The Browns had their finest season since returning to the NFL ranks as an expansion team in 1999. First-year HC Kevin Stefanski led Cleveland to an 11-5 record (10-6 ATS) and a five-win improvement from 2019 under one-and-done head coach Freddie Kitchens. The Browns won double-digit games for the first time since 2007 and they ended their league-worst 17-year playoff drought with their first postseason berth since 2002 (+100). Cleveland also won its first playoff game since Bill Belichick coached the franchise in 1994, and they did it by scoring an NFL-record 28 points in the first quarter of the Wild Card Round against the rival Steelers. Stefanski brought home Coach of the Year honors (+1600) for his team’s efforts.
The Browns became just the ninth team in the Super Bowl era to reach 10+ victories with a negative point differential (-11), and they joined the 2012 Colts as the only 11-win team to have a negative point differential. Cleveland scored the 14th-most points per game (25.5) while allowing the 12th-most points per game (26.2), which helped them to finish 9-7 toward overs. The Browns ended the season 7-2 in one-score games and 0-2 in contests decided by three scores or more.
Cleveland’s 2021 win total (9.5) climbed by two victories after its run to the AFC Divisional Round and successful off-season upgrading its secondary. The Browns cruised past their 2020 win total by 3.5 victories and they passed their total with their eighth victory of the season over the Jaguars in Week 12. Entering this season, I have the Browns power rated as the sixth-best team in the NFL (+1600 to win Super Bowl LVI), as the fourth-best team in the AFC (+750 to win the conference), and as the second-best team in the AFC North (+140).
Spreads are first-look lines from the SuperBook, which were released in early June.
|1||@Kansas City Chiefs||+6.5||4:25|
|5||@Los Angeles Chargers||-1.5||4:05|
|7||Denver Broncos||-7||8:20 (Thurs)|
|10||@New England Patriots||-2||1|
|15||Las Vegas Raiders||-6.5||TBD|
|16||@Green Bay Packers||PK||4:30 (Sat)|
|17||@Pittsburgh Steelers||PK||8:20 (Mon)|
The Browns will face the third-easiest schedule this season based on 2021 win totals (per Sharp Football), which is a major advantage over the rest of the AFC North. The Steelers, Bengals, and Ravens each have schedules that rank inside the top-10 toughest this season. Cleveland has five games against teams lined at seven wins or fewer in the Texans, Bengals (x2), Lions, and Raiders. The Browns have a three-game stretch in Cleveland against the Cardinals, Broncos, and Steelers in Weeks 6-8. They also face just one opponent coming off a bye when they take on the Steelers in Week 8. The schedule makers still gave them a gift by putting the Browns on Thursday Night Football in Week 7 so they’ll have 10 days of rest before they take on the Steelers.
The Browns open the season against the Super Bowl favorite Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium before their schedule lightens up considerably against the team with the worst Super Bowl odds in the Texans. Cleveland doesn’t have a single stretch of three games or more against teams lined at 9+ wins. The Browns’ toughest stretch comes in back-to-back games against the Ravens in Weeks 12-14 and, even then, the schedule makers cut them a break with a bye in the middle of those matchups.
Key Off-season Moves
|Takk McKinley (DE)||Greg Newsome (CB)||Sheldon Richardson (DT, Min)|
|Malik Jackson (DT)||Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (LB)||Adrian Clayborn (DE)|
|Anthony Walker (LB)||Anthony Schwartz (WR)||Olivier Vernon (DE)|
|Troy Hill (CB)||James Hudson (OT)||Larry Ogunjobi (DT, Cin)|
|John Johnson (S)||Tommy Togiai (DT)||Kevin Johnson (CB, Ten)|
|Jadeveon Clowney (DE)||Karl Joseph (S, LV)|
|Damion Square (DT)||Andrew Sendejo (S)|
|Kendall Lamm (OT, Ten)|
|Vincent Taylor (DT, Hou)|
|Terrance Mitchell (CB, Hou)|
2021 Season Odds
Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook
|Season Win Total (O/U)||10.5 (+100/-122)|
Season Prop Movement
Win Total: 9.5 (-150) in late March to 10.5 (+100)
Super Bowl: +2200 in early February to +1600
Reasons to Bet Over the Season Win Total
The Browns are looking to continue their incremental growth this season much like the Bills did before them in 2019-20, going from a Wild Card qualifier to a division winner and AFC title contender. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Cleveland’s offense take off in its second season in Kevin Stefanski’s system. The Browns are returning their entire starting offensive lineup from last season, and they’ll get Odell Beckham back to make their receiving corps more dynamic after he missed the back half of last season with his ACL tear. Baker Mayfield also has plenty of motivation entering a pivotal season in his career as he’s looking to land a long-term extension after three solid but not spectacular seasons. Mayfield will be playing for the same head coach in the same offensive system for the first time in his four-year career, and he ended last year with just one INT in his final nine games.
The Browns had a loaded offense in 2020 and they now have one of the most well-rounded rosters heading into 2021 outside of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They filled major defensive needs in the draft by selecting top-25 prospects in CB Greg Newsome and LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. They were also active in free agency by signing S John Johnson, slot CB Troy Hill, DL Jadeveon Clowney, DE Takk McKinley, DT Malik Jackson, and LB Anthony Walker. They also didn’t get contributions from recent second-round picks in CB Greedy Williams (shoulder) and S Grant Delpit (Achilles) because of season-ending injuries. Cleveland’s defense has the chance to take a big step forward with the talent it has assembled for 2021.
