Should You Bet the Over on Baker Mayfield's Touchdown Prop?
Last season, the public considered the Cleveland Browns to be one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl after a promising rookie season from Baker Mayfield and the offseason acquisition of Odell Beckham.
Unfortunately, as Cleveland-based teams have done for generations, the Browns disappointed, winning only six games in a season best remembered for Myles Garrett weaponizing his own helmet against Mason Rudolph. Additionally, Mayfield regressed and was never on the same page with Beckham, who finished the season with only four touchdowns and a career low catch percentage.
As Mayfield and company enter year three, new head coach Kevin Stefanski will attempt to bring the Browns back to the playoffs with a roster that remains extremely talented.
Comparing Baker's sophomore campaign to his rookie year demonstrates a clear step back. The 25-year-old experienced an increase in interception percentage and a decrease in touchdown and completion percentage, which ultimately led to a horrendous 22-21 TD:INT ratio compared to a 27:14 ratio as a rookie.
The question remains: What will we see in year three?
FanDuel Sportsbook currently has Mayfield's TD prop at 23.5, which would require Mayfield to throw 1.5 touchdowns per game for a full season for the over to hit.
There are compelling reasons to bet the prop in both directions depending on how you determine Mayfield's true talent level.
Better Chemistry and a New Coach
As the offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings last season, Kevin Stefanski was the brains behind an offense that was eighth in points per game and featured talent that mirrors the talent on Cleveland's roster at the skill positions. Both teams featured two quality receivers along with a dynamic young running back. As the new coach for the Browns, it will be important to monitor if Stefanski implements the same system he used in Minnesota.
If he does, which seems highly likely, perhaps we can look at Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins to give us an idea about Stefanski's offensive efficiency.
Last season, Cousins attempted 444 passes in 15 games and threw a touchdown at a solid 5.9% rate (26 total). Mayfield, on the other hand, threw 534 passes at a 4.1% rate (21 total) last season after having a 5.6% rate in his rookie year. If Mayfield can improve to the point of throwing touchdowns at a 5% rate, we would only need 480 attempts (54 fewer than last season) to eclipse 23.5 total touchdowns.
Coupled with Cleveland's improvements through free agency by signing offensive lineman Jack Conklin and tight end Austin Hooper -- along with a better connection with Beckham -- it is not hard to imagine Mayfield eclipsing the total.
There is a strong case to be made that Mayfield has the potential to blow past the line, but what if he fails to improve -- or his team improves too much?
Really Bad or Really Good
In the end of the day, there is a direct correlation between passes thrown and touchdowns thrown, and there is really only one scenario (except injury) that could lead to Mayfield seeing a sharp decrease in pass attempts.
Suppose the Browns are dominant, their offensive line improves, their defense makes plays, and Mayfield proves that he can be a quality NFL quarterback. In that scenario, Stefanski and the Cleveland coaching staff would find themselves protecting leads by running the ball with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt behind an improved offensive line.
That would also partially explain why Kirk Cousins has 90 fewer attempts than Mayfield did last season; he had fewer games in which his team ditched the run game. If Mayfield were to throw only 444 passes as Cousins did, he would need a 5.4% touchdown percentage to go over the line. Not incredibly high, but a significant jump from last season.
The other scenario (which Cleveland is more accustomed to) is one in which the Browns play like they have for the last two decades -- turning the ball over and struggling to score despite the team's talent. In such a case, Mayfield would struggle and chalk up similar numbers to his 2019 campaign, leading to a touchdown total below the line.
Making the Pick
I think that the total represents a fair benchmark for Mayfield. If he plays well, the over will most likely hit, and if he struggles, the under will most likely hit.
numberFire's JJ Zachariason projects Mayfield for 26.0 touchdowns, which would hit the over by a decent margin. Brandon Gdula's model is slightly less optimistic at 24.1 scores, but that would again be just enough to exceed the line.
Ultimately, it comes down to your faith in the Browns. In my opinion, I foresee them bouncing back and being the team that everyone expected last season -- loaded with offensive weapons and a force in the AFC North.