PART 1 What I Said Last Year
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.
Feel free to read this article again if you like.
To summarize: In that article, I suggested that the Cleveland Browns were so bad that they actually, “Broke Vegas,” continuously underperforming in net point spread throughout the season. In fact, from the three seasons from 2015-2017, I had the Browns underperforming the point spread by a net of well over fifty points per season.
I then went on to look at the Cleveland Browns’ win total lines going into each season, and obviously, they also underperformed there. Ultimately, I reached a few different conclusions:
- Vegas was not prepared for a team as consistently awful as the Browns were.-MAYBE
- The Browns would underperform in win total for 2018 season.-WRONG!!!
- The Browns would perform worse than 8-8 against the spread in 2018.-WRONG!!!
Let’s rub a little salt in the wound and take a look at how the Browns performed against the spread each week of the 2018 NFL Season:
|@New Orleans||9.5||6.5 (WIN)|
|New York Jets||-3 (What?)||-4 (WIN)|
|Los Angeles Chargers||-1 (!?)||+25 (LOSS)|
|@Tampa Bay||3.5||3 (WIN)|
|Kansas City||8.5||16 (LOSS)|
You are free to put it together if you like, but here are the results for the season:
2018 Browns: 7-8-1
2018 Browns ATS: 10-6
2018 Browns Net ATS: -13 (Outperformed by 13 Points)
By itself, the net performance against the spread really isn’t a huge deal as it comes out to less than one point per game outperforming the spread. In other words, while the results vary across the board, (as they almost always will) Vegas basically had it right on the Browns overall.
The Browns went a respectable 7-8-1 in their actual record, which beats the win total line of 5.5 wins as of the time of my previous writing. Finally, they went 10-6 against the spread which means blindly betting against them ATS would have been an unmitigated disaster.
Anyway, “Good work on that Browns article last year, Brandon.”
PART 2 What Happened? (And Excuse Making)
A Star is Born:
The most obvious thing that happened is that Baker Mayfield happened. Let’s look at the stats:
QB Rating: 93.7
Mayfield came in for the third game of the Browns’ season and never looked back. You can see from his game logs.
That he was kind of up and down, but at the same time, he posted up some truly remarkable games.
Baker Mayfield was not originally going to be the Browns’ starter for the season (more on that later) with the nod going to former Bills’ signal caller Tyrod Taylor. Taylor would start three games for the 2018 Browns, would appear in four, and would post up his worst statistical season (QB Rating) in a limited sample size mostly against two of the league’s better defenses.
Taylor wouldn’t really get much of an opportunity against weaker defenses and Browns fans were chomping at the bit to get Mayfield in there from the very beginning of the season.
Going into the season, there was something of an unfair perception that Taylor was a significantly below average quarterback. He had served as the Bills’ primary starter for three seasons, leading them into the playoffs in the lattermost of those three. During this time, Taylor would post a combined 92.5 QB Rating (very respectable) with a 62.6% completion rate as well as 51 TD’s to 16 INT’s; an objectively very good TD/INT ratio.
Taylor would also find himself benched in favor of Nathan Peterman, who would begin his NFL career by throwing four interceptions in a single half. It’s possible that his benching in and of itself also hurt his stock when it comes to fan perception, even though he was inserted in the second half of that game to save Nathan Peterman from further embarrassment.
In eight career appearances, Nathan Peterman has posted 3 TD to 12 INT, but the really interesting stat for him is his QB rating. As of this time, Nathan Peterman’s QB Rating is 32.5.
For those wondering how bad that is, let me give you an example: If I were to take literally any number of NFL snaps, drop back and throw the ball into the stands for an incompletion (every single time) my QB Rating would be 39.6. As long as a person could avoid throwing any interceptions, that person would have a better career QB Rating than Nathan Peterman, to this point. That should be easy enough.
Anyway, getting benched for that guy is a, “No Confidence,” vote if there has ever been one, but the whole thing was patently unfair and had analysts scratching their heads. During Taylor’s time with the Bills, they were consistently in the bottom half of defensive points allowed, and when that happens, you’re going to lose some games.
