We have officially reached the slowest part of the NFL calendar. Minicamps and OTAs are done, but we're still about a month away from training camps opening up. While we don't expect much news from the NFL until training camp begins, there is a belief that we're nearing a decision on a potential suspension for Browns' quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Watson has not played since 2020, due to a combination of his dissatisfaction with the Houston Texans and what is now 26 allegations of sexual misconduct. The Browns decided that Watson's talent was worth the risk and subsequent PR nightmare, and traded for him in March. Just a few days ago, Watson settled 20 of his cases, but he's not out of the woods. It's not believed that settling his cases will have any impact on a potential suspension. Over the weekend, it was reported by the Washington Post that the NFL is seeking a full-season suspension for Watson.
While the Watson situation is much bigger than football and betting, there's no denying the impact any news will have on the field and with the betting market. Since the Browns acquired Watson, they've already dropped from 18-to-1 to win the Super Bowl to 25-to-1. They were once favorites to win the AFC North, but now they have the third best odds in the division. While the market has certainly adjusted due to the likely looming suspension, it's not too late to get in on some action. Here's two potentially lucrative ways to fade the Browns before the suspension news drops.
AFC North - Dual Forecast
While the AFC North may not be as hyped as the AFC West or the NFC West, it's still one of the very best divisions in football with four teams that expect to compete. The Cincinnati Bengals made it to the Super Bowl last season. The Baltimore Ravens were 8-3 at one point before their injuries became too much to overcome. Mike Tomlin hasn't had a losing record with the Steelers since taking over in 2007.
Even if Deshaun Watson was absolved and played all 17 games, you'd be able to make a very good case that the Ravens and Bengals are the two best teams in this division. If Jacoby Brissett starts a lot of games for the Browns this season, it's hard to envision a world where they can compete with two very good teams. He averaged 5.7 yards per attempt this past season with Miami in five starts. There is no downfield threat at all with Brissett, which will allow teams to stack the box and hone in on the Browns' run game.
Currently at BetMGM, you can bet that the Ravens and Bengals will occupy the top two seeds in the AFC North. This is the chalkiest bet in the market, but it still pays out at +175 which is more than good enough.
Browns to finish last in division
Last season, the Cleveland Browns finished the season with an 8-9 record, which tied them with Baltimore for the worst record in the AFC North. This season, the Steelers are prohibitive -190 favorites to finish the season in the basement of the division. The Browns are +400 to finish in last place.
Baker Mayfield played through injury from Week 2 on in 2021, which severely impacted his play and the Browns' ability to win. There were questions about whether Mayfield is a franchise quarterback to begin the season anyway, which is the main reason why the Browns went out and acquired Watson. However, even while playing with a torn labrum and other injuries, Mayfield is a better quarterback than Jacoby Brissett. So with the Watson suspension looming, it appears the Browns will play a sizable part of their season with Brissett under center. This would mean that rather than improving their biggest question mark, they downgraded.
The Steelers are the favorites to finish in last place, but they're coming off a nine-win season and a playoff berth. The combination of Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett can't be worse than the version of Ben Roethlisberger we saw last season. As mentioned above, Mike Tomlin's teams are always in the mix. We saw him coach a team with Duck Hodges to an 8-8 record a few years ago. If you're giving me Jacoby Brissett and Kevin Stefanski at +400 to finish below Mike Tomlin, I'm taking it all day long.
The Ravens finished last in the division in 2021, but it's really hard to envision that repeating itself. In fact, the Ravens are the current betting favorites to win the division at +165. They were 8-3 last season before injuries to Lamar Jackson and a boatload of other important players submarined their season. As long as Baltimore doesn't have another catastrophic season on the injury front, they'll avoid the basement.
A lot of people around the NFL expect the Bengals to take a step backwards in 2022, and that's not a terrible take. They did win the AFC last year; it'd be easy to take a step back from that. However, with Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase another year older, I certainly don't expect them to fall into the basement of the division.
If we're banking on a lengthy suspension for Watson and a lot of Jacoby Brissett under center for the Browns this season, then +400 odds to finish last in the division seems like a good bet to make.