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Opening lines speak volumes about Browns

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By Mike Wilkening

Earlier this week, Cantor Gaming in Nevada released NFL lines for Weeks 2-16. The opening-week lines have been out for some time throughout Nevada and at online sportsbooks, and Cantor did not set lines for Week 17, which probably has much to do with the uncertainty that usually shrouds the final week of the regular season.

In short, we have 240 regular-season pointspreads to ponder, with 16 missing. And you know what? Even with that last week lacking lines, I believe we can make the following conclusion:

The betting public is expected to have low, low expectations for the Browns.

In the Browns’ first 15 games of the 2012 regular season, they were not favored once on Cantor’s opening line. They were the only club getting points in every single contest. The Jaguars were favored only once, and the Rams, Buccaneers and Titans were favored only twice, and the Vikings and Colts were laying three points but three times, but the Browns got the goose egg.

It’s not as if the Browns were huge underdogs in every game. They were one-point underdogs vs. Buffalo in Week Three and one-point ‘dogs vs. Washington in Week 15. Moreover, they were but 1½-point underdogs vs. Kansas City in Week 14 and two-point underdogs against Cincinnati in Week Six.

Yes, that’s all we’ve got in the silver linings department — that the Browns were narrow underdogs in 4-of-8 home games on Cantor’s opening line.

You might believe Cantor, which runs sportsbooks at numerous Nevada casinos, including the Hard Rock in Las Vegas, is piling on poor Cleveland. Not the case. Oddsmakers are in the business of anticipating what you are going to do with your money. Let’s take the Week Three Bills-Browns game as an example. Suppose Cleveland was installed as a favorite vs. Buffalo. Wouldn’t the Bills — who have an improved defense and a balanced offense — be a very intriguing underdog? I know I would be interested in Buffalo getting anything close to a field goal.

Here’s the thing: the Browns were not a bad bet in 2011. They covered eight times, and two of their games finished as pushes. What’s more, they covered in the final four games, all as underdogs. Cleveland very well could be a solid wager in 2012, even if it is not a good team.

Nevertheless, the Cantor lines should leave Browns supporters feeling cold.

This is about the perception of your team. You do not have to have ever placed a bet to know this reflects poorly on the Browns. 

Cantor is known for taking big bets. Clearly, it is not scared of someone hammering the Browns as underdogs. You like the Browns? The Cantor books will take your wagers. C'mon, open your wallet. 

This is where the Browns stand right now — as a foe that's not to be feared. You might not like pointspreads, and you may believe better times are near, but in the third season of the Mike Holmgren-Tom Heckert regime, very little is expected of Cleveland.

I know, I know — the Browns play in a tough division, they are building through the draft, they have had some rotten luck over the years. I have thought, said and written it all.

But Cantor’s lines stunned me.

You want to make this about gambling? Go right ahead. I'll make it about progress.

This does not constitute progress.

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