Had it not been for that benching, there is a very good chance that Tyrod Taylor would still be a Buffalo Bill, and would likely still be the starting quarterback. The whole thing just soured the relationship between player and team all around.
Back to Mayfield: As if the stats don’t speak for themselves well enough (and they do) Mayfield also brings that rare combination of competitive fire and FUN to the team. I don’t care how you feel about the Cleveland Browns, do a YouTube search for their, “MIC’D UP,” segments and what you will see is a bunch of guys, led by Mayfield, out there playing the game they love with joy.
That doesn’t take away from Mayfield’s desire to win. As we will see in our next section, the man is not above holding a grudge and loves proving the point that he may become one of the great quarterbacks of this generation.
Hue Jackson would lead the Browns to a 1-15 record in the 2016 NFL Season. Browns fans and the NFL world were led to believe that the results couldn’t have been worse, but that was only until Coach Jackson helmed the team to an 0-16 record for 2017 which largely precipitated last year’s article about the team.
By the time NFL Week 8 had rolled around, Hue Jackson had coached the Browns to a 2-4-1 record, obviously a marked improvement over an 0-16 season and 1-31 mark the previous two combined seasons. The team had already won twice as many games as they had in the previous two years, not to mention the tie.
More than that, the Browns were greatly exceeding expectations against the spread, compiling an ATS record of 5-2. While it’s not the end all and be all, it could certainly be argued that the Browns were outperforming expectations.
Here comes an excuse: Last year’s article was written with the assumption that Hue Jackson would coach the Browns for the duration of the season, barring only an unmitigated disaster. An unmitigated disaster, this was not. Not only had the Browns won two games and tied one, but three of their losses (including one to the Saints) came by only three points...with the Raiders and Buccaneers losses taking place in overtime.
Arguably, the Browns could have just as easily been 3-3-1 going into Week 8, if not better. More than that, they only suffered one massive blowout, (the Chargers massacred them) so the Browns would enter into Week 8 as, if not playoff hopefuls, a very competitive team.
Things would only improve after the Week 8 beatdown that the Steelers would put on them at Heinz Field, Coach Jackson was fired and the Browns would go 5-3 the rest of the way to finish with the aforementioned 7-8-1 record.
Once again, the Browns would be 5-3 ATS even after Week 8, (when Jackson was fired) so they were on pace to beat the spread.
Fans of the Browns had mostly been clamoring for Jackson’s dismissal since the 2016 Season 1-15 debacle and even more so after the winless follow up campaign. Therefore, it was a surprise to see it take place after the team looked arguably pretty okay.
This may have had something to do with Jackson’s biggest public misstep of calling Baker Mayfield into his office prior to the beginning of the regular season (on a nationally televised TV show, Hard Knocks) and informing him that he had, “Earned,” the role of backup quarterback to Taylor.
It’s not so much what was done, but how he did it, that ignited the fire within Mayfield. Rather than congratulatory, both Mayfield (and several pundits) saw the move by Jackson as disrespectful and unnecessary. It was basically tantamount to saying, “Congratulations, you are not our starter,” which, by all accounts, Mayfield would enter training camp reasonably competing for.
The whole thing also sparked conversation as to where might the Browns have been after Week 8 had Mayfield been the starter going into the season. The Steelers Week 1 tie to the Browns came arguably during Ben Roethisberger’s worst game of his entire career and also would see the Browns benefitting from a really bad call on a punt.
Essentially, the punt bounced off of the helmet of a Brown and was recovered by the Steelers. The call on the field was that the punt had been downed by the Steelers without a Brown touching it, and therefore, Cleveland would get possession of the ball inside of their own fifty. Even upon review (and a Mike Tomlin challenge) it was determined that there was, “Inconclusive video evidence,” that the ball had made contact with a Browns’ player. Not only was it abundantly clear (at least to myself and anyone who is not a Browns fan) that it had contacted the Browns player, the laws of physics basically demand that the ball could not have bounced as it had without touching him!
