Dawgs By Wager: Does Vegas think Browns are heading in the right direction?

Jeff Bottari

"If I was a gambling fan..."

A recorded total of $1.34 billion was wagered on football during the year 2011 in Nevada, the only state where gambling on every major sport is legal. It accounted for about 41% of their entire betting volume across all sports that year. And it has only gone up from there.

While more of that is bet on Super Bowl Sunday than any other single day of the year, the gambling fans can get in on the NFL action as early as right now, or even two months ago. These early bets are commonly referred to as "football futures," and they offer some insight into how the oddsmakers feel about each of the NFL's 32 teams.

Now, before you get too excited about how the betting lines and odds we're about to examine have moved over the course of this offseason for the Cleveland Browns, it's also important to keep in mind that these figures change based on public perception and betting patterns as well. At the end of the day, the goal of an oddsmaker is to create equal action on both sides of any given line.

So, in addition to their in-depth statistical analysis and professional opinion, we also get a peek into how the gambling public at large view these teams. And it is a large gambling public.

What are the odds?

In the table below are the current individual betting odds for the Browns to win the Super Bowl, the AFC Championship, and the money line for them to finish atop the AFC North, respectively, as provided by Bovada.lv. In addition, there are the odds as they were offered in early March of this year, prior to free agency, and early June of last year.

Cleveland Browns Odds by Bovada.lv
Bet Today March 2014 June 2013
Super Bowl Winner 50/1 66/1 75/1
AFC Champion 22/1 33/1 40/1
AFC North Leader +500 - +750

At first glace, 50 to 1 might appear low to some and great to others, depending on your perspective. After all, you're betting in field of 32, but the leaders sit at 6/1 (Seahawks) and 7/1 (Broncos). The Browns fall all the way to 21st in the NFL, where they're tied with six other teams, including the Lions, Dolphins, and Redskins.

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Most importantly though, compare this to the previous year or even a month ago. Over the course of less than three months, the Browns have jumped up from 66/1. You can see a similar pattern with the odds on winning the AFC Championship.

But not so fast, Lloyd.

It would be incorrect to assume the team is suddenly and exactly that much more likely to win the Super Bowl or AFC just because of their offseason additions during free agency and the draft. Instead, think of it as Vegas decreasing the return on investment for bets placed after the line change because they want to maximize profits by balancing the action.

In other words, to some measurable extent, they are respecting the Browns improvements, even if it's to a certain degree an acknowledgement of public perception about these improvements, likely influenced by bets already placed.

The money line for finishing atop the AFC North division represents a similar decrease of return on investment for the same reasons: it appears the team has gotten better.

Side note, if you're not familiar with how a money line works: If it's a positive (+) amount, it represents your profit in the case of a win for every $100 you wager. If it's negative (-), it represents the amount you'll have to wager in order to win $100.

But wait, there's more!

If you enjoy prop bets, there's something for you as well. The Browns' own Johnny Manziel is featured in a couple early NFL player proposition wagers.

The 22nd overall pick in this year's draft, who's currently taking third-team snaps in OTAs, actually ranks as high as third in the odds to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, coming in at 6/1. He's behind only Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans, both of whom are at 4/1.  Blake Bortles, the third overall pick, is at a lowly 20/1. Even Teddy Bridgewater is at a noticeably higher 12/1.

And Vegas doesn't even expect Manziel to start all 16 games. In another early prop bet, they put his over/under for starts this season at a measly 9½.

While we're at it, we can take a quick look at how the Browns fare in their season opener. This time the odds are brought to us by Vegasinsider.com. The point spread for the opening game at Pittsburgh currently favors the Steelers by 5½.

Before you get too upset, remember that typically in the NFL, home-field advantage is worth an automatic average of about 2.5 points in the host team's favor. Additionally, the Browns have been an abysmal 1-14 in openers since the 1999 expansion, which is unsurprisingly last in the league during that span.

And oddsmakers tend to like Pittsburgh in these home openers. Since 1999, they've only lost one opener hosted at Heinz Field and are now on a 10-0 consecutive run. Some might consider that the +5½ points for the Browns in 2014 shows a lot of respect.

Perspective and Perception

As we discussed before, oddsmakers respond and adjust based on public perception and betting patterns. If a line is consistently moving in "favor" of a team, meaning that line adjustment illustrates the team is expected to do well in their respective sport, or on that specific wager, it could represent the public's bias in favor of that team. The line has moved to make the opposing bet appear more lucrative.

In a bet on a single team to win the future Super Bowl, you're wagering against a field of 31 other teams. We look at these lines a little differently, but it's essentially the inverse of the same idea. For example, as we see above, when the line is moving in "favor" of the Browns' likelihood to do well, it can be seen as an attempt to make the wager appear less lucrative.

This could very well mean public perception has led to a lot of money being bet on the Browns. Or that the oddsmakers really do think the team's made strides to improve their chances. It's most likely some combination of both.

Well, the Browns should take the positive vibes from anywhere they can get them. This was a team being called the "laughingstock of the league" in early January.

Boy, what a great offseason can do!

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