 2018 season and the hype-train barreled out of control the proceeding off-season when the Browns landed Odell Beckham. Cleveland got stomped by the Titans in last year’s season opener and the disappointments continued from there. The Browns finished with a severely disappointing 6-10 record, earning HC Freddie Kitchens and GM John Dorsey their pink slips after short stays at the top of the organization.
The Browns were money losers all season with a 5-10-1 against-the-spread mark, and bettors who faded them in 2019 cashed -110 odds on Cleveland missing the playoffs. The Browns finished with a 2-4 record in one-score contests and they posted a 2-2 mark in games decided by three scores or more. Cleveland ended the year with an 8-8 split on totals after scoring 20.9 points per game (11th-fewest) while allowing 24.6 PPG (13th-most).
Cleveland saw its 2020 win total drop by just one game despite falling three and a half games short of its nine and a half win total from last season. The Browns fell below their 2019 win total with their seventh loss of the season to the Steelers in Week 13. Cleveland will look to snap their league-worst 17-year playoff drought, but they’re looking at an uphill battle to snap the streak at +137 odds to reach the postseason. Entering the season, I have the Browns power rated as the 16th-best team in the NFL (+4000 to win Super Bowl LV), as the seventh-best team in the AFC (+1800 to win the conference), and as the third-best team in the AFC North (+600).
|Week||Opponent (spread if available)||Time|
|1||@Baltimore Ravens (+7.5)||1|
|2||Cincinnati Bengals (-7.5)||8:20 (Thurs)|
|5||Indianapolis Colts (-2)||4:25|
|6||@Pittsburgh Steelers (+3.5)||1|
|8||Las Vegas Raiders||1|
|11||Philadelphia Eagles (-1)||1|
|14||Baltimore Ravens||8:15 (Mon)|
|15||@New York Giants (-1.5)||1|
|16||@New York Jets (-1.5)||TBA|
Key Off-season Moves
Jack Conklin (OT)
Austin Hooper TE)
Jedrick Wills (OT)
Case Keenum (QB)
Adrian Clayborn (DE)
Grant Delpit (S)
Andy Janovich (Cle)
Kevin Johnson (CB)
Andrew Billings (DT)
Andrew Sendejo (S)
Karl Joseph (S)
Joe Schobert (LB, Jax)
Christian Kirksey (LB, GB)
Eric Murray (S, Hou)
Damarious Randall (S, LV)
Demetrius Harris (TE, Chi)
T.J. Carrie (CB, FA)
2020 Season Odds
Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook
|Season Win Total (O/U)||8.5 (-121/+100)|
Reasons to Bet Over the Season Win Total
The Browns were the biggest underachievers in the league last season based on their talent level. They had a strong roster despite a disastrous 6-10 campaign last season, and they attacked their biggest weakness along their offensive line this off-season. They landed the best free-agent lineman in Jack Conklin, who will provide a huge upgrade at right tackle over Chris Hubbard. They also drafted Jedrick Wills 10th overall to protect Baker Mayfield’s blindside after draft-bust Greg Robinson manned the left tackle spot last season.
Mayfield saw his YPA and his completion percentage plummet from 2018 (7.7 yards, 63.8%) to 2019 (7.2, 59.4%) playing behind a terrible O-line with Freddie Kitchens and Todd Monken calling the shots. Kevin Stefanski’s offense is going to feature a heavy dose of 12 and 21 personnel this season after signing TE Austin Hooper and trading for FB Andy Janovich, which will also help Mayfield throw from cleaner pockets than in 2019.
The Browns also have one of the best skill player groups in the league with two potential studs at wide receiver (Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry), running back (Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt) and tight end (Hooper and David Njoku). The Browns could be one of the most formationally diverse teams in the league this season, and Stefanski should deploy this eclectic group of skill players better than Kitchens/Monken ever did last season.
The Browns have the chance to beat expectations this season thanks to the league’s third-easiest schedule based on 2020 win totals (per Sharp Football). The Browns have one of the easiest schedules thanks to five games against four squads that are lined to win six and a half games or fewer (Jax, Cin x2, NYG, Was). The Browns have a brutal opening game on the road against the Ravens to work out their new offense, but they at least have two soft spots at home in Weeks 2-3 (Was, Cin) to work out the kinks with their new offense.
Reasons to Bet Under the Season Win Total
The Browns screwed up giving Freddie Kitchens their top job over runner-up Kevin Stefanski last year, but they corrected their mistake this off-season by hiring the 38-year-old Penn alum. Stefanski isn’t exactly flush with major coaching experience, having called plays for one-plus seasons (19 games) in Minnesota. Stefanski is expected to bring some much-needed toughness, discipline, and diligence to Cleveland that the 2019 Browns lacked in every way possible under the laid-back Kitchens.
