NFL Roundtable: Are the Cleveland Browns playoff-bound?
Every week we sit down with BetAmerica Extra columnists Ashley Anderson, James Scully and Scott Shapiro to discuss the latest news and trends from around the NFL. This week they weigh in on the Browns’ playoff odds, the Bears fast start, and Cam Newton's resurgence.
The Browns have secured their first winning record in six years. Are the playoffs within reach?
Ashley: Yes. The Browns seem to have figured out that their offense thrives behind Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, but there are still issues to address with Baker Mayfield’s consistency and the shorthanded secondary. Luckily for the Browns, they own one of the easiest schedules in 2020. Road games at Dallas, Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Tennessee, and both New York teams are all winnable. I expect the Ravens and Steelers to rank first and second in the AFC North, but with the expanded playoff field, Cleveland could sneak in as a wild card team.
James: I’m skeptical. Blown out in the opener versus Baltimore, Cleveland remains the third best team in the AFC North despite being 2-1. They got their rushing game going in wins over Washington and Cincinnati, but those performances don’t inspire confidence for the rest of the season. Washington rallied to take the lead late in the third quarter, and Cincinnati closed to within five points with more than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. I lack faith in Baker Mayfield.
Scott: Despite their first winning record in six years, I am not sold that the playoffs are within reach for the Browns in 2020. Sure, they can only beat who is on their schedule, but I need to see Baker Mayfield and crew handle a quality opponent or two before I buy into them being a legitimate postseason threat. They were manhandled by the Ravens in Week 1. Besting Cincinnati and Washington is simply not enough.
Will the Browns end their playoff drought this season?
Are you more surprised by the fact that the Bears are 3-0 or that the Vikings are 0-3?
Ashley: The Bears at 3-0 is a bit more surprising to me, especially after the way they opened the season against Detroit. Chicago needed late surges against weak competition to score victories against the Lions and Falcons. In Week 2, the Bears nearly let a hobbled Giants team come back and win, after Chicago led 17-0 at halftime. The Vikings drew a tougher early schedule, and with their departures on defense, it’s not all that shocking to see them sitting at 0-3.
James: Minnesota is more surprising at 0-3. Chicago opened with winnable games against Detroit and the New York Giants, and they caught a train wreck in Atlanta, where the Falcons became the first team ever to squander a 15-point fourth quarter lead twice in the same season. Minnesota was a popular pick for the playoffs, and a NFC North title contender along with Green Bay, but they have performed far below expectations this year.
Scott: I am more surprised that the Bears are 3-0. Minnesota lost a ton of talent in the offseason, is without star defensive end Danielle Hunter, and has played three legitimate opponents to start the season in Green Bay, Indianapolis, and Tennessee. On the other hand, Chicago could easily be 1-2 if not for a pair of near-miracle fourth quarter comebacks. Expect reality to kick in soon for Matt Nagy’s squad, who host the Colts in Week 4.
The revamped Patriots are now 2-1. How much credit belongs to Cam Newton and how much belongs to the defense?
Ashley: Credit goes to Newton, along with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for crafting a run-focused offense around his new quarterback. This offense wouldn’t work the same with Jarrett Stidham at quarterback, but I also have to throw the Pats defense some praise, as well. Despite losing Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Danny Shelton, and Jamie Collins in trades, plus Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung (2020 opt-outs), the New England D has held steady. It struggled against the Seahawks, but stepped up against the 2-0 Raiders to force three fumbles, including one that led to a defensive touchdown. The unit is also tied for first in the league in total takeaways (7).
James: Cam Newton deserves more credit. New England’s defense has played well in home wins over Miami and Las Vegas, but that’s hardly surprising. I didn’t expect Newton to be so good. The former MVP has reinvigorated his career through three games, becoming such an enormous dual-threat, and he’s effectively leading a New England offense that lacks quality skill players outside of Julian Edelman.
Scott: I think Cam Newton AND the defense deserve credit for the Patriots’ 2-1 start to the 2020 campaign. No doubt, Newton looks healthy and has carried the weight of the offense through three games, but the defense allowed just 11 points in their opening day victory against Miami and 20 to Las Vegas last Sunday. It is unlikely New England would be a legitimate playoff contender without their defense, but if they were starting Jarrett Stidham the same could probably be said.