It’s possible that no unit has improved more from last year to this year than the Browns’ defense, up there with the Vikings’ defense, which has also added significant reinforcements. The Browns added safety John Johnson, cornerback Troy Hill, cornerback Greg Newsome, linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, while cornerback Greedy Williams and safety Grant Delpit are both back after missing all of last season with injury.
However, the Browns are starting from a lower base point than last year’s 11-5 record suggests, as they faced a relatively easy schedule and only had four wins by more than one score, as opposed to three double digit losses, leading to them ranking 25th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential. They could have won more than four games by more than one score if they didn’t play as conservatively as they did and they will likely have to open their offense up more against tougher competition in 2021, but that will put more pressure on quarterback Baker Mayfield, who remains an inconsistent, if high upside option under center.
If Mayfield can take a step forward, this might be the most balanced team in the league, but the uncertainty with Mayfield keeps me from ranking the Browns up there with the top contenders in the league and they happen to be playing one of those contenders week one, with a trip to Kansas City on the schedule. The Browns could still make this a game, but my calculated line is Kansas City -5, so we’re not really getting line value with the Browns at +5.5. I would have liked them more at 6, but the line has dropped to 5.5 everywhere, so this will be a no confidence pick.
Kansas City Chiefs 31 Cleveland Browns 26
Pick against the spread: Cleveland +5.5