As part of our 2023 NFL Preseason Preview Series, we look at the current state of each team in an attempt to identify reasons for optimism and causes for concern and, most importantly, what can be exploited in the current betting marketplace.
CLEVELAND BROWNS: REASONS FOR OPTIMISM
For the Browns to reach their potential, they need Deshaun Watson to return to his Texans form. While Cleveland went 3-3 in Watson’s 6 games last year, his production was concerning. Still, there may be explanations for his poor play - Watson was noticeably rusty without an opportunity to practice throughout the year. He faced five of the top-10 pass defenses by DVOA, and he played in a game that had 30+ mph winds. Watson wasn’t good last year, but there are reasons to think he will rebound. Many of the Browns’ other concerns have been addressed, like holes in WR depth/speed and the defense’s pass rush. DC Jim Schwartz was brought in to revamp the worst run defense in the league - the last time he did that, the Eagles went from 32nd to 17th in his first year. The Browns finished with very poor luck in nearly all metrics as well, so positive regression to the mean is anticipated.
CLEVELAND BROWNS: CAUSE FOR CONCERN
Deshaun Watson hasn’t looked good playing football in a very long time. He didn’t have time to ramp up before returning, but he finished 26th in EPA and 28th in YPA in 2022. In his 6 starts, the Browns only posted more than 14 points twice. Cleveland was a much better team with Jacoby Brissett at the helm than they were with Watson. Still, with so much invested in their starting QB, they will ride with him. Cleveland may have the NFL’s best offensive line and a great running attack, but if Watson struggles, its ceiling will be significantly limited. The addition of Schwartz is a step in the right direction, but expecting this team to jump from dead last to league average in run defense is a giant leap. The Browns play in the most difficult division and have a grueling start to their schedule. If things go awry from the jump, the heat on Watson and the Browns will be palpable and their season could be in jeopardy from the jump.
CLEVELAND BROWNS: BETTING OPPORTUNITIES
I have mixed feelings about the Browns. I love their roster and coaching staff. Their offseason changes seemed to plug many of their deficiencies. On offense, they have all the potential to be a juggernaut, but I keep coming back to Deshaun Watson’s struggles and how long it has been since he looked good. He is only 27 years old and was a short time ago considered one of the best quarterbacks in the league. The Browns still believe in him and they better be right because they only have Joshua Dobbs, a career backup, to replace him. Watson’s potential outcomes make Cleveland a high-variance team. If he’s able to regain his old form, the Browns could be in play for a Super Bowl run. Even though I have serious concerns, taking a flier on a 40-1 CLE to win it all is certainly worth a look.
Best Bet: Week 9 CLE -7 vs ARI (pass at 7.5)