In many ways, betting on the NFL is similar to trading stocks. You need to know when a team is overvalued and stay away, and you need to know when a team is undervalued and could be turned into profit. There is also a constant race to try to get the best number and beat the market.
One of the most intriguing teams for this upcoming NFL season is 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. It is hoped the Browns will improve and return to the playoffs in 2022, but the question marks are obvious. As a result, the Browns are out of the picture in the total season market at BetMGMalthough you can always bet they win the Super Bowl, AFC or AFC North.
The Deshaun Watson case
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 trade request to the Texans and 22 sexual misconduct allegations against him. Two grand juries in Texas declined to indict Watson on criminal charges, but civil lawsuits and an NFL investigation are still ongoing.
While there are questions about Watson’s character and his overall decency as a person, there’s no denying his level of talent as an NFL quarterback. In 2020, Watson’s final season, he threw for over 4,800 yards while posting a 33-7 TD-INT ratio. Watson led the league in passing yards, was second in QB standings, third in completion percentage, and seventh in touchdown passes.
If Watson is cleared to play and returns to form, he’s a significant improvement over what the Browns had last season. Baker Mayfield was coming off a strong 2020 season, but the organization still didn’t seem convinced he was the franchise quarterback for the Browns. In a year of proof for Mayfield, he fell flat on his face, barely passing the 3,000 passing yard mark while posting a horrible 17-13 TD-INT ratio. Mayfield played through injury for most of the season, but the Browns decided they needed to go in a different direction.
Six of Cleveland’s nine losses were by six runs or less. Theoretically, even an average quarterback game would have led to two or three more wins, which could have been enough for the Browns to qualify for the playoffs. They have one of the best offensive lines and running games 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 a lot and they were already close at the start.
How the NFL Schedule Helps Cleveland
The problem with the Browns’ 2022 season projection is obviously Deshaun Watson’s situation. Watson will only receive $1 million in base salary in 2022, which tells you that the parties involved are preparing for a suspension. Yahoo Sports reports that all civil trials should be pushed back to 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? It’s a guess, but it looks like we should find out very soon. Once this news is known, the betting markets will react extremely quickly. Right now, the Browns aren’t even able to bet on certain markets such as the total win and “playoff date” market.
However, Cleveland is listed at +200 to win the AFC North, a three-way tie atop the division with the Ravens and Bengals. If it’s a short suspension, they’ll likely become the favorites to win the division based on what the market is telling us. If it’s a longer suspension, their chances will drop. Cleveland is also +900 to win the AFC, fifth-best odds and 18 to 1 to win the Super Bowlthe 10th best rating.
However, schedule officials have certainly done the Browns a favor regarding any possible suspension of Watson early in the season. Here are the first four games on Cleveland’s schedule:
against the New York Jets
These four teams currently have win totals that project them to finish below .500. Pittsburgh’s win total is pegged at 7.5 wins. The Jets and Panthers have a winning total of 5.5 wins, while the The Falcons’ win total is pegged at 4.5 wins, which is tied for the lowest in the league with the Texans. All four teams are heavy favorites to miss the playoffs, with the The Steelers have the best chance of making the playoffs at +300.
If Watson is suspended for the first four games, the Browns could have been in trouble in a busy AFC with a tougher schedule. Instead, there’s no reason to believe Jacoby Brissett (or even Baker Mayfield) can’t go at least 3-1 or even 4-0 with this schedule. The Browns need to tread water until Watson returns from any possible suspension, and with this early-season schedule, chances are they can do even better than just tread water.
While there’s certainly a chance for a longer Watson suspension that would hamper the Browns’ chances to a crippling level, there’s also the possibility that his suspension could come to light. If you think Watson will make it out of the NFL pretty easily, the Browns could be a good low buy bet in the futures market right now. Once news of the suspension hits, any potential value will dissipate, especially once people take a closer look at the schedule. There’s definitely a chance that the news will go the other way and you end up holding a worthless bet slip, but that’s the risk we’re taking.