That’s not to take away from the Browns’ performance during the remainder of the game that would take them from a two touchdown deficit to a tie. They did everything that they had to do from that point forward. More than that, it’s also not to imply that the result would be different had the punt call been correct. It certainly would have put the Steelers in a better position to win, but it’s obviously not a guarantee of anything.
The end all and be all of it is that the tie against the Steelers, the three point loss to the Saints, and most of all, Mayfield’s performance from Week 3 to Week 7 kind of had fans asking, “What if Baker Mayfield had started the first two games? Would we be better than 2-4-1?”
Anyway, it’s probably more accurate that Hue Jackson was handed his pink slip for past failures more than anything, because the Browns up to and including Week 8 of the 2018 Season were a reasonable (if not decent) football team. Again, certainly much better than the 1-31 they carried the two previous combined seasons.
How good will they be this year?
PART 3 Let’s Not Jump to Conclusions
The Browns were clearly a better team than almost anyone could have expected last year, particularly after the dismissal of Hue Jackson as head coach. The NFL fans and sports bettors have reacted by making the Browns the favorite to win the AFC North this coming season. Here are the lines as of the time of this writing.
Here is the amount that would be won (profit) betting $100 on each team:
Personally, despite freely admitting that I was totally wrong about the team last year, I do not believe that the Browns should be the favorite to win the division, and I will illustrate why:
The first thing that we have to look at is the Cleveland Browns record in 2018 of 7-8-1 and see how they performed, against whom and who they will play this year.
|Browns||2018 Opponent||2018 Opponent Record||Browns v. Winning Teams||Browns v. Losing (or .500) Teams|
|0-1-1||New Orleans Saints||13-3||0-1-1||0-0-0|
|1-1-1||New York Jets||12-Apr||0-1-1||1-0-0|
|2-3-1||Los Angeles Chargers||4-Dec||1-2-1||1-1-0|
|2-4-1||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||11-May||1-2-1||1-2-0|
|2-6-1||Kansas City Chiefs||4-Dec||1-4-1||1-2-0|
A very wise man named Ric Flair once said, “To be the man, you’ve gotta beat the man! WOO!” In that same spirit, the Cleveland Browns decidedly did not do a very good job of beating the man. Their only efforts against winning teams that did not result in a loss were a win against the Ravens (who would later beat them in Week 17 to advance to the playoffs and keep the Steelers out) and the Week 1 tie against the Steelers in perhaps Ben Roethlisberger’s worst career game.
With that, we look at the Browns 2019 NFL Schedule:
Combined 2018 Record: 123-131-2
With that, I think much of the betting love for the Cleveland Browns comes from the fact that their strength of schedule going into the 2019 season is 23rd (of 32) hardest amongst NFL teams. If they are going to make a run this year, it’s definitely a good year to do it.
However, it cannot be ignored that they still play eight games against winning teams, which once again, saw them go 1-6-1 last year. Even if we assume that they beat every team they play to have a losing record last year (that’s quite an assumption!) you would still see an extrapolated record of 9-6-1, which would not have been enough to get it done in 2018.
More than that, it cannot be emphasized enough that the Week 1 tie to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2018 may have legitimately been Ben Roethlisberger’s worst performance of his career. The Browns also benefited greatly from some blown calls.
What I Am NOT Saying
To be very clear, I am NOT saying that the Cleveland Browns will fail to win the NFC North this year, just that I would put them right on par with the Pittsburgh Steelers to do so. Granted, the Browns have added excellent receiver O’Dell Beckham Jr. and the Steelers parted ways with Antonio Brown, (more he parted ways with them) but I think the former could be subtraction by addition and the later addition by subtraction.
The Browns gained a great performer in the WR slot as well as a distraction to his teams in the past whereas the Steelers lost a great performer...and a distraction to his team in the past.
