American Football International

AFC Favorites Are Same Same, But Different Thanks to Cleveland Browns

The 2019 NFL season is just three weeks away. With rosters basically finalized and a couple preseason games in the books, the oddsmakers have calculated and recalculated their forecasts for the year.

The picture in the AFC looks the same as it ever was, except for one very notable difference.

According to My Top Sportsbooks who review the top sites for you prior to betting, the top-five favorites to make the playoffs out of the AFC this year are.

  1. New England Patriots: -900
  2. Kansas City Chiefs: -450
  3. Indianapolis Colts: -240
  4. LA Chargers: -230
  5. Cleveland Browns: -135

If the last name on that list stands out, it should. The first four all made the playoffs last year and all won at least ten games. The fifth … did not.

The Cleveland Browns Are Shorter than Even Money to Make the Playoffs?

The Cleveland Browns have not made the postseason since 2002. They haven’t won a playoff game since 1994.

Yet, despite their history of futility and the fact that they finished under .500 last year (7-8-1), there’s a great deal of optimism around the 2019 Browns, and it’s not entirely unwarranted.

Not only is sophomore QB Baker Mayfield poised to become one of the elite pivots in the league, the team finished on a 5-2 run last year, which (mostly) coincided with the merciful termination of head coach Hue Jackson.

The only two games the Browns after their Week 11 bye last year were road tilts with Houston (29-13) and Baltimore (26-24), two playoff teams.

As safety Damarious Randall told the Beacon Journal after that narrow loss in Baltimore last December, “At the end of the day, the AFC North is going to come through Cleveland from here on out, and I’m just kind of looking forward to it. The future is bright here.”

Reason to Doubt a Changing of the Guard

If the Browns are going to live up to, and even exceed expectations, first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens is going to need his team to take more than just baby steps. The Browns went 1-5 against playoff teams last year, their only victory coming at home against Baltimore in Week 5, when Hue Jackson was still on the sideline.

In his rookie season, Baker Mayfield was able to put up some impressive numbers, but he was also feasting on some of the worst defenses the NFL had to offer. Twelve of his 27 TD passes (44.4%) came in just four game against the Bengals (twice), Falcons, and Raiders, all three of whom finished in the bottom five of Defensive DVOA. He threw a grand total of two INTs in those four contests.

However, in the five games he played against teams in the top ten of D-DVOA (Baltimore twice, Denver, Houston, LA Chargers), he threw just 8 TDs to 11 INTs.

Yes, he now has an elite wideout to work with in Odell Beckham Jr., but the two will need to develop chemistry quickly with four of the team’s first seven games coming against 2018 playoff teams, including both Super Bowl 53 participants (Rams & Patriots). He will also need to hope Cleveland’s middling offensive line holds up.

Almost every season, a team comes out of nowhere to crash the playoff party (see 2017 Jaguars, for instance) and the Browns are the oddsmakers pick to do so this year. But there are still big obstacles standing on the track for this hype-train.