It also doesn’t hurt that the Browns will face one the league’s easiest schedules in the league, one that is much easier than the ones their division rivals will be facing. The Browns have five games against teams lined at seven wins or fewer so no wonder their win total has moved from 9.5 (-150) in late March to 10.5 (+100) in mid-July.
Reasons to Bet Under the Season Win Total
As I mentioned in the 2020 recap, the Browns became just the ninth team in the Super Bowl era to reach 10+ victories with a negative point differential (-11), and they joined the 2012 Colts as the only 11-win team to finish with a negative point differential. The majority of the damage was done in a pair of losses to the Ravens in Week 1 and the Steelers in Week 6 when they were outscored by a combined 76-13, but they also used a 7-2 mark in one-score games to get to their 11 victories. We’ll see if some regression hits in tight games in 2021.
The Browns have an attackable schedule overall but the AFC North is setting up to be one of the better divisions in the league if the Bengals make some gains in Year Two with Joe Burrow and if the Steelers extend their 17-year streak of finishing at .500 or better. Cleveland exercised some demons by ending their league-worst 17-year playoff drought and by winning a playoff game for the first time since 1994. The next drought to break is their 31-year drought without a division title and they’ll need to win double-digit games in back-to-back years for the first time since 1987-88.
The Browns secondary and their pass rush across from Garrett will have to improve to end those droughts. Cleveland allowed the sixth-most passing yards per game (265.4) and eighth-most passing TDs (31), and they don’t have a single returning player outside of Garrett who registered more than one sack last season. The Browns brought in some major reinforcements in their secondary and they took some fliers on talented but underwhelming pass rushers, but we’ll see if those additions pay off in an improved pass defense. It could also take some time for Cleveland’s new-look defense to hit its stride with so many new faces — I’ll be looking to bet Browns’ games over the total in the first month.
Notable Player Props
Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook
Baker Mayfield: passing yards (3950.5), passing TDs (29.5), MVP (+3300), most passing yards (+8500)
Fantasy Points Projection: passing yards (4025), passing TDs (29)
Best-Case Scenario: Mayfield continues the momentum he built at the end of last season when he threw for 15 TDs and just two INTs while averaging 272.5 passing yards per game and 7.5 YPA in his final eight games (playoffs included).
Worst-Case-Scenario: Mayfield remains more of a distributor in this run-heavy offense and he falls short of 3850 passing yards for the fourth straight year to start his career despite his loaded cast of weapons.
Nick Chubb: rushing yards (1240.5), OPOY (+1600), most rushing yards (+850)
Fantasy Points Projection: rushing yards (1380)
Best-Case Scenario: Chubb proves he’s the second-best pure runner in the league behind Derrick Henry and he challenges King Henry for the rushing yards title, who edged out Chubb for the title in the final game of 2019.
Worst-Case-Scenario: Kareem Hunt plays a bigger hand in the rushing attack than anticipated while Kevin Stefanski expands the passing attack in his second season with Baker Mayfield.
Cleveland Browns over 10.5 wins (+100, FOXBet). Risk one unit to win one unit. — It pains me to give out this wager as a lifelong Steelers fan but it needs to be done. I didn’t jump on the Browns’ bandwagon when it first became popular in 2019 after Baker Mayfield’s strong finishing kick to his rookie season, but I’m all aboard this season. Everything is lining up for a strong run at the AFC North title and a potential run at the AFC title. They have one of the deepest rosters in the league after a strong off-season, one without any glaring weaknesses after they heavily addressed their holes on defense. The Buccaneers are the only team with a more well-rounded roster heading into 2021. Cleveland also has one of the league’s easiest schedules and it’s considerably easier than the rest of the divisional foes. I already regard Kevin Stefanski as one of the better coaches in the league and his offense started to take off in the second half of the season with Baker Mayfield getting more and more comfortable in his offense as the season went along.
Nick Chubb over 1240.5 rushing yards (-110, FOXBet). Risk one unit to win .91 units. — Chubb will once again be the focal point of his run-heavy offense. He comes into the season with a career 5.2 YPC average and he’s averaging 89.1 rushing yards per game in 38 contests since he became a full-time player halfway through his rookie season in 2018. Chubb has one of the league’s best offensive lines in front of him, which will help him maintain his high level of play in his fourth season. The Browns also have one of the friendliest schedules in the league, which should lead to plenty of positive game scripts for Chubb this season, which hasn’t always been the case to start his career. Chubb would need to play in 14 games to top his rushing total if he maintains his 89 rushing yards per game average, and I could easily see him challenging 100 rushing yards per game with his strong O-line and the most positive game scripts he’s ever seen in his career. I also wouldn’t be afraid to sprinkle a small bet on Chubb to win the rushing yards title but I wish his +850 odds to do it were a little longer.
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah to win AP Defensive Rookie of the Year (+1400, BetMGM, May 14). Risk half a unit to win seven units — JOK was a top-25 talent in this year’s draft before he slipped to the Browns at No. 52 because of medical concerns. Our Greg Cosell compared him to Derwin James and Isaiah Simmons in the pre-draft process because of his athleticism and his playmaking ability. Darius Leonard is the only player to win the DROY in the last decade who was drafted outside the first round, and JOK has the potential to make a similar impact on an up-and-coming Browns’ defense.