The Cleveland Browns were one of the NFL’s most disappointing teams in the 2019-20 NFL season. They were a complete disaster with several roster problems and chemistry issues throughout the team and of course they were incredibly dysfunctional. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and they seemingly hit rock bottom after rock bottom.
The good thing about being at the bottom is that there’s no way to go except up. Here’s why I believe the Cleveland Browns will become a playoff team this year, and they will be one of the NFL’s biggest success stories.
Kevin Stefanski/The Success Of The First Year Head Coach
The Cleveland Browns fired head coach Freddie Kitchens after their awful season and hired Vikings OC Kevin Stefanski. Stefanski was a big part of the Vikings success last year, and he was a big reason for why their offense was so successful. We already know he’s a great football mind, but the big question mark for him will be if he can manage the egos in Cleveland.
Last season, the Browns were undisciplined and immature as a unit and Kitchens did a terrible job as the leader of the team. Getting these players to buy in and listen to what he’s preaching will be a tough task, especially with the shortened offseason.
As an offensive coordinator, he helped lead the Vikings to a 10-6 record while their offense was ranked 8th in terms of points scored. His run-heavy offense that also allowed Kirk Cousins to thrive was extremely successful.
With all of that said, I really do love the signing. Stefanski wants to win, and he’s said that he wants to forget about last season and look towards the future. He has the right mindset, and if he can get his players to buy in, that’ll be a big step towards success.
But even looking past Stefanski as a coach, we have to look at the history of first year head coaches. Last year, Matt LeFleur was a first year head coach for a Packers team that went 13-3. He’s the most recent example but looking back even further, we saw Doug Marrone, Sean McVay, Sean McDermott, Anthony Lynn, Ben McAdoo, Dirk Koetter, Adam Gase, and Mike Mularkey all lead their respective teams to at least a 9-7 record in their first season as coach.
Marrone, McVay, McAdoo, and Gase all led their teams to 10-6 or better as well. While not every first year head coach is a success, a majority of these coaches do a great job of leading their team in year one.
To sum things up, I’m a huge fan of Stefanski. I think he brings a lot of great things to the Browns, and I think he’s ready to lead this team. There are obviously lots of questions with how he’ll manage the egos and the shortened offseason didn’t exactly help, but I’m a believer. I think that if there’s anyone that can turn Cleveland around, it can be him, and I think he’ll be a major reason for their success this season.
A (Potentially) Big Year From Baker Mayfield
The number one overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft class came into last season with high expectations from fans and analysts alike. I was high on him myself and thought he could have an MVP caliber season. It’s safe to say he was far from that and was one of the most disappointing players in the league.
He took a step back in completion percentage and average yards attempted while almost having as many interceptions as he did touchdowns. And the Browns had just acquired Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry in the offseason. Whether this was just a sophomore slump or if this is actually how he’s going to play will be another big question this year.
Personally, I believe he will succeed. He needs to get his ego in check and step up to be the leader this team needs. As for his on-field play, hopefully a less complex system will help him bring up his accuracy numbers and he’ll be less turnover prone. He’s got a great run game to support him and three great weapons in OBJ, Landry, and new tight end Austin Hooper.
A Run Heavy System
Last year, the Minnesota Vikings led by Dalvin Cook as the lead back were 4th in total rushing attempts as a team and 6th in total rushing yards. They were a run heavy team and it’s what helped Cook have the best season of his career. Now, Stefanski is transitioning to the Browns who have the best running back duo in the entire NFL with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
Chubb was the 3rd leading rusher in the league and had a 5.0 yards per carry last year. Hunt is one of the most talented running backs in the league and could likely start for almost any other team. Unfortunately, off-field issues derailed his career, and now he has to accept a role where he splits carries with Chubb.
Regardless, they are two extremely talented backs and Stefanski would be wise to make Cleveland a run-heavy offense. They signed OT Jack Conklin in the offseason and they got another OT in Jedrick Wills with their 10th overall pick. Chubb was extremely efficient despite a poor offensive line last year and now he’ll be running behind a much improved line.
I predict that the Browns will be a much more run-heavy team compared to last year and allowing Chubb/Hunt to be the focal point of the offense opens up the play-action pass for Mayfield and allows them to take deep shots. I can’t see a good reason as to why they shouldn’t pound the rock this year.
A Much Improved Defense
The Browns defense last season was pretty bad to be quite honest. They were 22nd in total yards allowed, 17th in passing touchdowns allowed, and bottom five in rushing yards allowed, rushing touchdowns allowed, and yards per attempt. So, how did they plan to fix this?
They went out and signed Andrew Billings and they drafted Jordan Elliott. Building up the defensive line will be important if you want to stop run heavy teams like the Ravens, Bills, etc. Their secondary is extremely young but extremely talented with Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams, and newly acquired Karl Joseph. I predict that at least one of those three will break out next year.
Their linebackers are weak with the loss of Joe Schobert, but they have Mack Wilson, Sione Takitaki, and rookie Jacob Phillips. This is all without mentioning my pick for DPOY, Myles Garrett. Garrett had a monster year where he recorded 10 sacks in 10 games alongside 18 QB hits. He’s going to wreak havoc and become a dominant EDGE for them. This defense is really young but there’s a lot of talent to work with. I don’t think they’ll be tremendous but they could certainly be an above average unit.
I’m betting on the Browns big time this season. The question with them has never been about talent but rather about putting it all together. With a new coach who can hopefully inspire his players and get them to buy in to his system, they can finally see some results. The offense is loaded with starpower and could be a top five unit if Mayfield bounces back.
Defensively, they’re young with a lot of promise and they just need a guy or two to break out into their own. This team is definitely boom or bust, but I’m willing to bet they will be a playoff team in this upcoming season.
Record Prediction: 10-6, 2nd in the AFC North
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