Just four franchises have never played in a Super Bowl: Cleveland, Houston, Jacksonville and Detroit. With all due respect to those latter three, only the Browns have a shot at playing in Super Bowl 56 next February in Los Angeles. Led by former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, the Browns largely focused on upgrading their defense off an 11-5 season and rare playoff berth/win. For 2021, Cleveland has an Over/Under win total of 9.5 but has one of the 10 toughest schedules in the NFL.
Last year, the Browns finished with a winning record for the first time since 2007 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2002. And they upset the Steelers in Pittsburgh in the wild-card round before pushing the Chiefs to the limit in a Divisional Round loss in Kansas City. There appears no question this franchise is on the rise.
An offense with Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Austin Hooper is pretty stacked. Thus, GM Andrew Berry focused in free agency largely on the defense, which allowed 26.2 points last regular season – second-most of any playoff team.
The Browns had been chasing Clowney, the 2014 No. 1 overall pick and three-time Pro Bowl defensive end, for a few years -- losing out on him to the Titans last offseason. However, Clowney signed a one-year, $10 million deal and will give Cleveland a potentially dynamic 1-2 punch at end with Myles Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick in 2017.
Garrett had 12 sacks in 14 games last year, his third year in a row with double digits. Clowney has yet to reach double-digit sacks in a season and had zero in 2020 with Tennessee, but the talent is there and now he won't be double-teamed. Over the last three seasons, Clowney has ranked fifth in the NFL with a pass-rush win rate of 25 percent. During that span, Garrett ranks third at 26 percent.
With Clowney, Garrett and Mayfield, the Browns now have three former No. 1 overall picks on the roster; no other team has more than one. Berry also added defensively the likes of another end in Takk McKinley, tackle Malik Jackson, linebacker Anthony Walker Jr., safety John Johnson and defensive back Troy Hill.
Safety was a problem spot for the Browns all last year after losing 2020 second-round pick Grant Delpit to a season-ending Achilles injury in training camp. Cleveland safeties gave up 12 touchdown passes when they were the nearest defender in coverage, the highest number in the NFL. Johnson gave up only one touchdown as the nearest defender.
The Browns' 2021 schedule is ranked as the ninth-toughest in the league as their 17 opponents – hosting the Cardinals is the 17th game – were a combined 140-130-2 last season.
Cleveland Browns trends/William Hill Sportsbook odds
- 2020 record: 11-5 (6-10 against the spread, 9-7 Over/Under)
- 2021 strength of schedule rank: ninth (opponents' combined winning percentage of .518)
- 2021 Over/Under win total: 9.5
- SportsLine Projection Model forecasted wins: 8.5
- Odds to win Super Bowl 56: +2200
- To win AFC: +1100
- To win AFC North: +180
- To make playoffs: Yes -175, no +150
- NFL MVP odds: Baker Mayfield +4000, Nick Chubb +10000
Cleveland Browns Home Opponents
- Baltimore Ravens: Cleveland lost 47-42 last year and is 2-8 SU & ATS in past 10 home meetings
- Pittsburgh Steelers: Browns have won past two at home in series but didn't cover last year (24-22)
- Cincinnati Bengals: Cincy has dropped past three on road in series but is 2-1 ATS
- Denver Broncos: Denver has dropped past three in Cleveland, last in 2015
- Las Vegas Raiders: Silver & Black were short road dogs last year and won 16-6
- Detroit Lions: Detroit has dropped its past two as road team in series, last in 2013
- Chicago Bears: Teams have split two games in Cleveland since Browns returned to NFL
- Houston Texans: Browns were -4.5 last year vs. visiting Texans and won 10-7 in windy conditions
- Arizona Cardinals: Added 17th opponent; matchup of former Oklahoma QB Heisman winners between Mayfield and Kyler Murray
Cleveland Browns Road Opponents
- Baltimore Ravens: Cleveland is 2-8 (4-6 ATS) in past 10 trips to Baltimore
- Pittsburgh Steelers: Pittsburgh's 17-game home win streak in series ended in wild-card loss
- Cincinnati Bengals: Just three wins for Browns in past 10 at Cincy, but one was last year 37-34
- Los Angeles Chargers: Bolts have won all four home meetings (last in 2017) in series since Browns returned
- Kansas City Chiefs: Kansas City escaped with 22-17 home win in Divisional Round of playoffs
- Green Bay Packers: First trip to Lambeau for Browns since 31-13 loss in 2013
- Minnesota Vikings: Minnesota lost last home meeting 31-27 in 2013
- New England Patriots: Pats are 5-0 (4-1 ATS) in regular-season home games in series this century
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