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Browns favored to win playoff game for 1st time since 1994Browns favored to win playoff game for 1st time since 1994


Browns favored to win playoff game for 1st time since 1994Browns favored to win playoff game for 1st time since 1994




The Cleveland Browns are in unfamiliar territory in the best possible way.


The perennially disappointing NFL franchise is making its second playoff appearance since 2020 after experiencing a 17-season playoff drought from 2003 through 2019; it's one of just four teams -- along with the Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars and the Houston Texans -- to have never appeared in a Super Bowl.


That has produced a shocking, but perhaps not surprising, betting stat: Through 12 qualifying games, Cleveland has never been a road playoff favorite in the Super Bowl era.


That changes Saturday when the Browns visit NRG Stadium in Houston as 2-point favorites, per ESPN BET odds. The last time Cleveland was favored in a playoff game in any capacity was during the 1994 wild-card round against the New England Patriots -- a game that ended up being Bill Belichick's only postseason win as Browns head coach.


Sportsbooks aren't reading too heavily into Cleveland's pitiful past in January.


"History, to us, doesn't play a part in linemaking. We concentrate on the two teams, the way they are built and the way they are playing today," DraftKings' director of race and sports operations Johnny Avello told ESPN.


"The Browns deserve to be the favorite. They have a little bit higher power ranking, they have a little bit more experience and their defense is one of the best in the league. What they don't have here is home-field advantage. If they were playing this game at home, they probably would have been a 4- or 5-point favorite."


Opinions vary on how big this line should have been under the circumstances; Caesars Sportsbook oddsmakers, for example, made this game anywhere between Browns -3 and a pick 'em. Most books opened the line at Cleveland -1.5, but quickly pushed up to as high as -3 before stabilizing around -2 or -2.5 market-wide.


Clearly, the market is buying into the Browns redemption storyline. According to data compiled from FanDuel, Caesars, BetMGM and PointsBet, at minimum, Cleveland is attracting 65% of the tickets and 66% of the handle to cover the spread; at maximum, it's taking 80% of the bets and 84% of the money. Houston is not among DraftKings' top three most-bet teams to win outright, with the Steelers (+400), Rams (+140), and Packers (+275) garnering the most tickets.


Caesars reports a $145,000 bet on the Browns money line at -145 to win $100,000. Additionally, DraftKings and BetMGM both report that Browns-Texans is their most-bet game of the weekend thus far, with Cleveland being the most-bet team by bets and handle in some capacity at both books (though it's worth noting that it's the first game of the postseason).


With the state of Ohio in the full swing of sports betting after legalizing just over a year ago, the fervor around the Browns has certainly been prevalent in the state, but has also trickled out to the rest of the country.


"Betting on local teams is higher in Cleveland and the other cities in the state," said Tipico VP of marketing Brian Becker, "meaning that Cleveland bettors and bettors across Ohio mix their fandom into their betting behavior more than those in other states."


"They're almost like America's team in a way," Avello said. "It's a team that has been embraced. By everybody? No, but by people who are rooting for them, feel sorry for them, whatever that may be."

Emotional sentiments aside, it may be justified: The Browns have covered six straight games as favorites and have gone 4-0 against the spread with Joe Flacco under center. Flacco's redemption arc is gaining steam in the props market, too, as BetMGM reports that a league-leading 14% of tickets are on the veteran to lead the playoffs in passing yards at 12-to-1 odds.


"The resurgence of Joe Flacco has been a major storyline the back half of the NFL season and the public expects this to continue, as a Texans win would be good for the trading team," said a FanDuel trader.


If Cleveland can live up to expectations and advance, it could create some havoc for the books: Since Sunday, DraftKings has taken more bets on the Browns to win the AFC than any other team.

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