At this point Cleveland Browns fans are way too cynical to ever be truly optimistic, but with the 2023 season approaching, fans are as close to optimistic as they can get. Unfortunately, any good that comes this season might take a while to arrive.
The Browns meet the AFC North favorites in Week 1, and betting insiders are projecting this one to be a rough start to the season for the Browns.
Browns vs Bengals Week 1 Betting Predictions
Low-Scoring Game for the Wrong Reasons
BetSided's Iain MacMillan has given his betting picks for every game in Week 1, and his pick for the Browns-Bengals matchup isn't all that bad. He simply likes taking Under 47.5 points — saying nothing of who is the better value to win this game. That doesn't mean he's not painting a worrying picture for the Browns though:
"When it comes to the Browns, I have no faith in Deshaun Watson looking like the version of himself that was an MVP candidate with the Texans. He completed just 58.2% of passes in six games last season.- Iaian MacMillan, BetSided
I expect the Bengals to ease Burrow into the season and the Browns to largely stick to the run game."
A low-scoring game isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially because this Browns team's strength is clearly on the defensive side of the ball. But the reasoning for a low score on either side (Watson just not being good enough to score big points compared to Burrow simply not being unleashed enough to score big points) is a little worrying.
It's also not going to be ideal if the Browns need to lean on Nick Chubb heavily right from Week 1. Chubb is obviously going to be a huge piece of this offense, but it's a long season and anything we can do to keep him fresh down the stretch is going to be important. Giving him a massive workload in the season opener would not be a good long-term sign.
The Only Ones Upset are Browns Fans
Betting insider Peter Dewey also headed over to StripeHype to give his prediction for the season's first Browns vs. Bengals matchup, and this one's even worse for Browns fans. He doesn't see an upset in the cards in Week 1.
"The Browns should be improved this season with a full season of Watson, but the fact that Newsome and Ward are nursing injuries is a major concern against this Cincinnati receiving corps.- Peter Dewey, Stripe Hype
As long as Burrow is healthy enough to play, I think the Bengals can run away with this game"
Once again, the whole overarching tone here is that this game is about the Bengals and Joe Burrow — that unless something goes wrong it's going to be the Bengals doing whatever they want.
And with Denzel Ward's injury plus the huge question mark around what version of Deshaun Watson we'll see in 2023, it's not hard to see why this is the prevailing view on the matchup.
So the two insider picks combine to give us a low-scoring Bengals win — not exactly a fun season opener to watch for fans in Cleveland. But these are national betting insiders. Does having a more intimate knowledge of the Browns let us paint a different picture?
Factory of Sadness' Take
First off, I can't disagree with either MacMillan or Dewey when it comes to the Deshaun Watson situation. I do think he turns things around this season, and that having more time to focus and build chemistry in this offense is going to make a big difference.
But until we see some evidence of that (he wasn't exactly lights-out in training camp), that's not something to put your money behind.
I do think this is a much tougher out for Burrow and the Bengals offense than people realize, though. The Browns legitimately might have the best defense in the NFL.
The Bengals struggle in pass protection, Burrow is playing hurt, and the Browns have Myles Garrett and Za'Darius Smith on the edges, with Dalvin Tomlinson and Shelby Harris rushing up the middle. Burrow is going to get hit a ton. He simply won't have enough time and space in the pocket to really take advantage of the Ward injury. It's going to have to be all short passes and an increased emphasis on the run game from Cincy.
The Watson question mark is enough that I'm not going to go out and pick a straight-up upset here, but I do like the Browns to cover the spread, and agree that the Under is probably the right pick on the total.
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