I'll just say up front that I try to be a glass half-full kind of guy. But I'm not going to have anything positive to say about the 2016 Cleveland Browns; at least the city has the Cavaliers and Indians. The Browns essentially have an expansion team roster -- but at least there's a ton of draft picks coming so perhaps they might be good in a few years if the Browns can finally find a quarterback. I am curious to see if the "Moneyball" strategy works in the NFL.
At least the Browns smartly jettisoned the steaming hot mess that is Johnny Manziel, yet another first-round QB bust for the team. The former Heisman Trophy winner had a few moments in 2015. He outplayed another ex-Heisman winner, the Titans' Marcus Mariota, in a Week 2 victory. Manziel also looked like an NFL QB in a victory over the San Francisco 49ers. But by the end of the season, he looked lost again and was a complete distraction in the locker room. What a waste of talent.
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Cleveland finished 3-13 last year, the 13th straight season missing the playoffs and 10th time in that stretch winning five games or fewer. In Week 6 against the Broncos, the Browns had a chance to get to 3-3 after intercepting Peyton Manning in overtime. But the offense went backward 13 yards on three plays the Browns would lose the game 26-23. That essentially started the downfall in 2015 as Cleveland also lost the next six.
The offseason saw a complete purge in the front office and on the coaching staff, and I do firmly believe that Hue Jackson, the former Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator, is a huge upgrade on Mike Pettine. So that's a start. Wait, I just said something positive!
The Browns were 1-7 on the road last season, 3-5 against the spread and 3-5 "over/under." Cleveland faces three teams on the road this year that made the playoffs in 2015. The non-division home schedule looks tougher. I project a 0-8 road mark. Cleveland has a wins total of 4.5 this season, with the over a -130 favorite. Odds listed below for the home teams.
Sept. 11 at Eagles (-7, 44.5): The intrigue here is that the Eagles seemed to give up a ton in this year's draft to move up to Cleveland's No. 2 overall spot and draft Carson Wentz. Alas, there's about zero chance that Wentz is in this game. Presumably it's Robert Griffin III's Browns debut under center as he tries to revive his career. The Browns have lost four straight in series, last in 2012. Key trend: Browns 2-5 ATS (0-7 SU) at NFC East teams.
Sept. 25 at Dolphins (-7): Cleveland off its home opener in Week 2 vs. Baltimore. It's Miami's home opener, and the Fins probably are 0-2 as they open at Seattle and at New England. Second straight road game the Browns face a new head coach (Adam Gase). Browns lost last meeting 23-10 at home in the 2013 season opener. Key trend: Browns 5-5 ATS in past 10 at AFC East teams.
Oct. 2 at Redskins (-7.5): Washington is off a Week 3 game at the Giants. This might be the most interesting non-interesting game of the 2016 season: Griffin III against his former team. That's if RGIII is even healthy -- or starting -- by Week 4. I'll be curious how he's received by Redskins fans. Key trend: Browns 2-8 ATS in past 10 October road games as a dog of at least 7.5 points.
Oct. 16 at Titans (-3.5): Cleveland enters off a Week 5 home game vs. the Patriots. Tennessee is in Miami the previous Sunday. This would be the only road game I'd give the Browns a chance in, and obviously oddsmakers agree. As noted above, Cleveland beat the visiting Titans 28-14 in Week 2 last year. Manziel, starting for the injured Josh McCown, had two long touchdown passes to Travis Benjamin (now with San Diego). Key trend: Browns 3-7 ATS as a road dog anywhere of 3.5 points or fewer.
Oct. 23 at Bengals (-11.5): Could be a letdown game for Cincinnati as it comes off a trip to New England in Week 6 and then heads to London in Week 8? I suppose if anyone would know how to defend the Cincinnati offense, it would be Jackson. Cleveland lost 31-10 in Cincinnati on a Thursday in Week 9 last year. The Browns were only down four at halftime but had 32 yards and two first downs in the second half. Manziel was 15-for-33 for 168 yards and sacked three times. Key trend: Browns have been a double-digit road dog four times in this series and are 2-2 ATS (0-4 SU).
Nov. 10 at Ravens (-8.5): Thursday night matchup and the only game not scheduled for a 1 p.m. start this year for the Browns. They are off a Week 9 home matchup vs. Dallas. Bit of a potential trap game for Baltimore as it's off a Week 9 showdown with Pittsburgh and goes to Dallas in Week 11. Cleveland pulled a 33-30 OT stunner in Baltimore in Week 5 last year. McCown threw for a team-record 457 yards along with two TDs, and Travis Coons won it on a 32-yard field goal. Key trend: Browns have covered four straight as road dog of at least 8.5 points in series.
Dec. 18 at Bills (-6.5): Cleveland off a Week 14 home game vs. Cincinnati. Buffalo is home to Pittsburgh the previous Sunday. Can I already predict this will be the ugliest offensive game of any in 2016 if there are wintry conditions in Buffalo? I'm sure there will be this time of year. The Browns lost the last meeting, 26-10 in Buffalo on Nov. 30, 2014. Key trend: Browns 2-3 ATS in Buffalo.
Jan. 1 at Steelers (TBA): As usual, no Week 17 lines with too much potentially at stake -- or nothing. If the Steelers have something to play for here and are healthy, they might be two-touchdown favorites. Cleveland off its home finale vs. San Diego on Christmas Eve. Pittsburgh hosts Baltimore on Christmas Day. The Browns lost 30-9 at the Steelers in Week 10 last year. Manziel threw for a career-high 372 yards but was sacked six times. Key trend: Browns 4-6 ATS in their past 10 as a dog in series.
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