National Football Post has the Vegas lines for the 2014 NFL season. (If you aren’t familiar with how over/under betting with the +/- system works, this is a great primer.)
Cleveland has the line at 6.5, with a -150 for over and +130 for under. Vegas likes the under, it seems, depending on your point of view. The payout is better if they go over, but there’s higher risk. If you’re too lazy to click the link, here’s how it would work. If I laid $100 on the Browns losing more than 6.5 games, I’d win $230. However, if I bet $150 dollars on them to win more than 6.5 games, I’d win $250. (Max bet is $3000.)
Let’s look at the schedule.
First off, I hate Week 4 byes. Way too early in the season for my tastes. I think Cleveland will be stronger defensively than offensively (which would suit Pettine just fine, and me too). Last year, by weighted offensive DVOA, we were 25th. (Weighted puts more weight at the end of the year.) That’s… really, really bad. We were slightly better at running than passing, and I think we’ll do much better in running with Ben Tate and Terrence West. Passing… a lot depends on Hoyer, if he was as good as he seemed in his limited playing time last year. Unless Hoyer is hurt again, Johnny Football won’t start until after the bye at the earliest, and I seriously doubt he starts this year unless Hoyer is hurt or MASSIVELY shits the bed. Let’s say we have a league average DVOA — that would be Green Bay minus Aaron Rodgers last year — to account for the team improving with the new players and a stronger offensive line.
Cleveland was much worse than I expected at defense last year — 27th overall. We were actually 23rd overall at both run and pass defense — above league average against the run, below league average against the pass. However, everybody between 23 and 27 at one skill or the other was much better at the opposing skill. The defensive talent added so far is weighted towards the defense, and Pettine’s love of speed vs. strength might mean rushing defense only improves slightly. Buffalo was #2 against the pass (somehow) but #19 against the run. Still, I think we have more pure talent, and I think Cleveland should end up in the top half of the NFL overall, maybe as high as top ten with some luck.
Special Teams were a slight strength for Cleveland — #18 — mostly thanks to good kickoffs and punt returns. Special teams tend to be all over the place, but Gilbert is supposed to have some returning chops (if you want your #2 CB returning kicks or punts — I don’t). Hawkins does too, and if Benjamin is healthy, he can be electric. In any case, we’ll set it to the side.
Cleveland matches up well, I think, with other teams that rely heavily on defense but have a weaker offense. I feel more comfortable handling great passing teams (with two shut down corners) than great running teams. Our first three opponents are Pittsburgh, New Orleans, and Baltimore. None of those teams had a great running game last year. Baltimore was dead last, Pittsburgh was 29th, and New Orleans was 19th.
Pittsburgh strikes me as our ideal opponent, if my estimates are right — a team that needs significant defensive contributions to win and no running game. They will be a good test. We’re in Pittsburgh for that one. I’ll be slightly pessimistic and call it a close loss. New Orleans was 5th in overall offense and 10th in defense; I think we lose there too. We’ll go into the bye with a win, though — Baltimore has a damn good chance of finishing dead last in the AFC North this year. Flacco has always been overrated, and they didn’t get better at running back.
The next four games are wins, in my opinion. Tennessee had a very weak draft and was just average last year. We’ll beat Pittsburgh in Cleveland. Jacksonville is Jacksonville, and Blake Bortles was only slightly more NFL ready than Manziel. Oakland had a very good draft. If McFadden is healthy, I’d actually think about taking Oakland, but who expects McFadden to be healthy at this point?That would make us 5-3 at the midway point in the season.
Next four games we go 2-2. Houston’s definitely a win [although that’s a mighty scary defense now] as is Tampa Bay. Cincinnati is iffy, and Atlanta is definitely better. 3-1 is possible here, but I’ll go with 2-2. We’re 7-5 at this point, already beating the Vegas line, with four games to go.
Unfortunately, I see one layup win in that set: against Baltimore. Indy had one of the worst drafts in the NFL. They also have Andrew Luck. Ugh. Cam Newton is the worst nightmare of a Cleveland defense. If Cleveland has developed well, Cincinnati could be a win, but I suspect they won’t. 1-3 to finish out the season.
That gives us 8-8. We beat the Vegas projection! Unless, of course, Hoyer gets hurt again and Manziel turns out to be yet another Cleveland QB bust. But still, the season hasn’t started yet. Next stop: Mediocrityville! (Your mayor — the Miami Dolphins.)