Is there a better nickname for a team's home stadium in sports than the Cleveland Browns' FirstEnergy Stadium being referred to by most locals as the "Factory of Sadness"? That's awesome.
I'm at the point where I feel pretty bad for those fiercely loyal Browns fans, although at least the city ended its long championship drought thanks to LeBron James' Cavaliers back in June. The Browns haven't made the playoffs since 2002 and have won more than five games just once since then. It would be huge upset if that total were topped in 2016. In fact, Cleveland is the +300 favorite to finish with the NFL's worst record this year, and it probably will.
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Since I'm a glass half-full guy most times, I will say it finally appears that Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has gotten out of the way and hired some quality people to run the team. The hiring of head coach Hue Jackson, the former Bengals offensive coordinator, has been lauded. The front office is taking a unique Moneyball-style approach to player personnel. And the team did stock up on future draft picks in trading down from No. 2 overall and then from No. 8 in the first round of this year's draft.
The receiving group actually could be pretty interesting with the return of Josh Gordon from two long suspensions -- although he also will be suspended the first four games of this season. Do you remember how electric that guy was in 2013 when he led the league in receiving in just 14 games? Former Ohio State star quarterback Terrelle Pryor is playing receiver now for the Browns and actually looks like he has major potential. The Browns also took the first receiver off the board in the 2016 draft in Baylor's Corey Coleman at No. 15 overall, but we don't know much about him yet as he has been battling injury. But the guy was a major stud in college.
Cleveland was very quiet in free agency, opting to let most of its top players who were free agents, guys like safety Tashaun Gipson, center Alex Mack and receiver Travis Benjamin, to leave. But why spend a ton of money if you are rebuilding and going to lose anyway? I think Robert Griffin III might have a solid enough season to where he can be a bridge QB this year and perhaps next to either third-round rookie Cody Kessler (USC) or if the Browns take a QB in the first round in 2017. They should have two very high picks with their own and owning Philadelphia's first-rounder.
The Browns were 2-6 at home last season, 3-5 against the spread and 5-3 "over/under." They host three 2015 playoffs teams this year. I project a 2-6 record again. Cleveland has a wins total of 5 for the season at BetOnline, with both at -115. I'm going way under as I think this is a 2-14 team. Overall, the Browns' strength of schedule is ranked as the 21st-toughest in the NFL with an opponents' combined 2015 winning percentage of .480. Odds listed below for the home team.
Sept. 18 vs. Ravens (+3): Cleveland off a Week 1 trip to Philadelphia. Baltimore likely will be 1-0 as it hosts Buffalo on the first Sunday. The Browns lost to the visiting Ravens 33-27 on Monday in Week 12 last season in a finish for the ages. Cleveland's Travis Coons (who had been 18-for-18 on the season) was attempting the winning 51-yard field goal with three seconds left, but naturally it was blocked and returned for the winning touchdown. So Browns! Key trend: Browns 5-5 ATS in past 10 as home dog in series.
Oct. 9 vs. Patriots (+10.5): The Browns are off a trip to Washington in Week 4, a game that RGIII certainly will be fired up to play. New England is off a three-game homestand that concludes in Week 4 vs. Buffalo, and I might think this could be a trap game for the Pats in normal situations. But this is far from normal. Not only would this be Gordon's season debut, it will also be that of Tom Brady's off his Deflategate suspension. When the NFL schedule was first released, this game was totally overlooked. Now it's must-see TV and I'm sure will be a national CBS game. Could it be moved from 1 p.m. ET to 4:05 p.m.? Pats won the last meeting 27-26 at home in December 2013. Key trend: Browns 4-6 ATS in their past 10 as a double-digit home dog.
Oct. 30 vs. Jets (+5): Cleveland off a trip to Cincinnati in Week 7. New York is home to Baltimore the previous Sunday. The Browns opened last season at the Jets and lost 31-10. Josh McCown started at QB for Cleveland but left late in the first quarter and a certain former Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M whose name I refuse to type replaced him and was 13-for-24 for 182 yards, a TD and a pick. Key trend: Jets 7-3 ATS in past 10 at home vs. AFC East.
Nov. 6 vs. Cowboys (+4.5): Seems like a potential trap game for Dallas as it's off a divisional home game vs. the Eagles and ahead of a trip to Pittsburgh. Will Tony Romo be back by this game? The Browns have dropped three straight in the series, last 23-20 in Dallas in 2012. Key trend: Browns 5-3 ATS at home vs. NFC East.
Nov. 20 vs. Steelers (+8.5): Browns on extra rest as they are in Baltimore on Thursday in Week 10. Pittsburgh off a home game vs. Dallas in Week 10 and ahead of a Thursday night trip to Indy. I'd say potential trap game, but Ben Roethlisberger gets up for playing the Browns and always beats them. Cleveland lost in Week 17 at home to the Steelers last season, 28-12. Austin Davis was Cleveland's QB that day and threw for 240 yards and two picks. The Browns fired Coach Mike Pettine and GM Ray Farmer right after the game. Key trend: Browns 4-5-1 ATS in past 10 as home dog in series.
Nov. 27 vs. Giants (+3.5): This is ahead of Cleveland's bye week. New York is off a home game vs. Chicago in Week 11. For what it's worth, when ESPN's team writers projected every team's game result, the Browns writer had this as the team's only win. I have to disagree. Browns lost last meeting 41-27 at the Giants in 2012. Key trend: Browns have failed to cover four of past five before the bye week (any location).
Dec. 11 vs. Bengals (+7.5): Cleveland off its very late bye week. Cincinnati is home to Philadelphia the previous Sunday. The Browns lost at home to Jackson's Bengals in Week 13 last year, 37-3. Davis started that one for the Browns and threw for 230 yards with a pick. Cleveland had 273 yards of offense in its worst loss since 2005. Key trend: Browns have covered five of past six as home dog in series.
Dec. 24 vs. Chargers (+1.5): Browns visit Buffalo the previous Sunday. This would be the only game where I can see Cleveland being favored. San Diego is off a home game vs. Oakland in Week 15. I can see the Bolts totally mailing this one in if they know they are playing their final game ever in San Diego in Week 17. Cleveland lost in San Diego in Week 4 last year, 30-27 on a field goal as time expired. McCown threw for 356 yards and two scores. Key trend: Browns 3-7 ATS in past 10 as home favorite (I wanted to at least give one example of them being favored at home since they seem likely to be once somewhere).
Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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