Allow me to quickly touch on activity deemed illegal. Here are the results and opening lines of the Cleveland Browns last three games:
Cleveland (+6) 17 Oakland 24
Cleveland (-3) 6 Seattle 3
Cleveland (+9.5) 10 San Francisco 20
It’s hard to dismiss these consecutive game scores as a pure matter of coincidence, and that’s why I looked into it. It turns out that the verdict is out on the Browns, and the verdict says that this team is fundamentally simple, highly predictable, and uniquely compromised. And if your a fan they’re downright frustrating.
The Cleveland Browns have the largest percentage gap between their probability of success to probability of failure. What that means is that the Browns chances of winning the game outright is very small but relatively equal to their chances of losing by a significantly greater margin than 11 points (the Vegas line). In between those two highly unlikely scenarios is a scenario where any outcome is likely to be right around or under 11 points. Because of how unlikely it is that the Browns beat the Texans outright or lose to the Texans by more than 11, their probability of winning a game outright–where they find themselves the heavy underdogs in–is far more likely than any other team getting 11 points. In other words, the Browns are built perfectly to contend within and around the spread; that can either be a good thing or bad thing for a fan depending on how well you take to losses that, if not for a few unlucky bounces here and there, could have easily been wins, and how well you take to the overwhelming reality that the Browns aren’t going to turn the tables on the Texans and blow them out altogether.
All of this–hovering over the Vegas point spread and keeping the margin of victory or defeat at a minimal level—is made possible due to the perfect synchronization of the offense, defense, and special teams. When you combine 1) a stellar defense with 2) an offense that is out-of-this-world-bad with 3) a poor special teams coverage unit and 4) a still dangerous Joshua Cribbs as the return man, it creates one uniquely-messed up, complex, frustrating, viewing experience every Sunday. By now, Browns fans know every tendency of this teams offense in relation to the teams defense like it’s the back of their hand. And Vegas odds makers do, too.
Teams go into each week with a blue print to follow in order to give themselves the best chance to win, and this blue print changes from week to week with each opponent. The Browns have a blue print of their own, but unlike the rest of the leagues team’s, their map to success stays the same each week, regardless of the team they’re about to face. The bullet points to a successful Sunday against the Texans are the same as they were last week against the Niners and the same as they will be when they play the Ravens and Steelers. Forget about Joe Haden matching up against Andre Johnson, the Texans front seven pressuring Colt McCoy, the Browns defense trying to limit Arian Foster, and any other small scale matchup in this game, the Browns recipe for victory is as follows…
-Do not turn the ball over, but if you have to, please do it on the opponents side of the field.
-Get one pass play over 40 yards and hope that it results in a touchdown.
-Stall the other teams offense so that they’re never ahead by more than seven points.
-Win the field position battle and win it by a large amount.
-Get a much overdue pick six, maybe even two of them. If not, a Josh Cribbs punt return will work the same.
-Hope that Phil Dawson continues hitting fifty yard field goals.
It’s an elegantly simple list, yet it happens to be irrationally unpredictable, as the bulk of occurrences listed above are the hardest variables to account for when predicting the outcome of any game. Once again though, that can either be a good thing or bad thing for the Browns as they most likely will lose (thanks to the offense), but they will be in position to steal a win (thanks to the defense). So why dwindle the Browns “winning blue print” down to such a short, broad scope? Because the Browns have already familiarized us with what will happen each and every Sunday. Their defense is extremely reliable and their offense is reliably unreliable unlike any other in the league.
On Sunday we know the pocket will collapse on Colt McCoy within 2.12 seconds of the snap. We know Evan Moore will catch everything that is thrown to him, unfortunately, though, that total will come out to equal three catches for 27 yards. We know that Colt McCoy will scramble for a couple of hard earned first downs and people will say, “See, that’s what Colt brings, he knows how to get the tough yards, he can become the franchise quarterback, he just needs some time.”
We know that the Texans kickoffs will result a touchback and the Browns will be forced to drive 80 yards down the field for a touchdown; it will take them a minimum of 8 minutes to complete the feet, and the odds are that it most likely won’t happen. (That’s the reason for the pick six portion of the blue print) We know that, because McCoy takes so many hits, there will be a couple of “roughing the passer-automatic first down” penalties and every single time that happens I will clap and fist-pump as if the team just scored a touchdown.
We know that Ben Watson will run a route across the middle of the field and when he’s open he will have to reach back across his body to catch a pass, and because of this adjustment, the play will result in ten less net yards than it would if he caught it in stride. Or it will just be an incompletion. We also know that Ben Watson won’t be the only one repositioning his body to catch an under-thrown lob pass, the same thing will happen to Josh Cribbs and Greg Little. Speaking of Greg Little…
We know that we will go into a game with hopes of seeing Greg Little make strides and we will walk away from the game without seeing any of those strides come to fruition. We know that Joe Haden will do a good job covering Andre Johnson because he really is one of the best corners in the league. We know that Arian Foster will gain more than a hundred yards on the ground because the Browns have allowed every team that honor so they’re not going to strip Foster of that accolade.
We know that the over/under for the number of Colt McCoy pass attempts that travel more than 20 yards in the air will be 1.5, and we know that the over under for Colt McCoy completions over 20 yards will be 2.5. We know that Peyton Hillis will be wearing a backwards hat instead of a helmet. We know that guy named Chris Ogdhyun-I can’t even spell his name–will be lining up as the starting tail-back. We know that I will pick up Chris Ogbonnaya from fantasy football waivers and I’ll be way too happy about it too. We know that head coach Pat Shurmur will be calling the plays and of all the plays he calls, 10 to 15 of them will be highly questionable.
We know that the Browns offense will do everything in their power to prevent a shootout (one in which they would not be able to participate in) by slowing the pace of the game down and draining as much game clock as possible. We know that the defense will give up some early scoring drives in the game, but will eventually clamp down because Houston will keep the ball on the ground as they know that a seven point lead is safe against the Browns offense.
And last but certainly not least… We know that this Sundays game against the Texans is a must win game for the Browns if they want to remain in any type of reasonable playoff contention, but unfortunately, we also know that win, lose, or draw, the Cleveland Browns are far from being contenders even if their record is 4-4 after 8 games.
Prediction: Houston 24 Cleveland 17