Cleveland Against the Spread
DISCLAIMER: This article is for entertainment and research purposes only and should not be used to inform any actual betting decisions. Past performances are not necessarily an indicator of future results and all content within simply reflects past data.
This is the first of this year’s, “Crossing the Line,” series, which is going to look at the performance of NFL teams relative to the point spread for the last several years.
Prior to last year, there was no doubt that the new incarnation of the Cleveland Browns is a historically bad football team. In order to silence all of the doubters, “The mistake by the lake,” decided to post up an 0-16 season, matched only by the 2008 Detroit Lions.
To their credit, they were arguably better than that year’s Lions, as I discussed in this article.
There can be no question that the Browns have been historically awful over a longer stretch of time, as we it upon late in the aforementioned article.
In fact, the Browns may be so bad that Vegas has no idea what to do with them. More than that, the Browns might be so bad that sports bettors have no idea what to do with them.
Vegas Insider is an incredible resource that bettors can use to research current lines going back to 2012 with relative ease.
The VI consensus line is simply the mean average of what every sportsbook has done, and for games that have already been played, the, “Odds,” reflect the closing VI consensus line.
With that in mind, here are the results of the Browns’ performances against the spread for the last six NFL Seasons, results in parenthesis mean that they lost against the spread and results not in parenthesis mean they beat the spread. A week with an ‘X’ indicates a bye week. 2012:
The Browns went 8-7 against the spread for 2012 and finished a total of (3.5) worse than the spread, which is to say 0.21875 PPG worse than the spread. In other words, the spread was darn close that year.
That year, the Browns went 6-10 against the spread for a net differential of (27.5) points, meaning they missed the spread by 1.71875 PPG.
The Browns would finish 9-5 against the spread for 2014 despite a net points differential of (21) which is 1.3125 PPG negative differential. As we can see, that is mainly attributable to the fact that they were completely blown out in Weeks 7, 11, 13 and 15 and only blew other teams out in weeks 6 and 10. Again, relative to the spread.
The Browns would finish 5-10 against the spread in their 2015 campaign with a net 62.5 points worse 3.90625 PPG worse than the spread. This trend would basically continue the following two years:
The Browns would finish the 2016 Season a horrendous (88) net points, or 5.5 PPG net negative points against the spread. Their record against the spread would be 4-12 and Vegas almost needed to give the Browns another Touchdown every game (mean average) for the Browns to perform to the spread. The results would have at least been closer to what bettors expected if they had.
The Browns would go a putrid 4-12 against the spread AGAIN! At this point, Vegas should very well have been prepared for them to be putrid after the 1-15 2016 campaign that went 4-12 against the spread with a negative 88 net points differential ATS, but Vegas and the bettors were unprepared for just how bad the Browns would be.
The Browns would go a net negative points differential against the spread of (73) for 2017, which comes out to 4.5625 points per game. We know from the above-referenced Browns retrospective article that they were expected to lose by a mean average of 6.5 points per game, in fact, here is that chart again:
|Vegas Spread||Browns’ Performance|
|Average: 104/16 = 6.5||Average -72/16 = -4.5|
In other words, Vegas couldn’t give the Browns enough points which had been a theme for the previous two seasons, as well. In fact, even going back to when the Browns had been beating the spread, Vegas still hadn’t been giving them enough points overall.
Did the Browns Become so Bad They Broke Vegas?
What we are now going to do is construct another chart that looks at the Browns overall Win/Loss record v. their performance against the spread for the last six years:
|YEAR||NET ATS||MEAN ATS||ATS RECORD||ACTUAL RECORD||ACTUAL POINTS DIFF|
|TOTALS/AVERAGES||(275.5)||(2.86979) Average||36-56 (4 Pushes)||20-76||(7.5) Average|
In other words, the Cleveland Browns have lost their average game by 7.5 points over the last six years, but Vegas has only had them losing by about 4.63 points, on average.
