CLEVELAND- Everyone knows the story of the return to the NFL of the Browns in 1999. After the first Browns franchise moved to Baltimore, the team had little success in 20 years of football. Cleveland advanced to the playoffs just one time and recorded two winning seasons. The Browns finished 9-7 in 2002 and 10-6 in 2007. The Browns haven’t made the playoffs since losing the wild card game to the Pittsburgh Steelers despite a huge lead, ending the 2002 season with a heartbreak.
The Browns had a relatively easy 2007 season schedule along with a successful draft selection of Pro Bowl Left Tackle Joe Thomas and free-agent splash signing of Pro Bowl running back Jamal Lewis. If this sounds like a potential scenario of history repeating itself, you may be right. The Browns have one of the easiest schedules in 2020 and the team drafted their next left tackle, Jedrick Wills. The Browns made several free-agent splash signings with right tackle Jack Conklin, tight end Austin Hooper, and safety Karl Joseph.
Last season, the Browns ranked 22nd ranked in total offense in the NFL. The offensive line was a disaster, rookie Head Coach Freddie Kitchens coached like a rookie, and quarterback Baker Mayfield regressed. Kitchens was fired immediately after the 2019 season and former Minnesota Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski was hired after a long search.
Mayfield has a great core of offensive weapons to help him gain the advantage over defenses. Running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt should be used early in games to set the tone. Receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry should both be 100% healthy. Tight ends David Njoku and Hooper will provide extra passing options especially when Beckham and Landry are covered. Stefanski may be comfortable with the offense using more shotgun formations since Mayfield should have enough time in the pocket.
What are the expectations for the Browns in 2020? The expectations seem to be low. However, with a head coach that favors using two tight ends, a rebuilt offensive line, and an easy schedule to take advantage of, a playoff berth should be on the horizon. Everyone still has to consider the likely possibility of a defensive upgrade with either Jadeveon Clowney or Everson Griffen. Odds are the Browns will sign one of them to pair up with Myles Garrett. Such a pass-rushing duo could contain or at least slow down Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, and Ben Roethlisberger.
This team dealt with major distractions. Safety Jermaine Whitehead was released after threatening the life of a reporter. The Browns also released Antonio Callaway after failing a drug test. He failed to show to a game on time after saying he went to the wrong parking lot. Garrett was suspended after hitting Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph on the head with his own helmet. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. It was believed that players told other teams to come get them. It was as if Murphy’s Law took over the team.
Cleveland has a better head coach at the helm, an upgraded offensive line, a decent defense that could surprise and a quarterback that learned tough lessons after two years in the NFL. There should be a lot of optimism and high expectations for the 2020 Browns.
Outlook: The Browns will finish 10-6 and make the playoffs as a wild card team.