Could the Browns really win the AFC North?
It may seem like a ridiculous premise to suggest that a team that suffered through a winless season one year could actually end up winning its division the next.
But don’t forget, this is the National Football League, where sick teams tend to get a lot better in a hurry (and vice versa).
Who saw the Los Angeles Rams coming out of nowhere last year to stake their claim as a powerhouse in the NFC West? Or the Jacksonville Jaguars comfortably winning the AFC South, then finishing one victory short of the Super Bowl?
So as much as we might fully expect the usual in the NFL once again this year (ie. the Patriots winning the AFC East or the Packers making the playoffs), we should also be looking for this year’s Cinderella stories. As bettors, if we can predict the unexpected before it happens, we have the chance of being rewarded with a windfall of cash on the futures market – and that’s what the Browns could present in 2018 for anyone willing to take a shot.
3 Reasons To Bet The Browns To Win The AFC North
Not convinced? We’re not surprised. But here are 3 reasons why Cleveland to win the AFC North might actually be a wager worth making in 2018.
1. They’re going to be a lot better
I don’t think there’s really much doubt about this. After going 0-16 a year ago, the Browns’ season Over/Under win total has steamed up from an opener of 4.5 all the way to 6 at some books.
Any guesses on how much percent improvement 6 wins would be on zero? INFINITY. So is 1 win, for that matter, so you could argue that the Browns will be the most improved team in the NFL if they can simply get into the win column in 2018. Obviously, the betting market expects them to do a lot more than that, and I agree.
Regardless of who starts the season at quarterback (Tyrod Taylor or #1 draft pick Baker Mayfield), the Browns should dramatically cut down on the turnovers that plagued them last year. They’ve also made some nice upgrades at various other positions, plus the schedulemaker has thrown them a few nice bones with games against a slew of non-playoff squads from last year.
I can honestly see the Browns getting to 8 wins pretty easily this year – which might be enough to contend for first in the AFC North, because…
2. Outside of Pittsburgh, the AFC North isn’t that tough
Not that long ago, the AFC North was a bit of a Murderer’s Row. Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Baltimore were all strong teams who beat each other up, and the division even accounted for both AFC wild card entries in 2011 and 2014. In fact, from 2008-15, 9 of the 16 wild card spots in the AFC went to teams from the AFC North.
But times have changed. It’s two years and counting since the AFC North produced a wild card squad. Yes, Baltimore came close last year (losing to Buffalo on a tiebreaker), but were the Ravens really that good? First of all, they were 9-7. Second, their schedule included games against the Bears, Dolphins and Colts. And third, when they needed a victory at home on the final weekend to qualify for the playoffs, they couldn’t even beat the 6-9 Bengals.
Speaking of Cincinnati, the Bengals’ ship of AFC contention seems to have sailed as well. They’ve gone 13-18-1 over the past two years after five straight trips to the AFC playoffs (losing in the wild card game each time), and Andy Dalton has repeatedly shown that he isn’t a franchise quarterback. With an awful offensive line in front of him once again this year, I’m not expecting Dalton to finally break through.
If Baltimore and Cincy are mediocre once again in 2018, that leaves the Pittsburgh Steelers as the only hurdle between the Browns and top spot in the AFC North. Granted, that’s a big hurdle, but it might not be as big as it looks because…
3. The Steelers could be vulnerable
It hasn’t exactly been a smooth summer for the Steelers. First there was the Le’Veon Bell contract holdout, then Ben Roethlisberger was concussed in training camp. Oh, and superstar wideout Antonio Brown has battled through a quad injury throughout training camp.
When I wrote this article, there was no end in sight to Bell’s holdout. Roethlisberger is only getting older and more brittle, and his best days are behind him anyways. And the thing about quad/groin injuries like the one Brown has dealt with is that they tend to linger.
With question marks surrounding each of the members of the Steelers’ vaunted Killer B’s, that’s a whole lot of uncertainty about just how good Pittsburgh will be this year. There’s a possibility that the Steelers work all of those things out, win the AFC North and end up being the Patriots’ top challenger in the AFC. But you also can’t deny the possibility (slim or not) that things come crashing down in Pittsburgh, the way they eventually do for every NFL franchise located outside of Foxboro.
Will the Browns win the AFC North?
Of course, it’s much more unlikely than likely that the Browns will win the AFC North. So if we were being offered even money odds on Cleveland to win the division this year, we’d quickly be running in the other direction.
However, there’s a whole lot of potential reward for very little risk when it comes to the Browns to win the AFC North in 2018. More than 12 times your money, to be exact, as 5Dimes was offering +1250 odds on Cleveland to win the division at the time of writing.
Is betting the Browns to win the AFC North like lighting your money on fire? Most will think so, given Cleveland’s miserable history. But unlike actually taking a $20 out of your wallet and holding it under a lighter, there’s no guarantee that a bet on the Browns to win the AFC North will go up in flames. There’s a possibility that your $20 could turn into $250 if a few things go Cleveland’s way in 2018.
And I’m willing to shell out a $20 just to find out.