Calling all bettors! If the Cleveland Browns had not signed Deshaun Watson to a $230 million guaranteed contract, then they might have been a franchise in transition. Instead, they’re all in as they seek to justify one of the most massive gambles in professional sports history.
How dramatically might they improve in 2023? And more pressingly, how will free agency and the upcoming NFL draft impact their title hopes? The following betting odds are based on DraftKings Sportsbook.
Cleveland Browns Super Bowl 58 Odds and Futures
Last February’s early odds for Super Bowl 57 offered clues on what sportsbooks were thinking and how that wove into the thinking of the broader betting market.
For example, the Kansas City Chiefs were the favorite (+650 odds) to win this year’s Super Bowl, while the Buffalo Bills were No. 2. Not too shabby as far as year-long predictions go.
But the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers were Nos. 3 and 4, respectively — though, in fairness, Davante Adams’ status in Green Bay remained unclear at that point. The Tennessee Titans (No. 9) and Denver Broncos (No. 10) clearly underwhelmed. The Eagles weren’t even in the top third.
Naturally, Cleveland wasn’t close to the top. Baker Mayfield was still their starting QB, as they hadn’t yet acquired Watson. The franchise had enjoyed only one winning record since 2008 and had never finished in the top half of the often-competitive AFC North during that stretch.
After Watson came on board, the Browns became a trendy pick, opening the season with +3700 Super Bowl odds, ranking them No. 17 overall, just behind the comparably trendy Raiders.
Somehow, despite a host of warning signs, they’re now tied for 16th with +3500 odds to win Super Bowl 58. As we assess if bettors should lean into these odds, let’s examine a few key takeaways from the Browns’ 2022 campaign.
Deshaun Watson, Nick Chubb, and Other 2022 Season Takeaways
Longtime readers know that I don’t take sides in the NFL, at least when it comes to objective determinations like betting. But I’ll be frank when assessing higher-than-necessary risks that might bite franchises in the butt.
Had the Browns not invested their future in Watson — had the market been such that they had been able to secure him for one season (hypothetically, of course) — then I believe he would have been benched before the end of the season. More than that, if they’d kept Jacoby Brissett under center, they might have had a real shot at the postseason.
To some of you, this might not be shocking. To others, it might be blasphemy. Either way, Brissett outplayed Watson in nearly every facet of the game last season. We might blame Watson’s struggles on the rustiness that comes with sitting out for a season and a half. But I’m not buying that excuse.
Michael Vick missed the better part of three straight seasons, returned to the field at age 30, and earned runner-up honors for Offensive Player of the Year.
Watson isn’t some random player. He’s a three-time Pro Bowler and dual-threat QB who was supposed to give Cleveland a long-term anchor at the NFL’s most coveted position. Yet, despite averaging more time to throw than any other starting quarterback, he frequently wilted.
This is the key story of the 2022 Browns. Because if this Watson experiment fails — if he doesn’t return to objectively quantifiable greatness in 2023 — then how can this franchise possibly compete for a championship?
Elsewhere, we need to consider the longevity of Nick Chubb, one of the most underrated running backs in decades. He’s averaged 5.0+ yards per carry in each of his first five campaigns — the only player to achieve this feat (minimum 100 carries). He’s consistently elite in yards after contact and breaking tackles.
But he also carried this offense more than usual, eclipsing 300 rushing attempts for the first time. The only other time he came close to matching this workload, he landed on injured reserve the following year.
Chubb will turn 28 in December. He’s either at the tail end of his prime or on the verge of beginning his descent. That’s typical for RBs at his age and with his usage history. The question, then, is whether he can still help carry this offense like few other running backs can.
2023 Offseason Moves
As referenced above, oddsmakers believe that the Browns are on the cusp of being a legitimate contender. I’m not buying it, at least not yet. And I might not, despite what Cleveland does this offseason. Much hinges on what kind of quarterback Watson still is, and whether Chubb can still be an elite runner.
But the Browns certainly could bring in help at wideout and on defense, where they often struggled to stop the run, as well as pressure opposing QBs. How might free agency and the upcoming draft impact their odds?
NFL Free Agency
March 22 Update: A great get for the Browns, as they traded relatively minimal draft capital for Elijah Moore, who showed enormous promise as a 2021 rookie before disagreements with Jets brass and injuries sullied his sophomore campaign. If he can get back on track in Cleveland, this team will (on paper) have its strongest passing attack in a long time.
In the coming weeks, we’ll update this section with breaking news on other key Browns arrivals and departures through free agency and trades, how it impacts their Super Bowl odds, and how it might inform our decision to bet on them to win it all.
In early May, we’ll update this section on key Browns draft picks and UDFA signings, with an eye toward any instant-impact players who could help catapult them into serious Super Bowl consideration.