Cleveland Browns' fans went from the embarrassment of always losing, to the embarrassment of failed expectations, to the embarrassment of the Deshaun Watson contract.
Aside from being a serial creep, Watson is an elite quarterback talent when on his game, and has much more around him in terms of talent and coaching in Cleveland than he did when piggybacking Houston to the playoffs all those years.
As of this writing, Watson will serve an 11-game suspension and all the legal sparring has had the Browns’ NFL odds in flux, with futures shifting since the spring and spreads and totals now finally reflecting the situation at quarterback.
What kind of product will the Factory of Sadness be pumping out this season? We find out in our Cleveland Browns 2022 betting preview.
(Editor's Note: This preview was updated to reflect the news of Watson's 11-game suspension. It reflects those changes to Cleveland's futures and lookahead lines.)
Cleveland Browns futures odds
|To win Super Bowl||+4,000|
|To win conference||+2,000|
|To win division||+490|
|Season Win Total O/U||8 (Over -130)|
|To Make Playoffs||Yes +220 / No -260|
Best futures bet: None
I’m not a big futures fan to start with, but I couldn’t imagine tying up any amount of money worth a wager on a team as volatile as the Browns. Even knowing Watson will be out for 11 games, more could unfold before we even get to his Week 13 return.
I do believe Cleveland can start the season relatively unscathed without Watson under center and a 5-1 straight up record heading into a Week 7 battle with Baltimore wouldn’t shock me, considering the company Cleveland keeps in the first two months. But the second half of the season is incredibly tough.
This team won eight games with a broken Baker Mayfield under center in 2022 and five of those were one-score games, including a Week 18 victory against Cincy’s skeleton crew. With Watson out until November 27, the Browns’ QB situation sinks below that of 2021 and upon his return, Watson is met with a home stretch that features very stingy defenses (Bucs, Bengals, Ravens, Saints and Steelers).
Cleveland Browns betting overview
What will win bets: Pass defense
The Browns' stop unit ranked out seventh in Football Outsiders Defensive DVOA vs. the pass and owned the sixth-lowest success rate allowed per dropback in 2021. Cleveland should continue to stymie rival air attacks with lethal pass rushers in Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney keeping QBs up at night. The Browns finished with 42 sacks (10th-most) despite only blitzing on 22% of dropbacks.
If the defensive line can cause chaos and force opposing passers to hurry up, they’ll play into one of the better secondaries in the league, despite only 14 INTs last year. Cleveland is loaded with talent in the defensive backfield, headlined by Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams, and Greg Newsome.
While the start of the season sees a series of paltry passers on deck, the second half of the season presents an uptick in QB quality. Limiting those foes will be vital to Cleveland covering the spread week to week.
What will lose bets: Quarterback quandry
On top of the dark cloud hovering over everything the Browns do in 2022, the Watson acquisition leaves QB play up in the air — even when Deshaun makes his regular-season debut.
Jacoby Brissett is the No. 1 for the first 11 games (if he lasts that long), leaving Cleveland to go conservative with a healthy dose of the run (with or without Kareem Hunt?) protecting a passer who won’t challenge defenses downfield. Opponents may stack the box and beg the Browns to beat them over the top.
And when Watson does return, the market will likely overreact, and present point spread value on some very good teams facing Cleveland in the final third of the season. Chopping up the lookahead lines against divisional foes, you can see a four to five point bump for the Browns with Watson in. He'll will be working his way into a new offense, clamoring for chemistry with new receivers and taking on some vaunted pass rushes most weeks.
Cleveland Browns game-by-game odds
Take 2 for this Browns preview gives us a full slate of lookahead lines now that we know Cleveland will not only miss Watson for the first six outings but not have him available until Week 12. If we take these revamped lookahead lines for face value, bookies have the Browns in line to win eight games — smack on the nose of their adjusted win total — facing a standard SOS rated T-17th and my QB SOS of 18th.
With Brissett at quarterback, Cleveland will be a favorite in four of the first six games and truly could be 5-1 SU in that span — with the biggest challenge coming vs. L.A. in Week 5. The Browns open with four of six at home, including their three toughest foes coming to Cleveland: Steelers, Chargers, and Patriots. That said, in two years under Kevin Stefanski, the Browns are 6-11 against the spread as hosts.
Things get tougher from Week 7 to Week 11. Cleveland plays three of four games on the road, has a bye in Week 9, and caps the Watson suspension with back-to-back road games at Miami and Buffalo. With Watson available (who knows what will be going on by late November?) the Browns are favorites in five of the final seven games but books are being cautious with Cleveland, even pegging it a modest -6 when visiting Watson's former team in Week 13.
|2||vs. N.Y. Jets||-6||42|
|5||vs. L.A. Chargers||+3.5||47.5|
|6||vs. New England||-1||42.5|
|12||vs. Tampa Bay||+3.5||48|
|16||vs. New Orleans||-3||44|
Cleveland Browns pro betting insights
Hitman, professional bettor (@Hitman428)
There are limited markets available to bet, but Browns U9.5 was a bigger play for me when it was available, and U8.5 might still be worth a look. I have them power rated two points worse than an average team with Brissett at quarterback.