Whatever the case, I would not be even remotely surprised if the result of the AFC North comes down to the head-to-head matchup of the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers, in one way or another. Moreover, I would not be surprised to see them split the series this year as they (almost) did last year.
The Browns have certainly gotten better, but to put them as better than equal to a perennial playoff contender (the Steelers) who have not had a losing record since 2003. Meanwhile. The Cleveland Browns are undeniably an up-and-coming team, but they are an up-and-coming team who has yet to actually beat anybody of note. They beat a team that would go 10-6 on the season in 2018 and tie a team that went 9-6-1 on the season...I’m sorry, but those two things by themselves do not prove anything.
There is also another coaching change in that interim head coach and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has been replaced by Offensive Coordinator Freddie Kitchens. Personally, I think the Browns would have been better off under the structure with which they ended 2018, but the prevailing notion was that Kitchens would have been offered a better (or head coaching) job elsewhere if not for the promotion. In short, it would have been very difficult for the Browns to manage to keep both coaches.
Is it safe to believe that the Pittsburgh Steelers will finish the 2019 campaign with a record of 9-7, or better? I believe so. The Browns would then have to match that whilst going at least 1-1 against the Steelers and then we could get into tiebreakers. Again, I see this scenario as perfectly plausible. I also see a scenario in which the Steelers go 11-5 as perfectly plausible.
The Browns should NOT be the betting favorite to win the 2019 AFC North because they did nothing last year or in years prior to indicate that they are a more likely team to do so than the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It’s not necessarily that the implied probability of 43.5% is too high, (even though it is) but my main objection is, at best, the Cleveland Browns should be equal in probability to the Pittsburgh Steelers to win the AFC North. Speaking of, here are the current implied probabilities:
At a payoff of 13/10 to profit $130 v. a loss of $100, here is where we are at using the implied odds:
(130 * .435) - (100 * .674) = -10.85
In other words, the juice on this bet is about 10.85% expected loss on the basis of implied probability.
Granted, implied probability is not the end all and be all of everything, since all of these things are perception based in the first place. Moreover, all of these bets come with roughly the same juice, for example, the Steelers come with an expected loss (based on implied probability) of 10.8%, or $10.80. Just to round it out, the Ravens come with an expectation of -11% and the Bengals with -10.4% expectation.
I don’t really have any great standing to argue the implied probabilities beyond the fact that I think the Browns should not be an outright favorite. The Bengals are likely such a longshot having just fired former Head Coach Marvin Lewis after SIXTEEN YEARS of failing to ever win a playoff game. The Baltimore Ravens have also parted ways with signal-caller Joe Flacco leading to LaMar Jackson going into the 2019 campaign as his first full season of presumed starting quarterback. Jackson didn’t exactly light the world on fire, despite going 6-1 in his appearances, but he appears at least as competent as Joe Flacco.
I’m not going to go as far as to call the Ravens a good bet, but I definitely think they are undervalued with an implied probability of 22.2%. Gun to my head, I would put the probabilities more like:
That means I think the Browns, Steelers AND Bengals all become WORSE bets than the current implied probabilities would have them. The Browns become an expected loss of $19.50 compared to current lines, the Steelers become an expected loss of $9.00, the Ravens technically become an expected profit of $12.50...but I don’t know that I actually believe that and it’s only because my implied probabilities add up to 100%, and finally, the Bengals become an expected loss of $25 using the pays and my probabilities.
Say what you will about the Ravens, but they’ve only had one losing season in the last ten years and they’ve had great consistency with Harbaugh as coach. If anything, I think I would call it roughly a breakeven bet given the actual payoff v. implied odds of the betting lines...but not necessarily a good bet.
In the end, far from the Browns crapfest that I wrote about last year, while I don’t think they should be favorites...I do think they should be considered on par with the Pittsburgh Steelers to win the division this year. Finally, I would also like to acknowledge the very good possibility that the Browns fail to win the Division, but do clinch a WildCard birth with something like a 10-6 or 9-7 record.