With many familiar faces leaving via Free Agency and no real superstars coming in to help, the 2015 NFL Season looks like it could be a tough one again for the Browns, who lost their last 5 games in 2014.
Let’s take a look at the team’s Offseason moves, some Trends, games Cleveland can possibly win on the schedule and offer up a Futures Book and two specific Regular Season week picks betting against the Browns.
What Can Johnny Manziel Do For You? Create Sensational Headlines?
The Cleveland Browns (150/1 to win Super Bowl, William Hill) seemingly had a very respectable 2014 season, up until the L5 games where lovable Cleveland went a winless 0-5 to finish at 7-9 SU (9-6-1 ATS) in a division (AFC North) which saw its other three members—the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals—all make the NFL Playoffs. Talk about feeling left out. In the Offseason, Browns General Manager Ray Farmer had some big decisions to make in terms of many of his team’s unrestricted Free Agents, and, in the end, several key Cleveland players flew the coop so some reshuffling and rebuilding will have to be done by 2nd-year Head Coach Mike Pettine (9-6-1 ATS). At least Cleveland did re-sign FS Tashaun Gipson, so all was not lost. And like so many NFL teams this season, as well as every NFL season, there are huge questions at the QB position. This season, Free Agent-signee Josh McCown (Buccaneers) will likely be the Opening Day starter with the mercurial Johnny Manziel—who is reportedly performing very well this Preseason for the Browns (50/1 to win AFC, Ladbrokes)—and Cleveland (12/1 to win AFC North, William Hill) does have some decent skill position players in RBs Isaiah Crowell (607 yards, 8 TDs) and Terrance West (673 yards, 4 TDs) and new Free Agent WRs Dwayne Bowe (Kansas City Chiefs) and Brian Hartline (Miami Dolphins). But talented and athletic All Pro WR Josh Gordon (Alcohol) is suspended for the entire season—his 2nd such suspension—so players like Andrew Hawkins, Travis Benjamin and Taylor Gabriel will all have to step up at WR as obviously will newbies Bowe and Hartline.
The Browns (2-4 vs. AFC North) only scored 299 points last season and going out and getting Bowe and Hartline may sound good on some level, but this team may have trouble scoring points again this season with a new QB being worked into the team’s system while the other three members of the AFC North—the Ravens (10-6 in 2014), Steelers (11-5) and Bengals (10-5-1)—will confidently move forward with Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger and Andy Dalton, respectively. That’s all. Quarterbacks matter on all levels of football, but especially here in the NFL where great ones seem so rare. Expect Manziel to probably be thrown into a starting role at some point again this season for Cleveland but to again show that he still has much growing to do. This isn’t Texas A&M and the SEC anymore and the blazing speed of the NFL game and Manziel’s smallish NFL body size (6-0, 210 pounds), average speed (4.68 40-yard dash) and fairly large Hand Size (9 7/8ths inches) could again be put to the test. And if the 22-year-old Manziel is called into duty, it probably won’t be because the Browns (L5) will be on a nice winning streak. It will likely either be because presumed started McCown is struggling or injured. Thaddeus Lewis will likely end up being Cleveland’s third-string QB with second-year man Connor Shaw (South Carolina) is now out for the season after the Browns announced over the weekend that he will be having Thumb surgery on his (right) throwing hand for an injury he sustained in the Browns’ Preseason opener this past weekend against the Washington Redskins (Cleveland lost, 20-17).
The Browns were tied for 9th in the NFL last season in Turnover Differential with a respectable +6 margin (29 Takeaways - 23 Giveaways =) and the Dawg Pound could head into the brand new season with a very respectable Defensive Secondary with CBs Tramon Williams (Packers) and Joe Haden, FS Tashaun Gipson and SS Donte Whitner and a decent DL with (now) LE Starks (Dolphins), (now) RE Desmond Bryant and either Phil Taylor or Rookie Shelton (Washington) starting at NT. But with players like DL Ahtyba Rubin (Seattle Seahawks), DE Jamaal Shead (New England Patriots) and CB Buster Skrine (New York Jets) gone and some new and younger faces coming in, the Cleveland Defense (337 Points Allowed in 2014) could really go either way. But logic dictates that this is probably yet another rebuilding, 6-10 type of season and that Cleveland could be on the downswing. As always, the division math is just brutal for the lovable Browns, but at least the first three games on the schedule—at the Jets (Week 1), vs. the Titans (Week 2) and Raiders (Week 3) both at Home—is fertile ground for a good start.
