Yahoo Sports is previewing the 32 teams as we prepare for the NFL season, counting teams one per weekday in reverse order of our original 2021 ranking. Number 1 will be revealed on 4 August, the day before the Hall of Fame game.
The Cleveland Browns were lucky.
In 2019, they passed on Kevin Stefanski to hire Freddie Kitchens. This sentence is hilarious knowing what we know now. When Kitchens was sacked after a disastrous season, Stefanski was still available. The Browns weren’t too proud to approach him again. Stefanski wasn’t too proud to listen.
The Browns have done a lot of trouble since returning to the NFL in 1999, and most start with quarterback and head coach mistakes. We could blame the Browns’ terrible infrastructure for the training failure or the coaches themselves, but other than Butch Davis for a short time, none of them worked. Some were hilarious.
Finally, the Browns got it right. Stefanski did a great job and won the NFL Coach of the Year award. Cleveland broke a long playoff drought. The Browns scored their biggest win since their expansion year in 1999, taking a big lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers and beating their rival in a wildcard playoff game. The Browns then scared the Kansas City Chiefs in a playoff loss. It was a long-awaited fun season for Browns fans.
Now comes the real trick for Stefanski and the Browns: building on success.
The list is set for great things. Cleveland found high draft picks and spent money on high-end free agents. Quarterback Baker Mayfield hasn’t been great in the NFL yet, but he’s more than enough. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are the NFL’s best 1-2 running back combination. The offensive line is excellent. Over the past few seasons, Myles Garrett has been as good as any unnamed defensive lineman Aaron Donald. This list was not put together to win a single playoff game.
The Browns have been everyone’s fun choice to win big for a while, but there was some real success to be noted this time around. The key to continuing is Stefanski. He is the best coach in new Browns history, even after just one season. It’s not like there are a lot of other contenders for the honor. Now that the Browns have the training piece of their puzzle in place, they can move forward with confidence that there will be more success to come.
It took a while, but the Browns finally found the right guy.
When will the Browns run out of salary cap flexibility? This offseason, they’ve signed safety John Johnson (three years, $ 33.75 million) and cornerback Troy Hill (two years, $ 9 million) to help high school. They brought in defensemen Jadeveon Clowney, Malik Jackson and Takk McKinley on one-year contracts, hoping at least one hits big. Northwest cornerback Greg Newsome II was picked in the first round, and second-round pick Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, a Notre Dame linebacker, was a bargain. Almost everyone loved the Browns draft. They continue to gain off-seasons.
To note: A
Three years after the start of Baker Mayfield’s career, we can’t be sure what he is. Is he a rising superstar? An above average quarterback? Someone who is good enough if he has a great offensive line and a good running game? Mayfield was excellent as a rookie, bad in 2019 and good again in 2020. Mayfield was very good after an average start to 2020, with 2,468 yards, 16 touchdowns and two interceptions in the Browns’ last 10 regular season games. Mayfield played really well in a playoff win over the Steelers and wasn’t as good in the next round against the Chiefs. At the very least, the Browns’ quarterback questions are over. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out what Mayfield’s realistic expectations are for the rest of his career.
Nobody wants to throw in the water during the Browns’ fun season. But it must be said: they were lucky to be 11-5 last season. They were upgraded by 11 points. They were 7-2 in games decided by 7 or less and 4-0 in games decided by 3 or less, which is doomed to decline. They placed only 18th in Football Outsiders DVOA, and the estimated FO wins for the Browns based on their metrics were 7.7. They were 6-10 ATS, for what it’s worth. The Browns just didn’t come across as an 11-game winning team when you look at the stats. This is what makes the Browns’ total wins at BetMGM of 10.5 difficult. What would we think of that number if the Browns lost a few of those close games and went 8-8? The Browns’ lineup is good but the underside is the only way I can go.
From Scott Pianowski of Yahoo: “For some fantasy managers, Nick Chubb is a boring soil choice, someone held back by the presence of Kareem Hunt; in other words, a player with capped potential. But on my clipboard, that sells Chubb way too short Hunt is certainly a good player, but Chubb is the much better here, Chubb is the star.
