I'm trying to think of a more dysfunctional franchise in the four major American sports leagues than the Cleveland Browns right now. Still thinking. Yeah, I got nothing. Where to begin? The Browns had two first-round picks last year and appear to have blown them both on cornerback Justin Gilbert and quarterback Johnny Manziel. Both were great players in college but came with off-field baggage. Maybe they are salvageable, but Manziel had to go to rehab this summer. Do the Browns not do background checks on guys they are about to pay millions of dollars?
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Then in late March, the NFL suspended Browns general manager Ray Farmer without pay for the first four games of this season for sending texts to personnel during games in 2014. The team was also fined $250,000 and was lucky no 2015 draft picks were taken. Then you have the Browns owner being investigated by the Feds for some shady (non-NFL related) business dealings. I honestly do feel sorry for Browns fans, who are some of the most loyal in the NFL. But I think it's fair to say that now that LeBron James' Cavs fell short, there will be no pro sports title in the city this year.
Cleveland was 4-4 at home last season, 4-3-1 against the spread and 2-6 "over/under." The Browns' 2015 home schedule ranks as the 14th-toughest in the NFL with an opponents' combined 2014 winning percentage of .527. That's tied with Baltimore for the easiest in the AFC North.
Here's the schedule with very early (opponent) odds.
Sept. 20 -- Titans (+4.5): Cleveland is at the Jets in Week 1 and Tennessee at Tampa Bay. This certainly looks to be the easiest quarterback matchup for the Cleveland defense on the home slate because Marcus Mariota will be still hugely raw. I would be fun to see a matchup of Heisman winners between Mariota and Manziel, but I doubt Johnny Football is starting this early (if at all). The Browns 29-28 won in Nashville in Week 5 last season, outscoring Tennessee 19-0 in the second half. Brian Hoyer, now in Houston, threw for 291 yards and three scores. Ben Tate (also gone now) rushed 22 times for 124 yards. Key trend: Browns 5-5 ATS in past 10 at home vs. AFC South.
Sept. 27 -- Raiders (+4.5): Back-to-back home games as a favorite for Cleveland? What year is this? Not impossible the Browns could start 3-0 as this is about the best opening slate of games one could ask for. Oakland is off a Week 2 home game vs. Baltimore. Browns beat visiting Raiders 23-13 in Week 8 last year. Hoyer threw the go-ahead 4-yard TD pass to Andrew Hawkins early in the fourth. The Browns had lost at winless Jacksonville the previous week, and had they lost to Oakland would have become the first team in NFL history to lose consecutive games to winless teams in Week 7 or later. Key trend: Browns 3-6-1 ATS in past 10 as a home favorite of at least 3 points.
Oct. 18 -- Broncos (-4.5): Cleveland is off tough trips to San Diego and Baltimore, while Denver is off a visit to Oakland in Week 5 and it's before the Broncos' bye week (trap game?!). Rather amazingly, the Browns haven't beaten the Broncos since 1990. Last meeting was in 2012, an easy Denver home win. Key trend: Browns 5-5 ATS in past 10 at home as a dog of at least 3.5 points.
Nov . 1 -- Cardinals (-3): Cleveland is in St. Louis in Week 7 and Arizona is on a short week, hosting Baltimore the previous Monday (and ahead of Cards' bye week). It's the first Cardinals visit to Cleveland since 2003. Key trend: Browns 3-3-1 ATS all-time at home vs. NFC West.
Nov. 30 -- Ravens (-3): Monday night matchup. Huge gap between home games as the Browns go on the road for two following the Cardinals game and then are on a bye in Week 11. That's a late bye week. Baltimore is home to St. Louis the previous Sunday. Cleveland lost 23-21 to the visiting Ravens in Week 3 last season on a 32-yard field goal as time expired. Browns really should have won the game. In the second half, they missed one field goal and had another blocked. Rookie receiver Taylor Gabriel fell after catching a long pass from Hoyer, ruining what should have been an easy touchdown. Manziel did get a 39-yard pass from Hoyer on a trick play but it was wiped out by penalty. Key trend: Browns 5-3-2 ATS in past 10 (any location) after a bye.
Dec. 6 -- Bengals (-2): Short week for the Browns off MNF. Cincinnati is home to St. Louis in Week 12. I remember last season's Browns-Bengals game Week 15 in Cleveland very well because it was Manziel's first start and he was terrible in a 30-0 loss. Manziel finished 10-for-18 for 80 yards and two interceptions while being sacked three times and taunted often by the Cincinnati players. The Browns had 107 and five first downs. Key trend: Browns have covered five straight at home in series as a home dog.
Dec. 13 -- 49ers (-2.5): Conclusion of a rare three-game homestand for Cleveland. San Francisco is in Chicago in Week 13. Perhaps only the Niners have had an offseason that comes close to Cleveland's. First meeting since 2011. Key trend: Browns 2-7-1 ATS in past 10 at home vs. NFC.
Jan. 3 -- Steelers (TBA): As usual, no Week 17 lines because too many intangibles on the final Sunday of the regular season. Cleveland is off trips to Seattle and Kansas City, while Pittsburgh has a likely big one in Week 16 at Baltimore on Sunday night. Maybe the best game the Browns played in 2014 was a Week 6 31-10 home trouncing of Pittsburgh. The Browns rushed for 158 yards and three touchdowns. Cleveland hadn't beaten the Steelers so badly since a 51-0 shutout in 1989. Key trend: Browns 4-1 ATS in past five as home dog in series (just presuming they will be).
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