Cleveland Browns: 5 reasons to pump the brakes on expectations

Dec 14, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry (80) makes a catch as Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey (44) defends during the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 14, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry (80) makes a catch as Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey (44) defends during the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /
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Cleveland Browns
Jan 10, 2021; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) throws a pass against the Cleveland Browns in the third quarter of an AFC Wild Card playoff game at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Cleveland Browns play in the toughest division in the AFC

The Browns play in the AFC North, which was the toughest division in the AFC last season by far. The AFC North sent three teams to the playoffs last season, and the top three teams won 34 games.

People forget that even Cincinnati was dangerous while Joe Burrow was healthy, although they were “same old Bungles” when he went down with a knee injury. Their big improvement this season is the drafting of Ja‘Marr Chase, upon the strong recommendation of Joe Burrow. For both their sakes, hopefully, he turns it around, but otherwise, Chase looks like he may be every bit as bad as Corey Coleman. Burrow will never get a job as a personnel director when he retires.

If you want to project a big season for the Browns (or any team) to go 14-3 or 13-4, it really helps to play in a weak division so that your team can dominate. The best example is the New England Patriots of a few years ago when the Dolphins, Jets, and Bills were all bad and struggled to make it to .500. We don’t have that situation in the AFC North.

Baltimore is still Baltimore, although their defense will be weakened by the loss of edge rushers Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue. This observer disagreed with several moves made by general manager Eric DeCosta (thank God Ozzie Newsome retired), but they are still a 10-win team at least.

Their theme this season is to encourage Lamar Jackson, the greatest dual-threat quarterback in NFL history, to become more of a pocket passer. Why? They will probably even succeed to a certain extent, but I was more scared of them when they were gaining 3,000 yards on the ground and going 14-2 with Newsome’s blueprint.

Nevertheless, they are still a very good operation. The Village Elliot has questioned their emphasis on winning exhibition games (I am not making this up), which has resulted in the loss of two starters to Injured Reserve in running back J.K. Dobbins, and stud linebacker L.J. Fort. Plus this season’s number one draft pick, Rashod Bateman went to IR due to an injury suffered in practice. The Ravens traded away massive Orlando Brown, Jr., the Son of Zeus, trading him to Kansas City and signing Alejandro Villanueva from Pittsburgh. Thank you, Mr. DeCosta. The Steelers also thank you.

Speaking of Pittsburgh, I have them rated higher than the national media this season. The buzz from the experts is that the offensive line will be crippled by the loss of three great veterans in Villanueva, Maurkice Pouncey, David Castro.

Did you experts actually watch the Steelers play last season? The Steelers’ offensive line had nothing left in the tank by the end of last season. They started off strong, but they ended the season all beat up. They got old overnight.

The reason why they looked good statistically is that Ben Roethlisberger had the shortest time to throw (TTT) in the NFL last season, so no wonder he was so hard to sack. The Steelers have great wide receivers and are bringing them back this season, so Ben can stand back in the spread formation, take the snap, and chuck a wobbly short pass to the first open receiver, and bingo — he completes the pass 70% of the time.

You can make fun of him, and I do, but he is going to be good for 4,000 yards again. If for some reason, he should not be available, they still have Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins. Meanwhile, they drafted freaking Najee Harris from the Crimson Tide to carry the luggage for the team, and that is an upgrade for them. No, their offensive line is below average, but it was below average last season. It will be good enough to win, and they still have a great defense.

Nobody likes the Bengals this season, perhaps with good reason. But they were competitive when Joe Burrow was healthy last season. They weren’t like the New York Jets or Jacksonville Jaguars, who were just bad. The Bengals are not going to cooperate with a team seeking to create a historic 14-win season. In short, they are not going to win the division, but they are a threat to win on Sunday.

Face it, the Browns live in a rough neighborhood and it is implausible that any team is going to dominate. Yes, I believe the Browns deserve to be a co-favorite to win the division, contrary to the national experts who are solidly behind the Ravens. I am less impressed with the Ravens offseason. However, I have a higher opinion of the Steelers than the national media. I see three teams at the 11-win level, give or take, and the Bengals below .500 but distinctly better than last year despite the impending failure of first-round draft pick Ja’Marr Chase.

Those who expect Browns dominance and coasting to an easy AFC North Championship are not being realistic. It can happen, but it is not going to be easy.

Cleveland made a lot of additions last season. But one thing they did not do was help themselves at defensive tackle. Defensive tackle is not that exciting of a position and Richardson drew a lot of flak for the size of his contract, but he was a very good player. The Browns do not have a replacement at the same level.