Betting on the NFL is in many ways similar to trading stocks. You need to know when a team is overpriced and stay away, and you need to know when a team is underpriced and could turn into a win. There is also a constant race trying to get the best of a number and beat the market.
One of the most fascinating teams for the upcoming NFL season are the Cleveland Browns. After making the playoffs in 2020, the Browns took a step back in 2021 and missed the playoffs with an 8-9 record. There is hope that the Browns will improve and return to the postseason in 2022, but the question marks are evident. As a result, the Browns are off the board in the win of the season market at BetMGM, although you can still bet on them to win the Super Bowl, AFC or AFC North.
The Deshaun-Watson situation
In March, the Browns made a massive and controversial move when they traded for former Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson didn’t play at all last season due to a combination of a request for a trade with the Texans and 22 sexual misconduct allegations against him. Two Texas grand juries declined to indict Watson on criminal charges, but civil lawsuits and an NFL investigation are ongoing.
While there are questions about Watson’s character and overall decency as a person, there’s no denying his talent as an NFL quarterback. In 2020, Watson’s final season, he threw for 4,800 yards while posting a 33-7 TD-INT ratio. Watson led the league in passing yards, was second in QB scoring, third in completion rate and seventh in touchdown passes.
If Watson is allowed to play and returns to his form, he will serve as a significant upgrade over what the Browns had last season. Baker Mayfield had had a solid 2020 season, but the organization still didn’t seem sold on the idea of him being the Browns’ franchise quarterback. In a proof-it year for Mayfield, he fell flat on his face and barely broke the 3,000-yard mark while posting a terrible 17-13 TD-INT ratio. Mayfield played through most of the season through injury, but the Browns decided they needed to move in a different direction.
Six of Cleveland’s nine losses were six points or fewer. In theory, even an average quarterback game would have resulted in two or three more wins that could have been enough for the Browns to make the playoffs. They have one of the better offensive lines and running plays in the league, while their defense has improved over the season. The Browns also traded for Amari Cooper, giving them the No. 1 receiver they lacked last season. On paper the team has improved tremendously and they were close from the start.
How the NFL schedule is helping Cleveland
The problem with planning the Browns’ 2022 season is obviously Deshaun Watson’s situation. Watson will only be paid a base salary of $1 million in 2022, suggesting the parties involved are preparing for a suspension. Yahoo Sports reports that all civil trials are expected to be postponed until 2023, but there are also reports that the league met with Watson last week as part of its investigation.
How long will Watson’s suspension last? That’s a guess, but it sounds like we should know pretty soon. As soon as this news is known, the betting markets will react extremely quickly. Right now, the Browns aren’t even eligible to bet in certain markets like the Win Totals and Make the Playoffs markets.
However, Cleveland is listed at +200 to win the AFC North, a three-way tie at the top of the division with the Ravens and Bengals. If it’s a short suspension, they’ll likely be the favorites to win the division based on what the market is telling us. If it’s a longer ban, their chances go down. Cleveland is also +900 to win the AFC, the 5th best odds and 18-to-1 to win the Super Bowl, the 10th best odds.
However, the planners were certainly doing the Browns a favor in regards to a potential Watson suspension early in the season. These are the first four games on Cleveland’s schedule:
against New York Jets
All four of these teams currently have overall wins that they would likely finish under .500. Pittsburgh’s win record is set at 7.5 wins. The Jets and Panthers have win totals of 5.5, while the Falcons’ win totals are set at 4.5 wins, which is the lowest in the league with the Texans. All four teams are big favorites to miss the playoffs, with the Steelers having the best chance of making the playoffs at +300.
With Watson suspended for the first four games, the Browns could have struggled in an overloaded AFC with a more challenging schedule. Instead, there’s no reason to think Jacoby Brissett (or even Baker Mayfield) can’t go at least 3-1 or even 4-0 with this schedule. The Browns need to mark time until Watson returns from a possible suspension and with this early-season schedule, there’s a good chance they can do even better than just mark the mark.
While there’s certainly a chance for an extended Watson suspension that would hurt the Browns’ chances to crippling levels, there’s also a chance his suspension could come to light. If you think Watson will get away from the NFL fairly easily, the Browns could be a good buy-low bet in the futures market right now. Once the suspension news drops, any potential value would unravel, especially as people take a closer look at the schedule. There’s certainly a chance the news could go the other way and you could end up with a worthless bet slip, but that’s the risk we’re taking.