Should The Cleveland Browns Be Favored In The AFC North?

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Sports betting on the Cleveland Browns to win the AFC North has been a ludicrous notion for decades; their last division title was back during the 1989 season. But heading into the 2021 season, you can make a case for the Browns to win the division. It sounds crazy, but maybe they should even be favored.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been the team to beat in the AFC North. They won the division last year despite a late-season collapse. That collapse and the absence of a running game will make it harder to get behind them to win it again in 2021.

Most fans will likely get behind the Baltimore Ravens. With one of the best defenses in the league and a dynamic and exciting quarterback like Lamar Jackson leading the offense, it is not hard to see why. But while the Ravens have a top-notch defense and run game, the passing game is lacking.

In today’s NFL, a good passing game is a must. However, with their defense and run game, they are still considered the team to beat in the AFC North.

2021 AFC North Odds--Division WinnerBetMGM DraftKingsPointsBet
Baltimore Ravens+115+110+110
Cleveland Browns+150+175+170
Pittsburgh Steelers+400+350+365
Cincinnati Bengals+2500+2500+2400

So, then why should the Cleveland Browns be favored? Or should they?

Cleveland Browns Are On The Rise (Really, They Are)

As easy as it is to get excited about the Cleveland Browns following last season’s success, many fans are probably still a little skeptical. Many thought the franchise had turned the corner after the second-half turnaround in 2018 (after Hue Jackson got fired and Freddie Kitchens took over). The Browns were a popular bet heading into the 2019 season, as was quarterback Bake Mayfield for MVP.

But in true Browns-fashion, Mayfield and the Browns crashed and burned in 2019. With the pain of that memory still fresh, it is not hard to understand why some fans may be reluctant to get on board this time. The Browns have shown signs of life in the past only to fail. Why believe things are going to be different this time?

After watching Mayfield and the offense grow throughout the season last year, it is easier to believe the offense will not lose a step this time. Their offensive line is one of the best in the league, they have a great tandem at running back in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and the passing game should improve with Odell Beckham Jr. coming back.

As the No. 14 scoring offense last season (25.5 points/game), it is safe to say the offense is good, but it can be better and should be in Kevin Stefanski’s second year. But to win the division or become the favorite, the defense must improve—and it has (on paper).

The Browns signed two defensive backs via free agency (Troy Hill and John Johnson) off the Rams No. 1 rated secondary (according to PFF) to improve their 26th ranked unit. Defensive tackle Malik Jackson, end Takkarist McKinley, and linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. should give the front seven a boost.

But the most notable addition was that of defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. If the former No. 1 pick can stay healthy, he and Myles Garret could give offensive coordinators nightmares in 2021.

So—Should The Browns Be Favored To Win The AFC North?

Heading into the season, the answer to that question is no. But it is not because the Ravens are the better team. While the Browns are a team on the rise, they have to earn the title of ‘team to beat.’ Looking great on paper is one thing, but appearances can be deceiving. To be the team to beat, they need to dominate their division on the field.

They beat the Steelers twice last season, once in the regular season, then again in the wild card round. But the Ravens won both regular-season games. While one could argue that the Browns deserved to win the second game—they did not.

But we do know because of that game that the potential is there. If the improvements in the secondary and in the front seven can pay off, the Browns will beat the Ravens in 2021. Baltimore’s offense came back down to Earth a little last season. Unless they can develop a passing game, it will fall a little more in 2021.

As for Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, they will not be pushovers by any means but Cleveland should be able to beat them. So, if the Browns can take the Ravens (and they could), they will win the AFC North. Go ahead and take the Browns to win the AFC North in 2021.

About the Author

Travis Pulver

Travis Pulver is a lifelong football fan, something he says comes naturally having been born in the football-crazy state of Texas. Through the years, his love of sports has extended into baseball, basketball, golf, and rugby. Life currently finds him in Indiana with his wife and two kids.

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