(Photo credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)
The Cleveland Browns' status as a legitimate threat in the AFC proved to be fleeting in the eyes of oddsmakers, who returned the long-beleaguered franchise to longshot status after losing quarterback Deshaun Watson to a season-ending shoulder injury.
The Browns were on the outside-looking-in in the deep AFC playoff picture just a week ago. Despite owning a winning record, Cleveland was viewed as a second-tier team in the conference, owning 1700 odds to win the conference at BetRivers and 2200 at DraftKings.
Then came Sunday's come-from-behind stunning upset of division-rival Baltimore that pulled the Browns to 6-3 and within a half-game of the Ravens in the AFC North. If the regular season ended today, Cleveland would be in the playoffs as the second wild-card team.
Following the dramatic victory, the Browns' odds to win the AFC championship dropped to 1200 at BetRivers and 1300 at DraftKings. Meanwhile, their odds to win the jam-packed AFC South division title shifted to 220 and 230, respectively.
Feint Super Bowl aspirations were also rekindled, with Cleveland suddenly 2500 at BetRivers and 3000 at DraftKings.
Then came Wednesday morning's bombshell that Watson will miss the remainder of the season.
Backup P.J. Walker won two of the three games he started in Watson's absence earlier this season. However, coach Kevin Stefanski said the Browns will turn to fifth-round rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who threw three interceptions in starting a 28-3 loss against Baltimore on Oct. 1.
Oddsmakers clearly don't have faith that the rookie can help the Browns keep pace in the deep AFC.
Cleveland's odds to win the AFC moved to 2500 at BetRivers and 2000 at DraftKings, with the team's Super Bowl odds lengthening to 500 and 4500, respectively. BetMGM also moved the Browns' title odds from 2200 to 5000.
Just reaching the playoffs will be a significant challenge, as the Browns are now 500 and 450 to win their division at BetRivers and DraftKings, respectively. Cleveland is tied for second in the AFC North, but ahead of only Cincinnati (5-4).
The Browns are even at 6-3 with Pittsburgh, and play host to the Steelers on Sunday before traveling to face the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Rams.
Following the Watson news, BetMGM and DraftKings both moved the Browns from -4.0-point favorites against the Steelers to -1.5.
BROWNS FUTURES (BetRivers)
Super Bowl: 3500 (11th)
AFC: 1700 (7th)
AFC North: 550 (3rd)
Super Bowl: 2800 (10th)
AFC: 1200 (6th)
AFC North: 220 (2nd)
Super Bowl: 5000 (t-13th)
AFC: 2500 (9th)
AFC North: 500 (t-4th)
Browns general manager Andrew Berry said doctors indicated Watson should not have been able to play with the injury.
"For Deshaun to play, call it 2 1/2 quarters, at a really high level against one of the best defenses in the league with this injury plus the high ankle (injury), it really is an incredible display of physical and mental toughness," Berry said.
The Browns said doctors were concerned about further structural damage.
"Despite performing at a high level and finishing the game, after consultation with Browns' Head Physician, James Voos, MD, and industry-leading shoulder specialist, Neal ElAttrache, MD, it has been determined that this injury will require immediate surgical repair to avoid further structural damage," the Browns said in a statement Wednesday. "Deshaun will be placed on season-ending injured reserve and a full recovery is expected for the start of the 2024 season."
Berry said the Browns, who traded current Minnesota Vikings starter Josh Dobbs before the start of the season, are in the market for a third quarterback and would add one this week.
Per NFL Network, Watson visited multiple doctors and wanted to play through the injury. He was advised, however, that the shoulder could "fall apart" if he were to be hit in the same spot.
Watson, 28, completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 1,115 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions in six games this season.
--Field Level Media