Cleveland Browns at a glance
2018 record: 7-8-1, third in the AFC North
Key additions: HC Freddie Kitchens, WR Odell Beckham Jr., DE Olivier Vernon, RB Kareem Hunt
Key losses: S Jabrill Peppers, G Kevin Zeitler, LB Jamie Collins
The NFL’s most lovable loser got a major makeover in the offseason. Aside from the monumental acquisition of Odell Beckham Jr., the Cleveland Browns promoted Freddie Kitchens from interim offensive coordinator to head coach in January and brought on former Buccaneers offensive coordinator Todd Monken to assume OC duties, plus Steve Wilks (head coach of the Cardinals in 2018) as defensive coordinator.
WE GOT HIM.
Welcome to Cleveland, @obj!
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) March 13, 2019
The combination of Baker Mayfield and OBJ, in particular, sparked immediate playoff hype, though there’s still much to be proven by the franchise that’s all too familiar with the short end of the stick.
If the Browns had won just one game last year, they would have done enough to improve upon their historically atrocious record in 2017. Cleveland won seven games in 2019, but could have easily won four more to end what is now a 16-year playoff drought.
Improvement in the coming season will depend largely on Kitchens’ ability to coach Mayfield and Beckham and manage two personalities who’ve in the past created issues off the field and in the locker room. Running back Nick Chubb (996 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns) should continue to thrive in the run game, with Kareem Hunt an option once his suspension is up in Week 9. Defensive end Olivier Vernon and tackle Sheldon Richardson should help strengthen the defense, as well, which allowed the third-most yards per game last season.
The Browns have plenty of talent and potential to make the coming season one of the best in Cleveland’s history. It’s just a matter of putting all the moving pieces in place and believing in Cleveland’s new identity as much as everyone else already does.
Has a team ever won the Super Bowl after the 1st drive of the preseason?
The Browns just did.
Has a player ever locked up a spot in the Hall of Fame during that same game?
Baker Mayfield just did. pic.twitter.com/0Hix2rMD1i
— TJ Eckert (@TJEckertKTUL) August 8, 2019
Better to wait until next season, when Brady and Brees could both enter retirement and the chances of a Browns Super Bowl win are much more realistic.
The Patriots (+300) top the odds board as the favorite to win the AFC, and rightfully so. If not them, the Chiefs or the Colts are a better bet to win the conference over Cleveland.
You can quickly eliminate the Bengals from contention in the AFC North, but the Steelers and Ravens provide enough competition to make the race for No. 1 in the division a close call. At +125 there isn’t much value in betting the Browns to win, especially when the Steelers may swipe away the title with a revamped roster void of two locker room liabilities, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell.
With all the hype surrounding Cleveland, it’s easy to want to jump on the Browns playoff train. But until the team can prove it has rid itself of the woes the Browns historically have suffered, you might as well bank on a near-playoff berth that comes up just short and wait until 2020 to see the Browns make a real Super Bowl push.
So many of the Browns’ losses last year could have swung the other way, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see it happen again. The season opener at home against Tennessee should be a win, but a road game at the Jets will be the first opportunity to determine just how good the Browns will be. The Jets will improve from last year and could hand Cleveland a close loss. The Rams at home will present a steeper challenge, followed by a road game at Baltimore. It won’t get much easier with Seattle at home, and New England on the road is virtually guaranteed to be a loss. Denver and Buffalo will offer a reprieve before division showdowns against Pittsburgh in Week 11 and Week 13. The Browns should close out the season with two wins against Cincinnati, one at Arizona and a home game against Baltimore. Go with the over and look out for a 10-win season.
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