For the sixth consecutive season, the Browns won less than six games. For the third consecutive year, the Browns have a new head coach. Rob Chudzinski was given one season to try and cure what ailed the Browns and he was unable to do it. Norv Turner and Ray Horton are also gone. Mike Pettine made the trip down Interstate 90 from Buffalo to assume the head coaching duties, with Kyle Shanahan and Jim O’Neil as the coordinators.
Things actually looked fairly promising for the Browns when they welcomed the Bills for a Thursday night game on October 3 with a 2-2 record. The Browns won that game, but lost their season when Brian Hoyer tore his ACL. After moving to 3-2, the combination of Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell managed just one more victory in the final 11 games and the team wrapped up yet another 4-12 season.
The Browns leading rusher, Willis McGahee, ran for 374 yards. Depth was an issue for the Browns as Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron accounted for 58.6 percent of the receiving yards. No other Browns managed 30 receiving yards per game. The Browns had four rushing touchdowns as a team. After Gordon and Cameron, T.J. Ward most frequented the end zone with three scores. He’s a safety. The 308 points the Browns scored ranked 27th out of the 32 NFL teams.
Oddsmakers at the South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas expect the Browns to improve with a posted total of 6.5. More importantly, the betting market pushed the vig from -135 to -160 on the over, so that’s something to keep an eye on. Sportsbook.ag has the Browns win total posted at 6.5 with -155 on the over.
Lines courtesy of CG Technologies:
|12||@ Atlanta||+7 (-120)|
The Browns have a pretty good chance of opening the season 0-3. It’s rather unfortunate that they draw Drew Brees and the Saints before the weather gets ugly in Cleveland, as that would have made for a much more advantageous home-field advantage. Overall, however, the Browns have the type of schedule you would expect to see from a last-place team. Home games against Oakland, Tampa Bay, Houston, and a crack at Indianapolis at home in December could help the Browns above .500 at home. If that’s the case, the Browns would only need to steal a win at Jacksonville and on the road somewhere else to cash this over. Cole Ryan places the Browns schedule in a tie for 26th in his strength of schedule ratings.
Gone are the days where the Browns are double-digit underdogs against any top NFL team. Also gone are the days where the Browns were instantaneous underdogs any time they took on an AFC North team. The Browns are in pick ‘em spots against both Baltimore and Pittsburgh at home. They are also road favorites at Jacksonville. There are still a lot of pluses in front of those spreads, but the Browns are clearly moving in the right direction when they are less than a field goal underdogs at home against playoff teams from the previous season.
Why bet the over?
Things have changed for the Browns this offseason. Owner Jimmy Haslam completely revamped the front office and the coaching staff and it seems that there’s some legitimacy in Cleveland now. Given GM Ray Farmer’s draft day dealings and positive feedback from the media, there’s some cohesion between front office and coaching staff for the first time in what seems like an eternity.
Since the day Mike Pettine was hired, the team has made decisions that have clearly included his input. Pettine is a defensive-minded coach and the team signed Karlos Dansby in free agency. They also added former Ohio State Buckeye and Glenville High School player Donte Whitner to replace TJ Ward. Pettine wants a violent, aggressive defense and these two fit. So, too, does cornerback Justin Gilbert. Gilbert will play opposite Joe Haden, giving the Browns quite a tandem at cornerback.
Brian Hoyer should get the first crack at playing quarterback, but Johnny Manziel is The Chosen One in Cleveland and there will be increasing pressure to turn to him the second Hoyer throws his first interception. Manziel could even start. With second-rounder Joel Bitonio taking a starting spot with the departures of Oneil Cousins and Shaun Lauvao, the Browns clearly have a strong offensive line. Pro Bowlers Alex Mack and Joe Thomas return, with 2012 third-round pick Mitchell Schwartz, and likely John Greco to create a strength for the team. Ben Tate steps in as the starting running back and he doesn’t have big shoes to fill as the team’s leading rusher, Willis McGahee, ran for 374 yards.
The wide receiver group clearly has questions with Josh Gordon’s suspension, but Jordan Cameron is a huge target at tight end and the Browns added several undrafted free agents to vie for playing time. The signing of Miles Austin is definitely a worthwhile gamble for the Browns. Austin was limited by hamstring injuries last season, but he’s a year removed from a 66-943-6 season and had two thousand-yard seasons in 2009 and 2010. Earl Bennett is also an intriguing veteran option.
Despite having no semblance of an offense, the Browns defense played rather admirably. They were sixth in average yards allowed per drive, even though they were 23rd in points allowed. The defense was eighth in yards per carry and fourth in net yards per pass attempt. The offense was so bad that it reflected poorly on the defense, but the Browns Expected Win-Loss record at Pro Football Reference was actually 5.5-10.5, so the Browns got a bit unlucky.
Why bet the under?
The status of Josh Gordon is a huge deal for the Browns. After failing a drug test for a second time, Gordon faces a lengthy suspension. The worst-case scenario would be that Gordon misses the entire 2014 season. Nate Burleson may also be in that discussion and slot receiver Andrew Hawkins might get some support. Miles Austin is an interesting wild card, but health is an issue. Same with Earl Bennett. The overall point is that, outside of tight end Jordan Cameron, this group is very questionable. Except for Cameron, Gordon had three times more yards from scrimmage than any other Browns player.
Brian Hoyer was 3-0 as a starter for the Browns and looked the part, but he has spent five seasons in the league and has made four career starts. When he has played, he has completed less than 60 percent of his passes and has a 7/6 TD/INT ratio. There’s no telling what kind of NFL player Johnny Manziel will be, but a star quarterback in his rookie season may not be in the cards. Regardless of the potential of both players, this position is a major concern going forward.
The first 11 weeks of the schedule show a bit of promise, but the Browns will have a hard time finding a win after that. Four road games with two home games against Cincinnati and Indianapolis could make an over bet a very dicey proposition. Since 2009, the Browns have seven road wins out of 40 games. Six of the Browns final nine are on the road. If the Browns can go 4-3 in their first seven games with five home games and winnable road contests against Jacksonville and Tennessee, the over would have legs. That seems like a big task.
Pick: Under 6.5 (+125)
The Browns are likely ticketed for one of 6-10 or 7-9. Laying -160 on a win total is rarely, if ever, a smart bet. At worst, holding an under ticket here at plus money would allow a bettor to take some shots on the Browns as an underdog late in the season. They will be an underdog in at least seven of their final eight games with the lone favorite spot when they host Houston. That can open up some possibilities to guarantee profit.
Not to mention, there’s some uncertainty for the Browns. If Gordon returns and Hoyer is playing well or Manziel has taken the job and run with it, you can pick spots to back the Browns. If things look bad, then the under 6.5 should be in great shape. The Browns could fall completely flat under Pettine in year one, but this is a team that is building something special for the future and the AFC North looks a little vulnerable for the next few years. The Browns are probably one year away, so expect some growing pains with a new regime this season.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.