The question is will Stefanski be able to immediately turn the Browns in the right direction in an organization that hasn’t won eight or more games since 2007. Cleveland’s roster is clearly loaded with talent, but they have a lot of new moving parts in a season in which continuity could matter more than ever before. Chaos, and not continuity, has typically reigned supreme in Cleveland since the franchise returned in 1999, especially in the last few seasons. Stefanski seems equipped to change the culture in Cleveland, but it could be tough for him to do it quickly enough this season to get to nine wins and the playoffs in Year One.
Baker Mayfield will be under intense pressure to right the ship in 2020 after getting plenty of blame for last season’s disastrous season. Dating back to Oklahoma, Mayfield we’ll be under his fourth different set of offensive coaches in as many seasons, and he’ll be running a completely different offense under Stefanski than he’s run in the past. The Browns will feature heavy 12 personnel and more play-action off their tighter formations. Stefanski’s offense should suit Mayfield’s playing style like it did Kirk Cousins, but it could take some time for this offense to get humming with an unconventional off-season.
The Browns have a brutal season-opening matchup with the Ravens on the road to work out the kinks of their new offense before a critical three-game stretch in Weeks 4-6 (@Dal, Ind, @Pit). That stretch of games against potential playoff teams could decide the direction Cleveland’s season heads in. They also have another difficult stretch in Weeks 10-14 (Hou, Phi, @Jax, @Ten, Bal), which will likely determine if the Browns finish with a winning record or not.
Notable Player Props
Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook
Baker Mayfield: passing yards (3800.5), passing TDs (24.5), MVP (+4000)
Fantasy Points Projection: passing yards (4145), passing TDs (28)
Best-Case Scenario: Mayfield is much more comfortable in Kevin Stefanski’s offense that features more play-action passing after Baker threw for the third-most yards (1427) and TDs (11) off of play-action in 2019.
Worst-Case-Scenario: Mayfield struggles to adjust to a new offense once again, and the Browns stumble to yet another disappointing offensive performance despite being loaded with talent.
Nick Chubb: rushing yards (1275.5), most rushing yards (+800), OPOY (+3000)
Fantasy Points Projection: rushing yards (1395)
Best-Case Scenario: Chubb gets revenge on Derrick Henry as he runs down the Titans RB late in the season to win the NFL rushing title after Henry passed him in the season finale in 2019.
Worst-Case-Scenario: Chubb’s usage and production is suppressed for an entire season after Kareem Hunt took a bunch of work away from him after his eight-game suspension in 2019.
Odell Beckham: receiving yards (1050.5), most receiving yards (+2800), OPOY (+5000)
Fantasy Points Projection: receiving yards (1175)
Best-Case Scenario: A healthy OBJ finally gets back on track after a few down seasons thanks to an improved Baker Mayfield excelling in Kevin Stefanski’s new offense.
Worst-Case-Scenario: OBJ posts his fourth consecutive disappointing fantasy campaign after starting his career with three seasons that had him on an all-time great pace.
Jarvis Landry: receiving yards (950.5), most receiving yards (+4000)
Fantasy Points Projection: receiving yards (980)
Best-Case Scenario: Landry’s strong connection with Baker Mayfield continues after he posted career-highs in YPR (14.1) and receiving yards (1174) last season.
Worst-Case-Scenario: Off-season hip surgery slows Landry out of the gates in a new offense, and Austin Hooper’s presence in the middle of the field also doesn’t help the primary slot receiver.
Best Bets and Leans
The Browns have a pretty complete roster — outside of a shaky group of linebackers — after addressing their terrible 2019 offensive line by signing Jack Conklin and drafting Jedrick Wills in the first round. The question is will HC Kevin Stefanski have enough time to get this talented roster to play as a cohesive unit with limited opportunities to work with this brand-new coaching staff during the summer.
It’s imperative for the Browns to get off to a solid start this season after last year’s debacle of a season and with the weight of this franchise’s losing ways always pressing down on this team and city. Cleveland has had 12 consecutive losing seasons and they enter 2020 looking to end a 16-year playoff drought. Cleveland has a tough season opener on the road against the Ravens before two must-win games at home against the Bengals and the Redskins, contests in which they’ll be favored by a touchdown or more. The Browns will have a lot of pressure to keep their season on the rails in a critical three-game stretch in Weeks 4-6 (@Dal, Ind, @Pit) if they’d stumble at all in Weeks 2-3
I think the Browns could get out of the gates slowly this season, and they’ll likely be a team I fade early in the year before backing them if the markets cool on them a bit if they get off to a slow start. I think the Browns are prime candidates to incrementally improve as the season moves along as they get more familiar with each other and more familiar with Stefanski and his coaching staff. The Browns may get to eight wins for the first time since 2007, but I’m leaning toward the Browns finishing at .500 or worse this season and under eight and a half wins.
Best Bets: None
Leans: Browns under eight and a half wins (+105, BetMGM)