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NFL countdown: Browns regroup after thud

This is the 18th in a series of 32 NFL team betting previews in 32 days leading up to the league’s Sept. 10 season opener. We’ll count down the teams from the lowest season win total to the highest.

The Cleveland Browns laid the biggest egg in the NFL last season.

The Browns were preseason darlings entering quarterback Baker Mayfield’s second season. They finished 5-3 down the stretch in 2018 after coach Hue Jackson was fired. Mayfield looked like a rising star, and offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens was named the head coach to keep that continuity going.

Cleveland also added a huge weapon for Mayfield by trading for star New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. The Browns’ season total was as high as 9½, and they were a trendy Super Bowl pick.

“They were the vogue team last year,” Sunset Station sportsbook director Chuck Esposito said. “Everybody bet them.”

Then the season started. The Browns lost 43-13 to Tennessee in the opener, and things never really got better. Mayfield appeared to regress badly from his rookie season, and Kitchens was fired after a 6-10 campaign.

Longtime Minnesota Vikings assistant Kevin Stefanski was hired as coach, and his first order of business will be to try to get Mayfield back on track.

Mayfield threw for 3,725 yards (7.7 per attempt) with 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions as a rookie. He threw for 3,827 yards (7.2 per attempt) with 22 TDs and 21 interceptions last season. He went from 12th in the NFL in Football Outsiders’ DYAR metric in 2018 to 25th last season.

“He’d admit he was lost at times last year,” Esposito said.

Westgate sportsbook vice president of risk Ed Salmons said he believes in Mayfield’s ability.

“I think it was all coaching and all offensive line” last season, he said.

The Browns tried to address that by hiring respected offensive line coach Bill Callahan, signing free-agent offensive tackle Jack Conklin from Tennessee and selecting Alabama offensive tackle Jedrick Wills with the 10th overall pick in the draft.

Cleveland remains loaded with offensive weapons in Beckham and Jarvis Landry at receiver, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt at running back and newly signed tight end Austin Hooper.

Esposito said he expects Stefanski to make the offense run smoothly for Mayfield by leaning on Chubb and the running game, similar to the style he used in Minnesota. Chubb finished second in the league in rushing last season with 1,494 yards and eight touchdowns.

Salmons points to the Browns’ one highlight from last season as reason for optimism and a demonstration of their talent: Cleveland’s dominant 40-25 victory at Baltimore, which finished 14-2.

“Cleveland beat them at home (in Baltimore),” he said. “It wouldn’t take much for (the Browns) to be top-six in the AFC.”

Contact Jim Barnes at jbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0277. Follow @JimBarnesLV on Twitter.

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