“On a per play basis last year it wasn’t even close. Chubb scored 5.6 yards per carry, while Hunt had a regular 4.2. Chubb is widely regarded as the lesser receiver, but his pass-catching efficiency was also much better in the last year. Touchdowns were almost even – Chubb scored 12, Hunt 11 – although Chubb missed four games in the middle of the year. Hunt was not good in those four starts: 254 rushing yards, 71 receiving yards, two touchdowns.
“The Browns have an exceptional offensive line and they ultimately made it through to head coach and quarterback. It’s an attack we can feel good about, and it makes Chubb a choice of destination early in any draft. Although Chubb’s ADP sits at 8.5 in Yahoo’s early results, I’m willing to consider it in the first half of the first round, anywhere from 3. Hunt is going to have a notable role at this club, but Chubb is unquestionably the star piece. “
Odell Beckham Jr. averaged 92.8 yards per game with the Giants, one of the best scores in NFL history at the time. He averaged 58.9 yards per game with the Browns. He also has just seven touchdowns in two seasons. And now he’s coming out of a ripped ACL and will be 29 this season. The mega-commerce for Beckham has yet to work. There is still time, and the Browns need him to be a star. Jarvis Landry is a good possession receiver and Cleveland is built around their running game, but a great No. 1 receiver would help. the offense at another level. We’ve seen Beckham be one of the best receivers in the NFL before. If he doesn’t this season, it might be time to consider whether we’ll ever see him reach those Giants levels again.
Can Myles Garrett be the best defensive player in the NFL?
As long as Aaron Donald is playing, everyone is realistically fighting for number 2. But that doesn’t mean Garrett couldn’t put on a huge season and win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. Garrett has the second best chance of winning DPOY on BetMGM. Garrett is at +500, just behind Donald at +450. Even if Garrett finished second behind Donald, the Browns would sign up for it. Garrett has been fantastic for most of his career, something that was somewhat overshadowed by Mason Rudolph’s helmet swing incident and the suspension that followed. Garrett has 13.5, 10 and 12 sacks over the past three seasons, and if he can reach 15 or more, he will get DPOY votes. The Browns have improved the defensive talent around him, and a unit with a player as dominant as Garrett should be better than it was last season.
Based on talent on both sides of the ball and a huge hiring of coaches, the Browns must be seen as Super Bowl contenders. If Odell Beckham Jr. can be anything close to what he was with the Giants – it sometimes seems like a futile pursuit – it could be the missing piece. If Beckham is playing near an All-Pro level, that means good things for Baker Mayfield. The running game will be good again, the defense has talent and Kevin Stefanski knows how to orchestrate everything. When the Browns went through this massive rebuild, it wasn’t just to go to the playoffs or win a wildcard game. They wanted to chase a Super Bowl. Now is the time to take this step, if it ever has to happen.
Browns fans wouldn’t trade what happened last season. Breaking the long playoff drought and embarrassing the Steelers in the wildcard tour has been the Browns’ biggest highlight since returning to the NFL. However, they also don’t want this to be a one-time event. A playoff-less setback this season wouldn’t stop the Browns from being great in 2022, but that would be worrying. The Browns won many close games last season and there’s some reason to believe regression is inevitable. They just weren’t as good as their 11-5 record last season. Windows to win can open and close very quickly. We still expect the next step to be forward, and it would be overwhelming for Browns fans if it turned the other way around.
The Browns have done an outstanding job using their draft and salary cap resources to build a comprehensive and talented roster. I think there is another level for the Browns, but I’m not sure that stage takes them past the Ravens in AFC North this season. I buy the Browns as a wild card team and maybe even making a playoff run from there. But would that be enough for Browns fans, given the heightened expectations?
32. Houston Texans
31. Detroit Lions
30. Jacksonville Jaguars
29. New York Jets
28. Cincinnati Bengals
27. Eagles of Philadelphia
26. Carolina Panthers
25. Atlanta Falcons
24. The Adventurers of Las Vegas
23. Giants of New York
22. Chicago Bears
21. Denver Broncos
20. Dallas Cowboys
19. Washington Football Team
18. Arizona Cardinals
17. Minnesota Vikings
16. Pittsburgh Steelers
15. Saints of New Orleans
14. New England Patriots
13. Miami Dolphins
12. Los Angeles Chargers