One year ago, around this time, the Cleveland Browns were the undisputed darlings of the 2019 NFL offseason. The hype train almost immediately went off course before crashing towards a disappointing 6-10 record in 2019. After clearing out the majority of the front office and coaching staff, the Cleveland Browns 2020 NFL win total is 8.5. Could the Browns potentially sneak up on some people and hit their 2020 season win total in a year where they are flying under the radar?
Cleveland Browns Offseason Breakdown
The Freddie Kitchens era in Cleveland was a disaster from the get-go with the Browns getting clobbered by the Titans at home in Week One and starting the season 2-6 overall. Now he’s replaced by first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski. Stefanski was most recently the offensive coordinator with the Minnesota Vikings, where Kirk Cousins enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career. The offensive gameplan Stefanski brings to Cleveland will likely feature more play-action than Baker Mayfield is used to up until this point in his career.
Former NFL journeyman Alex Van Pelt will take over the offensive coordinator reigns from Todd Monken, who was not retained by Stefanski. Van Pelt has been the quarterback coach for four different NFL franchises over the past decade, including most recently with the Cincinnati Bengals last season. Bill Callahan will take over as offensive line coach after serving as interim head coach in Washington for most of last season. 26-year coaching veteran Joe Woods is the new defensive coordinator, coming from the SuperBowl runner up San Francisco 49ers, where he served as defensive backs coach. Woods was previously defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos during their disappointing 2017 campaign.
After a mutual agreement that it was time to part ways, General manager and Thanos doppelganger, John Dorsey, is also out of Cleveland after three seasons. Replacing him will be Andrew Berry, who immediately becomes the league’s youngest GM. Berry returns to Cleveland after serving as vice president of football operations for the Browns during the Sashi Brown era. Overall, Cleveland is dealing with a nearly complete overhaul of their franchise in terms of front office and coaching staff. During this distance and virtual offseason, it’s fair to wonder how all this change might factor into the Browns projected win total in 2020.
Additions and Departures
The Browns offseason plan was structured around protecting Baker Mayfield and providing him with enough weapons to improve upon a disappointing sophomore season. The first move Cleveland made as soon as the legal tampering period kicked off was to sign former Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper. Hooper had 75 catches and six touchdowns for Atlanta in 2019 and now provides the Browns both the opportunity to run more two tight end sets as well provide insurance for the inconsistent and oft-injured David Njoku.
The other significant additions on the offensive side of the football came in the trenches. Jack Conklin is arguably a top ten tackle in the NFL, and he will be expected to secure the right side on an offensive line that was a glaring weakness for this team throughout the 2019 season. Conklin is considered an elite run blocker and average pass protector, having helped open holes for Derrick Henry en route to his leading the league in rushing last year for the Tennesse Titans. The Browns also added more offensive line help at the top of the draft with Alabama tackle Jedrick Wills.
Wills had a Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 8.44 (9th in the class), including marks of “Great” in speed and “Elite” in his explosion. Wills is a quick, flexible player who will serve to secure the left side opposite Conklin. Perhaps most importantly, he is a somewhat finished product who should be ready to start from day one. Wills and Conklin should provide the Browns and the aforementioned coach Callahan with a significant upgrade over Greg Robinson and Chris Hubbard.
The Browns also added some defensive help early in the 2020 NFL Draft, grabbing safety Grant Delpit in the second round. Delpit was often being picked in the middle of the first round in mock drafts leading up to April, but eventually fell into round two where Cleveland was happy to add him to a young secondary that includes Denzel Ward and former LSU teammate Greedy Williams. While only mediocre in coverage situations, Delpit is a true ball-hawk who has all the tools to grow into an elite safety in the future.
Delpit was not the only safety added to the roster in the offseason, as Cleveland signed former first-round pick Karl Joseph who is a hard hitter in his own right. They also brought in former Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo, who Stefanski knows well from their time together in Minnesota. Damarious Randall, Morgan Burnett, and Eric Murray are all gone from last season’s roster as the Browns look to improve on the toughness that seemed to be missing in the secondary after the trade of Jabril Peppers to New York.
Andrew Billings will come over from Cincinnati as a potential run stopper in the middle of the defensive line. The Browns were near the bottom of the league in rushing yards allowed last season, giving up nearly 145 yards per game to opposing teams. There’s nothing sexy about the signing of an average to above-average nose tackle, but these are the types of moves that can make a difference for a team that might be just a few plays away from playoff contention in the 2020 NFL season.
Like most NFL teams, the Cleveland Browns 2020 NFL season, and their projected win total for that matter, rests on the arm of their quarterback. Baker Mayfield will be asked to improve off last season’s 22 touchdown, 21 interception performance while working with his third head coach in as many seasons. Add that to the fact that the Covid-19 virus is making a mockery of the new head coach’s ability to get together with their players in person, and it’s reasonable to question just how effective the Browns offensive might be under these rare circumstances. Mayfield certainly has some things going for him on the positive side of things, however.
