Josh Widman previews the Cleveland Browns’ upcoming NFL season and shares his predictions and best bets with us.
The Cleveland Browns entered last season with more hype than they’ve ever had since returning to the NFL in 1999. Cleveland was unable to come close to those lofty and unfamiliar preseason expectations. Something the Browns and their fans are used to is upheaval in key positions. New Head Coach Kevin Stefanski replaces Freddie Kitchens and Andrew Berry takes over for John Dorsey as General Manager and Executive Vice President of Football Operations. The large majority of the roster that garnered those unprecedented expectations is still intact.
QB Baker Mayfield enters his third professional season. After a record-setting rookie season, he suffered a sophomore slump in 2019. With a loaded offense as well as a new Head Coach and GM, this is a big prove-it year for the former Heisman Trophy winner. Despite the dysfunction that has plagued the franchise since 1999, the Browns have one of the most talented rosters in the entire league.
Cleveland AFC North Odds (+550), To Make the Playoffs (+110)
Cleveland has the third-best odds to win the division. The Browns haven’t won a division title since 1989. The Ravens have the best odds at -225 and the Steelers are at +350. Cleveland handed reigning MVP Lamar Jackson and the Ravens one of their two regular season losses in 2019. The Browns beat the Steelers in their first meeting but also ended up losing DE Myles Garrett for the remainder of the season after he struck Mason Rudolph on the head with his own helmet. Cleveland went 2-4, including a loss to both Pittsburgh and Baltimore, with Garrett out.
Cleveland Win Total Over 8.5 (-121)
This season, the Browns have the fourth-easiest schedule based on opponent winning percentage from 2019. With the level of talent Cleveland possesses on both sides of the ball, the addition of competence in the Head Coach position and an extra playoff spot should help the franchise reach the playoffs for the first time since 2002. In the colossal disappointment that was 2019, Cleveland managed six wins. Of those 10 losses, four of them were one possession games and the Browns even had a fourth-quarter lead in two of them. Cleveland is even better on paper than it was entering last season and has a seemingly-easy schedule. The Browns success will depend significantly on the success of Baker Mayfield.
Mayfield Over 3750.5 yards (-110) and Over 24.5 Passing TDs (-110)
Mayfield missed eclipsing this mark by 26 yards during his rookie season but only started 13 games. In 2019, he cleared it in what was considered a disappointing season. Mayfield threw a rookie-record 27 TDs during his inaugural season and 22 last season. Expect Mayfield to hit the over for both yards and touchdowns for three reasons. To begin with, the Browns bulked up Mayfield’s protection. Cleveland used its 10th overall pick on Alabama OT Jedrick Wills. Wills surrendered one sack in an eye-popping 929 pass-blocking snaps. Yes, you read that right. Second, Mayfield will benefit from improved play-calling. Whether it’s Stefanski or new Offensive Coordinator Alex Van Pelt calling the plays, anything is an improvement over Freddie Kitchens.
Finally, Mayfield gets to work with Stefanski. Stefanski has had tremendous success improving quarterbacks. Kirk Cousins had the two best seasons of his career in 2018 and 2019 under Stefanski. Over the past two seasons, Cousins set career highs in completion percentage, passing TDs and passer rating. Also, while in Minnesota, Stefanski guided Case Keenum to his best season as a pro. Keenum led Minnesota to the NFC Championship game and set career highs in completion percentage, passing touchdowns and passer rating.
The only thing standing in Mayfield’s way en route to hitting the overs is that the Browns have the best running back duo in the league. Nick Chubb should have led the league in rushing last season and now Kareem Hunt is available for all 16 games. Cleveland will certainly run the ball a lot. That being said, if Mayfield improves the way Keenum and Cousins did under Stefanski, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to surpass these two lines. Better play-calling and Mayfield not running for his life regularly will lead to longer and more successful drives. Both Chubb and Hunt have also proven that they are more than capable of catching the ball out of the backfield.
If Baker Mayfield reduces his turnovers, the weapons around him play like they’re capable of and stay healthy, he should blow past these lines.
Cleveland’s odds to win its first Super Bowl are +4000.