For the second straight season, NFL fans have claimed the Cleveland Browns would become relevant and make the playoffs for the first time since 2002. As much as their roster has changed since last year’s 6-10 campaign, they will remain mediocre, as their 1-1 start has them poised for another season under .500.
In my column this fall, I will analyze similarities between the 2019 and 2020 seasons to predict how sports will play out this fall.
Let’s talk about the Browns. The first week of the 2019 NFL season was a disastrous start to quarterback Baker Mayfield’s second NFL season, with the Tennessee Titans trouncing the Browns 43-13. Mayfield led a pass-heavy offense in the blowout defeat, racking up one touchdown and three interceptions to start his sophomore campaign.
This season opened on a similar note. Traveling to face the Baltimore Ravens, who are considered a true contender in the AFC this season, the Browns fell flat in a 38-6 defeat. Mayfield was similarly mediocre in this opener, recording only 189 passing yards with one touchdown and one interception.
These consecutive first-week losses for the Browns have put them at a disadvantage in a division led by the strong Ravens. The Browns’ schedule, however, eased up after the blowout losses in both seasons.
In Week 2 of the 2019 season, the Browns were lucky to travel to the Meadowlands to play the New York Jets, one of the AFC’s worst teams. The Jets were made even weaker by the fact that their mediocre, albeit well-supported, starting quarterback, Sam Darnold, missed the game because of mononucleosis. The Browns took advantage of this game on their schedule, winning 23-3 as Mayfield threw for an impressive 325 yards.
This season, the Browns were on national television once again with their Thursday night battle of Ohio matchup against quarterback Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals, fresh off a 2-14 season. Yet again, the Browns took advantage of a favorable Week 2 matchup. Their 35-30 win does not indicate their strong performance, as the Bengals scored a final touchdown in the last few minutes when the game had been all but decided. Mayfield had a strong game in Week 2 again, but the Browns’ running backs, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, powered the Cleveland offense, which ended up rushing for 215 yards.
The Browns could continue their season differently from 2019, with their upcoming slate of opponents a far cry from the murderers’ row the Browns faced in Weeks 3 through 8 last season, as all five of their opponents from those games made the playoffs at some point in the last two seasons.
This season, however, the Browns’ matchups will be much more winnable. Their next six games include the Washington Football Team, the Dallas Cowboys, the Indianapolis Colts, the Oakland Raiders and a rematch with the Bengals, none of whom seem to be real contenders for the championship this season or made the playoffs last season, even if the Cowboys may make the playoffs by virtue of the weakness of the NFC East. Like 2019, however, the Browns do face one top tier team in the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Despite an easy upcoming stretch, a weak Cleveland defense, coupled with their historical propensity to choke away good opportunities, means the Browns will probably finish that stretch at approximately 4-4, before their schedule becomes more difficult in the latter half of the season. If they are able to open the season at 4-4, or even 5-3 if they get lucky, they could make a trade deadline acquisition or two following their ninth week to make a run at the now-seven team AFC playoff. Their schedule, however, would advise otherwise, as the Browns would need to get lucky to defeat the Ravens or Steelers their second time around, as well as the Titans or Houston Texans.
The rest of the Browns’ season does have some other winnable games, as they play the Jets and the New York Giants over the course of December, both of whom should be well out of playoff contention by that point in the season with only two or three games left ahead of those matchups.
The Browns can make their way to 6-10 or even continue improving their record year over year. At the same time, a set of additions headlined by mediocre tight end Austin Hooper and his $44 million contract do not bode significant improvement for the next season.
A similar start to the season, paired with minimal offseason turnover, does not indicate that this Browns season will end much better, or worse, than their 6-10 season in 2019, which left Browns fans disappointed and Mayfield fans frustrated.
Jake Wexelblatt is a junior in the College. Deja Vu All Over Again appears online every other week.