Start with the revamped offensive line we discussed earlier, throw in a head coach with a track record of success with quarterbacks as an offensive coordinator, and finish with one of the better pass-catching units in the entire NFL. Mayfield has a passing yards projection of 3,899.5 for the 2020 NFL season, a number that seems on the low side if he remains upright behind an improved offensive line. The Browns also might have the most talented two-headed running back monster in the league in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Chubb, in particular, is coming off of a 1,494-yard rushing performance in the 2019 NFL season and has all the makings of a workhorse back.
If there is one player who I believe could be in for a better than expected season, its Odell Beckham. Despite his diva reputation, OBJ battled through a sports hernia injury last season and still managed to put up over 1,000 yards on a team that couldn’t seem to get him the ball despite the most targets he’s seen since the 2016 season. The Browns had an abysmal season last year, but Beckham refrained from the sort of tantrums that became the norm during his time in New York with the Giants.
Beckham remains just 27 years old and still has a few prime seasons ahead of him, yet he has fallen out of the top five (sometimes top ten) of nearly every wide receiver rankings list. While Beckham is unlikely to match the total catches of someone like Michael Thomas while having to share targets with best friend Jarvis Landry, no one outside of Julio Jones is capable of more game-changing explosive plays than the LSU product. Positive regression is coming. I will be targeting Beckham as a potential steal in round three of fantasy drafts.
On the defensive side of the ball, Cleveland still has some top-notch talent rushing the passer in Olivier Vernon and the much-maligned Myles Garrett. Coming off of suspension and with potential contract extension discussions in the near future, it will be interesting to see just what type of season Garrett puts together in 2020. Garrett’s incredible talent was overshadowed by the ugly incident with Mason Rudolph and the Steelers in November last season. NFL Next Gen Stats indicate that Garrett was the most disruptive pass rusher the league has seen since 2016, registering pressure on 17.1 percent of drop-backs.
With Sheldon Richardson being joined by Andrew Billings in the middle, the hope is that they can clog up the run enough to take some pressure off of the linebacker unit that is probably the weakest position room on the team. If the additions to the defense via free agency and the 2020 NFL Draft come to fruition, and the young secondary can mesh in a short time, the Browns might be able to surprise some people in one of the strongest divisions in football.
Browns Strength of Schedule Breakdown
According to the Warren Sharp Strength of Schedule metrics, which favor Las Vegas win totals over last season’s final standings, the Cleveland Browns have one the 3rd easiest schedule in the NFL for the 2020 season. This despite having to face the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers twice each as divisional foes. While the Browns have the tough task of taking on the Ravens in Baltimore in their season opener, they follow that up with two winnable home games. Cleveland will host the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday Night of week two before the Washington Redskins come to town in week three. The Browns will have an extra rest advantage in that spot, and anything less than a 2-1 start would be a disappointment.
As the schedule moves beyond the first month or so of the season, it becomes an increasingly fruitless task attempting to predict wins and losses in specific games. That said, it is crucial to analyze pockets of games as a means of finding advantage spots embedded within a team’s overall schedule. The Browns are at home for virtually the entire month of November as they have three straight home games sandwiched around their week nine bye. They head out to Jacksonville after Thanksgiving to take on a Jaguars team that may very well be “tanking” at that point.
In each of those home games, Cleveland hosts a team that will either be on short rest or in the second leg of a two-game road trip. The Browns also have two of their final three games of the season on the road, although they both take place at the Meadowlands in consecutive weeks against the Giants and Jets, respectively, meaning there is no real travel burden. Those two teams might also be out of playoff contention by then, so it’s entirely possible the Browns could be road favorites for both games.
Browns Season Long/Win Total Bets
The Cleveland Browns 2020 win total currently sits at 8.5 regular-season wins. They have a first-year head coach for the second consecutive season and an enigmatic quarterback who much of the league feels was over-hyped in terms of commercial success before proving anything on the field. To me, the Browns are a perfect post-hype sleeper candidate for this season. However, I don’t think taking the Over on the 8.5 projected win total is the best play. Instead, I think taking a look at the “Yes/No” on the Cleveland Browns making the playoffs is where the best bet lies.
Under the new Wild Card format for the 2020 NFL Season, the percentage of teams making the postseason increases from 37.5 percent to 43.8 percent. Over the past four years, half of the teams in the AFC finishing at 9-7 made the postseason, and that’s with one fewer spot available. The chances are that if the Cleveland Browns manage to go 9-7 in 2020 and reach their projected win total, they also qualify for the playoffs. With the best possible odds on the Browns Over 8.5 wins currently listed at +100 on DraftKings, I think the better value lies with taking Cleveland to make the playoffs with a more profitable +137 payout. There is even a slim opportunity to cash a Browns playoff ticket with an 8-8 regular-season finish, whereas taking the Over on the win total would render a losing wager. I’ll pass on the win total and take a shot at the Cleveland Browns qualifying for the playoffs at +137 odds.
Cleveland Browns 2020 Win Total 8.5
Official bet: Cleveland Browns to make playoffs – YES (+137)
Christopher Smith is the senior betting analyst at Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisSmithPFN for upcoming analysis. Also, make sure to follow the betting group @PFNBets for analysis from all of our writers heading into the 2020 season.