When the Browns welcome the Texans to Cleveland this Sunday, they'll do so as 12.5-point favorites. That might not seem crazy, considering how poorly many projected Houston to perform entering the 2021 season, and even though the Texans pulled off a surprising rout of the Jaguars in Week 1. But it's a historic mark nonetheless. As ESPN's Field Yates notes, if the 12.5-point line holds until kickoff, it'll be the largest amount by which the Browns have been favored since the team resumed operations in 1999.
The last two-plus decades of Browns football have been mostly underwhelming, of course, so it's not like Cleveland has had too many opportunities to enter games as clear favorites. The team made the playoffs just once from 1999-2019, earning its first postseason berth of the 21st century with a 9-7 finish in 2002, while posting a losing record in 19 of its 20 other seasons during that span. But that's what brings us to the current Browns regime, which kicked off with a bang in 2020 and is responsible for this historic rise in respect regarding Cleveland's on-field product.
How, exactly, did we get to this point, with the Browns favored by almost two touchdowns against Houston?
Part of the reasoning has to do with the Texans, who remain a favorite to claim a top pick in the 2022 draft while starting a slew of free agent flyers under an apparent placeholder coach and amid the ongoing Deshaun Watson controversy. But most of the reasoning has to do with the Browns themselves.
Since 2020, when former Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski took over as the club's ninth head coach in 13 years, Cleveland has gone 6-2 at home, where it'll play host in Sunday's matchup. It's also boasted one of the NFL's most balanced rosters, featuring top talents on both sides of the ball, from emerging top 15 quarterback Baker Mayfield and star running back Nick Chubb to All-Pro pass rusher Myles Garrett. They've also eclipsed 30 points six times since Stefanski took the sidelines, and in Week 1, they came within one score of upsetting the reigning AFC champion Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.