Rarely have the Browns gone into a bye week with any sort of momentum. Rarely have the Browns come back from a bye week with much at stake. But in this whacky rollercoaster of a 2013 Cleveland Browns season, nothing is really rare anymore. The morale around the team is high and the stakes are higher. The Browns travel to Cincinnati this week for their biggest game in a long while, with a chance to bust the AFC North piñata wide open. The Browns couldn’t have picked a better game to have two weeks to prepare for, but that also means expectations have been heightened.
The first-year coaching staff of the Browns struggled making adjustments in the beginning of the season. The Browns held halftime leads against Miami, Baltimore and Detroit that evaporated quickly in the second halves of those games. The Browns don’t have any room left for dropping winnable games. How this coaching staff handles their first bye week is critical. It’s a decided coaching advantage over your opponent to have an additional week of preparations and Rob Chuzinski and the coordinators have a chance now to put their imprint on the 2013 season.
With the bye, the Browns also got some much-needed time to re-energize and recover. Quarterback Jason Campbell and receiver Greg Little were banged up in the win over the Ravens, but they’re expected to be back at full strength on Sunday. Guard Jason Pinkston has been activated from the injured reserve list. Pinkston has not yet played this season after suffering a high ankle sprain in the preseason. Pinkston is a big boost to an offensive line that struggled early in replacing him. The Browns need to get some sort of production out of their running game down the stretch and the bye has given them a chance to work on that. It’s imperative that progress is made.
While the Browns stood pat in Week 10, a lot of AFC teams were losing ground. Obviously, the Bengals losing in Baltimore last week was pivotal for the Browns as they’ll be just 1.5 games back of the Bengals heading into Cincinnati this week. But the Browns also moved up in the final AFC Wild Card spot. The Browns got the two previously winless teams, the Jags and Bucs, to beat two AFC teams that were ahead of the Browns, in the Dolphins and Titans. The Chargers also lost and moved to 4-5. The only team the Browns trail now in that regard is the Jets, who were also on bye this week. And the Browns will play the Jets on the second-to-last week of the season, so in many respects, the Browns will control their destiny the rest of the way, which is remarkable after such a tumultuous first half of the season.
There’s an air of excitement and optimism around the team and fan base for the first time in a while and the return from the bye presents a huge opportunity to build on that. The Bengals have lost two straight and a third would send them staggering into their bye week with a lot of work to be done.