Browns QB Depth: Josh McCown—Johnny Manziel—Thaddeus Lewis—Connor Shaw (Out)
Who’s New and Could Have an Impact? Free Agent CB Tramon Williams (Packers), Rookie NT Danny Shelton (Washington), Free Agent WR Dwayne Bowe (Chiefs), Free Agent WR Brian Hartline (Dolphins), Free Agent DT Randy Starks (Dolphins), Free Agent QB Josh McCown (Buccaneers), Rookie C Cameron Erving (FSU), Rookie DE Nate Orchard (Utah), Rookie RB Duke Johnson (Miami-Florida), Rookie DT Xavier Cooper (Washington State), Rookie SS Ibraheim Campbell (Northwestern), Rookie WR Vince Martel (Washington State), Rookie CB Charles Gaines (Louisville), Rookie TE Malcolm Johnson (Ole Miss), TE Randall Telfer (Northwestern), Rookie ILB Hayes Pullard (USC), Rookie CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (Oregon)
Who’s Gone From the Roster? QB Brian Hoyer (Free Agent, Texans), TE Jordan Cameron (Free Agent, Dolphins), DL Ahtyba Rubin (Free Agent, Seahawks), DE Jamaal Shead (Free Agent, Patriots), CB Buster Skrine (Free Agent, Jets), WR Miles Austin (Free Agent, Eagles), WR Josh Gordon (Serving 2nd yearlong Suspension for Alcohol use)
Possible Wins on Schedule: Week 1: @ Jets; Week 2: vs. TITANS; Week 3 vs. RAIDERS; Week 7 @ Rams; Week 8 vs. CARDINALS; Week 13 vs. BENGALS; Week 14: 49ERS; Week 17: vs. STEELERS
Some Good Potential Browns Betting Spots in Regular Season: Finding spots on the schedule to back the Browns is never easy, but Cleveland’s 9-6-1 ATS mark last season showed oddsmakers (and the public) were sort of off in their perceptions of Cleveland (4-4 Home), although the Browns went 6-10 ATS the season before (2013). So what to do? Find a couple of good spots to fade (bet against) the Browns. Like in Week 6 at Home at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland when they host Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos (Browns 1-5 ATS L6 vs. Denver) and in Week 12, again at Home, when the Browns and LB Karlos Dansby host Joe Flacco and Baltimore (Ravens -2½, NFL Games of the Year, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook) in what could be a big AFC North tilt (Browns 1-6 ATS L7 vs. Ravens at Home) for both teams, although the L4 meetings have been pretty darn close (Browns -8, +6, -2 and -10 points in Final scorelines).
Are There Any Good Browns Futures Bets Now? The Browns Regular Season Team Win Total is at 6½ (Over and Under -110, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook), and by the looks of their Regular Season schedule, the oddsmakers have hung up a very good number in this market with the Week 17 finale against the Steelers at Home in Cleveland possibly being the game that gives Cleveland its’ 7th win, although the Browns could very well be sitting on a 5-10 mark heading into that last game. Still, with the Bengals—as well as the Ravens and Steelers—needing wins in those two games with their in-state rivals and theoretically beatable teams like the Jets, Rams and Chiefs all potentially on the upswing this season, things could get ugly in the Forest City and Clevelanders could be looking forward to LeBron James, their beloved (again) Cavaliers and the start of the NBA season sooner than later if the Browns first three winnable games—against the Jets, Titans and Raiders, teams who went a combined 9-39 last season—end up leaving Cleveland with a 1-2 or 0-3 record to start the season. Taking a shot at the Under 6½ seems smart with the Browns this season as those three hungry, double-digit Win teams in the same division and some regression likely after a nice 2/3rds of a Regular Season last year will most likely make getting over that proverbial hump a little harder this time around. In short, nobody expects to lose to the Browns and McCown (1-10 as starter with TB in 2014) seems like a patch.
Recent Relevant Trends: Browns 6-2-1 ATS L9, 3-0 ATS L3 Home vs. Raiders; Browns 3-0 ATS L3 vs. Chargers; Browns 4-1 ATS L5 Road vs. Ravens but 1-6 ATS L7 Home vs. Ravens; Browns 4-1 ATS L5 vs. Chiefs; Browns 1-4 ATS L5 at Home vs. Titans; Browns 1-5 ATS L6 vs. Broncos; Browns 1-3 L4 ATS vs. Rams
Players to Watch: SS Tashuan Gipson (re-signed Free Agent), Free Agent CB Tramon Williams (Packers), Rookie NT and No. 12 overall Pick Danny Shelton (Washington), Free Agent QB Josh McCown (Buccaneers), DE Desmond Bryant, Free Agent DT Randy Starks (Dolphins), Free Agent WR Dwayne Bowe (Chiefs), Free Agent WR Brian Hartline (Dolphins), QB Johnny Manziel, ILB Karlos Dansby, RB Isaiah Crowell, RB Terrance West, WR Travis Benjamin, WR Andrew Hawkins, WR Taylor Gabriel, Free Agent WR Terrelle Pryor (Bengals, Practice Squad), Rookie C Cameron Erving (Florida State), Rookie DE Nate Orchard (Utah), Rookie RB Duke Johnson (Miami-Florida), Rookie DT Xavier Cooper (Washington State), Rookie SS Ibraheim Campbell (Northwestern), Rookie WR Vince Martel (Washington State), CB Joe Haden, SS Donte Whitner, Rookie CB Charles Gaines (Louisville), Rookie TE Malcolm Johnson (Ole Miss), TE Randall Telfer (Northwestern), C Alex Mack (returning from Broken Leg), LB Paul Kruger, LB Barkevious Mingo, P Spencer Lanning (Re-signed Free Agent)
Bet Against Cleveland Browns in Regular Season: Week 2—at Home vs. Denver Broncos (Browns 1-5 ATS L6 vs Broncos); Week 12—at Home vs. Baltimore Ravens (Ravens -2½, NFL Games of the Year, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook; Browns 1-6 ATS L7 vs Ravens at Home in Cleveland)
Cleveland Browns-Related Futures Book Bet: Cleveland Browns Season Team Win Total Under 6½ -110 (Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook)