Projection, speculation, and utter nonsense: these are the things that drive the offseason in any sports league, and the NFL certainly has had plenty of all three so far over the course of the past couple of months. While the Pittsburgh Steelers have hogged quite a bit of the attention in each of those phases, the Cleveland Browns—their AFC North rivals—have gotten plenty of coverage as well.
Part of that is because they almost posted a winning record after literally winning zero games the year before, which is a pretty big deal. When teams are that bad one season, they usually post incremental growth over the next year or two before really posing any sort of threat, the variable being whether or not they acquired a franchise quarterback in the meantime.
The Browns think they may have with the selection of Baker Mayfield in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, and unlike their other hypothetical future franchise quarterbacks in the past, Mayfield has already yielded results on the field, which included throwing an NFL rookie-record 27 touchdown passes in only 14 games.
All of this, plus their significant moves in the offseason so far, has led them to become one of the trendy teams to jump aboard this offseason, both in fandom and in betting. Las Vegas already made an early projection that they would win the AFC North in 2019.
There is another projection now out from Las Vegas, courtesy of CG Technology, projecting the win totals of each team in the NFL for the upcoming season. The Browns are projected by them to win nine games, something they haven’t done in over a decade.
The Steelers, as it happens, are also projected to win nine games from CG, tied for the ninth-most wins in the projection simulation, along with the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings. The New England Patriots are the only team projected to win 11 games, but the Kansas City Chiefs, the Los Angeles Rams, the New Orleans Saints, and the Los Angeles Chargers are all projected to win 10 or 10.5 as well.
Much of that will have been from the Odell Beckham, Jr. effect—and perhaps some from the Steelers trading Antonio Brown as well. When one team loses an All-Pro receiver and the other gains one, that does represent a significant shift in power.
But it’s been a long time since the Browns have even finished second in the division, let alone winning it. They have had a good offseason on paper, but they still have to be able to take it onto the field and win with it. We’ll find out in September just how good they can be.