Catch the Hitman NFL Release Show on Covers every Thursday and Friday throughout the NFL season!
Adam Chernoff, The Simple Handicap podcast (@adamchernoff)
Cleveland Browns early season forecast
Cleveland’s Week 1 trip to Carolina was already a wild one for early bird bettors. Books opened the Browns as big as 4.5-point chalk, but as sexual assault claims stacked up for Watson and a suspension seemed inevitable, this line shrunk and shifted as far as Panthers -1.5. As an added twist, Carolina traded for former Cleveland QB Baker Mayfield, who has a bone to pick with his former club.
As mentioned, the Browns were as big as 6.5-point favorites hosting the Jets in Week 2. But with Wilson going down with a knee injury in the exhibition opener, this one came off the board. Joe Flacco is the No. 2 in N.Y. and depending on how this Browns offense looks in Week 1, bettors could be dealing with a touchdown spread or more. Cleveland is 7-1 SU and just 2-6 ATS as a fave of -6.5 or more under Stefanski.
Week 3 opens AFC North competition when the Steelers visit as 4-point underdogs. Pittsburgh’s defense will test Brissett’s play under pressure, and this rivalry will come down to which mediocre quarterback can avoid the game-killing mistake. Stefanski has a 2-3 SU and 1-4 ATS mark against Mike Tomlin so far, including scoring just 24 total points in a pair of defeats last year.
Cleveland Browns spot bet
Week 5: vs Chargers (+3.5, 47.5)
If you’re looking for a play on the Browns during Watson’s absence, the schedule carves out a softer spot for Cleveland against what will be its toughest opponent in the opening six games. The Browns welcome the Bolts to FirstEnergy Stadium in Week 5, marking the Chargers’ second of back-to-back road outings and third away tilt in four games.
Cleveland, on the other hand, will be coming off a road trip to Atlanta and playing its third home game in the past four weeks. Any wrinkles in the offense should be smoothing out after facing the faltering Falcons, and the Browns will likely be catching more than the current +3.5 with L.A. playing the likes of Jacksonville (-10) and Houston (-8) in the two games prior.
Cleveland Browns totals tip
We can only go off the totals available for Cleveland in 2022 and those totals are low. Games with Carolina, New York, and New England are all sub-43 numbers, and the Over/Under for the Jets game was 43 points before getting pulled. The Browns wrapped 2021 with a 7-10 O/U record but finished 1-6 O/U in the closing seven contests.
Brissett doesn’t bring the same bag of tricks as Watson, known more for his shorter conservative play as a backup, and the strength of this offense remains the rushing attack, which ranked out fifth in EPA per carry in 2021. Opponents know this. And even with Watson returning in Week 13, the Browns take on quality stop units that can stuff the run and put the focus on a QB who's had 693 days between regular season snaps.
As for the Browns’ defense, if the pass rush stays healthy and aggressive, it could take advantage of some weaker QB competition early on. Cleveland allowed the ninth-shortest average depth of target and the second-lowest yards per completion in 2021. Couple that with a weak run stop (allowing foes to chip away at the clock) and those slim early-season totals may not be low enough.
Star power: Myles Garrett prop
|Defensive Player of the Year||+700|
|Sacks total||13.25 (Over -115)|
Best prop: Under 13.25 sacks (-105)
Myles Garrett got loose for 16 sacks in 17 games in 2021, but 4.5 of those came against the sad-sack Bears in Week 3 — a game in which Chicago allowed nine total. Take that performance out of the count and chop up the math, and that puts us right on Garrett’s 2022 bar.
If Garrett is going to get past this prop total, the bulk of those QB kills will have to come in the first half of the schedule that features poor QB competition and some soft offensive lines. Rival offenses will key in on him, which could mean good things for the pass rushers around him but slow his individual sack production.
The second half of the sked sends a number of quality quarterbacks and drum-tight O-lines at the Browns. Those teams could be protecting second-half leads and leaning on the run game in the final 30 minutes, which limits Garrett’s sacks chances further.
Cleveland Browns trend to know
Divisional road games have plain stunk for Browns bettors in recent years. The team went 1-2 SU and ATS when visiting AFC North teams in 2021 and is a collective 5-16 SU and 7-14 ATS in those spots since 2015. Cleveland will be without Watson for only one of its three AFC North road trips this year.
Browns' divisional road games
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