Expert NFL Handicapping: Do Cleveland Browns Moves Make a Super Bowl Contender?
If you get claustrophobic in tight spaces, then you probably aren't going to enjoy being on the Cleveland Browns bandwagon right now. It's getting mighty crowded up there. It's not a surprise. The franchise has stunningly passionate fans, and those fans have been kicked in the teeth time and time and time again over the years. And now there is hope. Coming from all directions. More than they have seen, well… ever. And how are those fans dealing with the giddy excitement of this situation? Well, if line movement in the futures market is any indication, every fan has emptied their 401(k) and bet the wad on the Browns to win the Super Bowl.
Before the Patriots had even held their victory parade for this year's Super Bowl, and before a single shred of ticker tape has been thrown, the futures odds for Super Bowl 54 on Feb. 2, 2020, had been released. Then, Bovada had the Rams and the Patriots as the two favorites, with both a +700. Cleveland was at +3000. That was tied with Baltimore and Atlanta and had them behind 12 other teams. They were behind five AFC teams and tied with another. In other words, the oddsmakers placed them on the wild card bubble heading into the season. The reasons for optimism are clear given the way Baker Mayfield and company closed things out last year, but they have been so bad for so long that being a wild card contender was reasonable.
Now, that +3000 price only seems like a dream. Bovada has dropped Cleveland all the way down to +1200. That has them behind only Kansas City, New England, New Orleans and the Rams. That means that they are seen as the third-best team in the AFC and the AFC North champion. Pittsburgh is next in the division at +2200, so oddsmakers see Cleveland as a solid favorite in the group. From scrambling for the final wild card spot to winning the division handily in a month and a half without playing a game or even drafting a player. Impressive.
The excitement is no surprise. The team has added plenty of young talent in recent years. It would be hard not to after the struggles of forever. Most notably, they finally have a quarterback who looks like a hero after a stunning number of zeroes. Baker Mayfield looked solid enough as soon as he was starting and was brilliant as the season went along. He shone in college, and has given every indication that it could continue in the pros. Then, this offseason they certainly made his job easier. First, they signed highly-tarnished running back Kareem Hunt, who was cut by the Chiefs amid scandal. He'll be suspended for the first half of the season, and it was a tough signing to defend in this era, but on the field it should pay off - which is obviously all the team only cares about. Then they added arguably the best receiver in football for Mayfield to throw to, and one of the better defensive linemen to speed up getting the ball back in the QBs hands, and they paid very reasonable prices for both from the Giants. Then they added Sheldon Richardson to further strengthen what is a very good front seven. It's an impressive haul. They don't have a first-round pick after the Beckham deal, but they still have six picks within the first 150, so they have some leverage to get things done.
This team is going to be better than last year. Likely quite a bit better. On top of the improved personnel, they have swagger they haven't had for a long time - maybe ever. And they have better management and coaching than they have had in a very long time, too.
Super Bowl futures are silly to look at right now, but we can get a bit more of a sense of how reasonable the expectations are right now by looking at the AFC North futures. There, BetOnline has Cleveland favored at +140, with Pittsburgh at +200, Cleveland at +300, and Cincinnati at +800. The Bengals are easy to rule out. They finally made a long overdue coaching change, but there will be growing pains and their roster has plenty of issues. Pittsburgh has lost their best receiver and best running back this offseason and has a 37-year-old QB and a coach who has lost his mojo. They will still be solid, but they have issues. And while Baltimore has done a lot right, they are all in on Lamar Jackson. And that is a little less exciting after a pretty lousy playoff appearance. Cleveland has the most talent in the group, the least questions, and the most hope. The Browns would only have to win the division 42 percent of the time over the long term to break even at these odds. In this situation this price doesn't seem awful. If it falls much further things would change, but right now it seems as if the bettors, though crazy about this team, are not yet too crazy.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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