In the last three years, the Browns have lost by an average of 10.79 points, but they have missed the spread by an average of 4.65625 points which means that the average spread was Browns +6.13375, roughly.
Simply put, even knowing that the Browns are awful, Vegas/sports bettors have not been able to give the Browns enough points.
In fairness, maybe the 2015 campaign came as a complete surprise. After all, the Browns went from 7-9 with an actual points differential of (38) (2.375)/game to a flummoxing (154) (9.625)/game. It could be argued that there were no indicators going into the 2016 and 2017 seasons that the Browns had become any better, and in fact, their actual points differentials remained relatively consistent for the following two years.
After two years, one would think that people would not be so incredulous. After all, the Browns’ one 2016 win came in a meaningless Week 16 game against the San Diego Chargers, who were 5-9 entering the game and had no hope of Playoff contention. Going into the 2017 season, there was talk from the very beginning as to whether or not this would be the year that the Mistake by the Lake would pull off the perfectly imperfect season and roll 0-16.
The question then becomes: “Is there a certain point when a team becomes so bad that people can’t believe it?”
I would answer that question by first taking a look at the binomial probability of the Browns being as bad against the spread as they were over that three year period and six year period. The generally accepted notion is that the Vig takes care of the sportsbooks and that a random pick against the spread should be 50% to win. Given that, we can do a binomial distribution to determine the probability of the Browns finishing as bad as they have (or worse) against the spread:
Trials: 92 (Ignoring Pushes) Wins: 36 Probability: .5
The probability of winning 36 or fewer of 92 trials with a 50% chance of winning any given trial is about 0.023505780822 or 2.3505781%.
We can also look at the last three years:
Trials: 47 (Ignoring Pushes) Wins: 13 Probability: .5
The probability of winning 13 or fewer of 47 trials with a 50% chance of winning any given trial is about 0.001543838231 or 0.1543838%.
In terms of actual results, let’s look at how a bettor would be doing at -110, +100 doing nothing but picking the team going against the Cleveland Browns for the last six years and three years against the spread:
(56 * 100) - (36 * 110) = $1,640
Amount bet: $10,120
Return on Investment: (10120+1640)/10120 = 1.16205533597 or 16.205533597%
The funny thing is, someone doing this would have been a small loser during just the first three years, but would have won huge just doing this during the last three years.
(34 * 100) - (13 * 110) = $1,970
Amount Bet: $5,170
Return on Investment: (5170+1970)/5170 = 1.38104448743 or 38.1044%
In other words, the Browns have been so bad the last few years that it seems that Vegas and sports bettors simply do not know what to do with them. It seems like they can’t give the Browns enough points such that a sports bettor would have done well just to bet on whatever team is playing the Browns.
The Over/Under on the Browns win total for this season is 5.5, but if we look over the last few years:
We’ve seen the new quarterback song and dance from the Cleveland Browns before, it hasn’t mattered then, and with Tyrod Taylor at the helm to start the season, it probably won’t matter now. What we know about the Browns is that they have spent the last few seasons underperforming expectations. Browns quarterbacks, on the other hand, have done it for a decade and a half of woefulness.
My opinion is that the Browns could not have improved that much. The Over/Unders have been wrong on season win totals for the last three years, and even knowing what they know, the Vegas Spreads have been almost unbelievably wrong for the past three years. The simple fact of the matter is that the opening lines and the bettors have not found a way to give the Browns enough points.
In other words, it seems that there has been some sort of inherent bias that says “No team could possibly be that bad,” but the Browns have spent the last three years proving that they will find a way to be worse than even the Vegas handicappers and sharp bettors could possibly believe. Regardless of how bad the Browns get, bettors simply cannot find a way to give them enough points such that the ATS even begins to approach 50/50.
I expect this year to be no different. The Browns will continue to get credit where credit is not due and that will be reflected in an advantage taking whatever team is playing the Browns against the spread.