When the Browns played their final season in 1995 before moving to Baltimore, the franchise was located in the AFC Central division along with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Oilers and Cincinnati Bengals in the 30-team NFL. When the club re-entered the league as an expansion team in 1999, the franchise was placed back into the AFC Central. The Oilers were now the Tennessee Titans while the old Browns were the new Baltimore Ravens.
In 2002, the NFL welcomed their 32nd club when the Houston Texans became the newest (and final) franchise. This made two conferences with a tidy 16 clubs; so the three-division format was scraped for four-divisions per four clubs within. The AFC Central morphed into the AFC North with the Browns, Steelers, Bengals and Ravens as normal rivals. And the AFC North has been the same ever since. Every year – the same format and expectations.
Until this year.
According to SuperBook at the Westgate Resort in Las Vegas, the Browns are now favored to win the division in 2019. Since Cleveland re-entered the NFL, they have never been pre-season favorites to capture any division crown they occupied. Suddenly, with the additions of WR Odell Beckham, Jr., DT Sheldon Richardson, LB Olivier Vernon, RB Kareem Hunt and TE Demetrius Harris, the Browns are +140 favorites followed by the Steelers (+160), Ravens (+250) and Bengals (+800).
In addition, the Browns have gone from 30-1 odds to 14-1 favorites to win the Super Bowl. When was the last time anyone attached the words “Browns” and “Super Bowl” in the same sentence?
While the Browns have improved their roster significantly, other clubs in the division have suffered. The Steelers lost All-World WR Antonio Brown, RB Le’Veon Bell, TE Jesse James, and LB L.J. Fort. Signings include WR Donte Moncrief (who will never be confused as AB), CB Steven Nelson and resigned WR Eli Rogers, LB Anthony Chickillo and DT Daniel McCullers.
The Ravens lost LBs C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith, WR John Brown, and FS Eric Weddle. Baltimore did rebound some by inking RB Mark Ingram and S Earl Thomas; but their defense took a very strong hit and will need the upcoming college draft to fill the biggest holes.
Leaving the Bengals were TE Tyler Kroft and OT Cedric Ogbuehi. They did get OG John Miller and CB B.W. Webb plus resigned TE Tyler Eifert and OT Bobby Hart.
Before the Steelers lost AB and the ensuing OBJ trade, Pittsburgh was 14-1 favorites to capture the Super Bowl and have since been replaced with Cleveland’s 30-1 former odds.
According to VegasInsider.com, their odds of Super Bowl winners are as follows: Patriots 13-2, Chiefs 7-1, Rams 17-2, Saints 12-1, Browns 15-1, Bears 17-1, Colts/Eagles 18-1, and Packers/Vikings 20-1. If you notice, only the Browns and Packers are non-playoff clubs from the 2018 season. The Steelers are listed at 30-1, the Ravens 35-1, while the Bengals come in as 100-1.
Of course, the Browns look great on paper and will need to transfer that talent to the playing field each and every week. The wild card to the upcoming season would have to be the rookie campaign of new head coach Freddie Kitchens and his leadership. Seemingly overnight, the Browns are now trendy and have become one of the most exciting clubs with gifted young talent to offer the Cleveland faithful.
Who says? Why, Vegas Believin’ says.