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The Browns Can’t Beat Anyone. Not Even The Spread.

The Dallas Cowboys’ dream season continued Thursday night with their win over the Minnesota Vikings. The Cowboys have now won 11 consecutive regular-season games, equaling the franchise record that was set in the late 1960s. The team’s success this year has surprised just about everyone, including the people who put money on the games each week.

Dallas began this season as a 1-point home favorite1 against the Giants, a game that New York won 20-19. But the Cowboys went on to cover the spread in its next nine consecutive games. Since then, bettors have suffered two bad beats at the hands of the Cowboys: On Thanksgiving Day, Dallas was favored to beat Washington by 5.5 points but ended up winning by only 5. And on Thursday, the Cowboys were 3-point favorites against the Vikings — but won by only 2. In both games, the Cowboys allowed a touchdown in the final two minutes to lose the cover.

Even so, Dallas still has the best record “against the spread” this season:

STRAIGHT UP AGAINST THE SPREAD
TEAM RECORD WIN % RECORD WIN %
Dallas 11-1 91.7% 9-3 75.0%
New England 9-2 81.8 8-3 72.7
New Orleans 5-6 45.5 8-3 72.7
Washington 6-4-1 59.1 8-3 72.7
Denver 7-4 63.6 7-4 63.6
Detroit 7-4 63.6 7-4 63.6
San Diego 5-6 45.5 7-4 63.6
Atlanta 7-4 63.6 7-4 63.6
Oakland 9-2 81.8 7-4 63.6
N.Y. Giants 8-3 72.7 6-4-1 59.1
Minnesota 6-6 50.0 7-5 58.3
Seattle 7-3-1 68.2 6-5 54.5
Pittsburgh 6-5 54.5 6-5 54.5
Miami 7-4 63.6 6-5 54.5
Tampa Bay 6-5 54.5 6-5 54.5
Indianapolis 5-6 45.5 5-5-1 50.0
Green Bay 5-6 45.5 5-5-1 50.0
Houston 6-5 54.5 5-5-1 50.0
Jacksonville 2-9 18.2 5-6 45.5
Buffalo 6-5 54.5 5-6 45.5
Baltimore 6-5 54.5 5-6 45.5
Kansas City 8-3 72.7 5-6 45.5
Philadelphia 5-6 45.5 5-6 45.5
Los Angeles 4-7 36.4 4-6-1 40.9
Chicago 2-9 18.2 4-7 36.4
N.Y. Jets 3-8 27.3 4-7 36.4
Tennessee 6-6 50.0 4-8 33.3
Carolina 4-7 36.4 3-7-1 31.8
Arizona 4-6-1 40.9 3-8 27.3
San Francisco 1-10 9.1 3-8 27.3
Cincinnati 3-7-1 31.8 3-8 27.3
Cleveland 0-12 0.0 2-10 16.7
Dallas is leading ‘against the spread’ in 2016

As of Dec. 2.

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

After beating the Ravens on Nov. 20, the Cowboys were 9-1 against the spread and had a chance to become the first team to go 15-1 against the spread. That didn’t happen, but the team’s 9-3 record against the spread still makes the 2016 Cowboys one of the better teams in recent history on that metric. If the Cowboys cover in its final four games this season, Dallas will become the 28th team since 1978 to have covered in at least 75 percent of their games.

Because the Cowboys have a large national fan base, you might think they are generally “overrated” by Vegas — i.e., the point spread might be tilted toward the Cowboys to limit the amount of money bet on — but the numbers don’t support that argument. Since 1978, the Cowboys have essentially been meeting point spread expectations, going 296-301-15 against the spread in the regular season and 19-19 in the playoffs.

stuart-spread-1

On the other end of the spectrum are the Cleveland Browns, who have the league’s worst record against the spread. Cleveland has been an underdog in all the games it’s played so far this season (12), the only team in the league with that distinction. (On average, the Browns have been underdogs by 7.1 points.) It’s been an ugly season for Cleveland — remarkable not only because the Browns have failed to win a game but also because they are just 2-10 against the spread!

Since 1978, 20 teams (including this year’s Browns) have been underdogs in every game.2 And the majority of those teams were even larger underdogs, on average, than Cleveland has been. So these were really bad teams. But none was as bad against the spread as Cleveland has been so far this season: Among those 19 other teams, the worst record was a more respectable 5-11, set by another Browns team, the one from 16 years ago:

YEAR TEAM AVG. UNDERDOG POINT SPREAD AGAINST THE SPREAD RECORD AGAINST THE SPREAD WIN%
1999 Cleveland 10.7 7-8-1 46.9%
1982 Baltimore 10.1 4-5 44.4
2000 Cleveland 10.0 5-11 31.3
2013 Jacksonville 9.9 5-10-1 34.4
2009 St. Louis 9.9 7-9 43.8
1986 Indianapolis 9.7 7-9 43.8
2005 San Francisco 9.1 8-8 50.0
1993 Cincinnati 8.5 8-8 50.0
2014 Oakland 8.3 8-8 50.0
2009 Tampa Bay 8.2 6-10 37.5
2008 St. Louis 8.2 6-10 37.5
1989 Dallas 8.1 6-10 37.5
1995 Jacksonville 7.8 9-7 56.3
2003 Arizona 7.2 6-10 37.5
2016 Cleveland 7.1 2-10 16.7
1999 Philadelphia 7.1 10-6 62.5
1980 N.Y. Giants 7.1 7-9 43.8
1981 New Orleans 6.6 6-10 37.5
1983 Houston 6.4 7-9 43.8
2015 San Francisco 6.3 7-9 43.8
NFL teams that have been underdogs in every game since 1978

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

And although the Cowboys can’t set an “against-the-spread record”3 this year, the Browns still can. No team has ever gone 2-14 against the spread, although four teams share the 3-13 mark as the worst performance against Vegas since 1978.

YEAR TEAM RECORD AGAINST THE SPREAD WIN %
1 2014 Tennessee 3-13 18.8%
1 2007 Baltimore 3-13 18.8
1 1981 New England 3-13 18.8
1 1980 Pittsburgh 3-13 18.8
5 1987 Cincinnati 3-12 20.0
6 2011 St. Louis 3-12-1 21.9
6 2003 N.Y. Giants 3-12-1 21.9
6 2003 Oakland 3-12-1 21.9
6 1997 Dallas 3-12-1 21.9
6 1994 Houston Oilers 3-12-1 21.9
6 1981 Baltimore 3-12-1 21.9
6 1978 San Francisco 3-12-1 21.9
The worst ‘against the spread’ records in the NFL since 1978

Ties count as half a win for the purposes of calculating a team’s win percentage against the spread.

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

Cleveland’s remaining four games are at home against Cincinnati, at Buffalo, at home against the Chargers and at Pittsburgh. And although fans may be watching to see if the Browns become just the second team in history to finish 0-16, there’s another side plot to follow: Although Vegas may have caught up to the Cowboys, can the books come up with a handicap large enough to allow Cleveland to win against the spread?


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Footnotes

  1. All betting-line data in this article is from Pro-Football-Reference.com.

  2. We’re comparing the Browns through 12 games with all other historical teams through their entire schedules.

  3. That honor belongs to the 2003 Patriots, who went 14-2 against the spread.

Chase Stuart writes about football statistics and history at FootballPerspective.com

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