Cleveland Browns: Which non-AFC North team could become the new rival?

The Cleveland Browns biggest divisional rival is the Baltimore Ravens. But, which team could be the next big rival outside of the division?

For a long period of time, it felt like the Cleveland Browns were viewed as the doormat of the AFC (perhaps all of the NFL). Then the 2020 season happened, which appeared to change the perception of the team. The Browns went 11-5 that season and exercised their Pittsburgh demons by defeating the Steelers in Pittsburgh 48-37 in the AFC wildcard round.

In the 2021 AFC Divisional round, the Browns came up just short against the Kansas City Chiefs 22-17 at Arrowhead Stadium. More likely than not, the margin of defeat would’ve been bigger had KC superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes not gotten injured.

Conveniently enough, the two teams would be playing each other the following season (2021) at the scene of the crime (Arrowhead Stadium) as the AFC North and AFC West were scheduled to play each other. Thus, the Browns and Chiefs were set to meet in a rematch When the schedule was unveiled for the ’21 season, this game was scheduled to go down in Week 1. Clearly, the schedule makers thought Round 2 would deliver.

The rematch would deliver as the Chiefs would come roaring back from a 12-point deficit to defeat Cleveland 33-29. So it looked like the foundation was being laid down for a rivalry to form between the Chiefs and Browns.

While Kansas City was able to build on their success from the 2020 season and get back to the AFC Championship, Cleveland couldn’t. The Browns went 8-9 and missed the playoffs. Thus, it looks like the rivalry between the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs isn’t going to develop.

Usually, a team’s biggest rivals are the teams in their division. Meaning that the Browns’ biggest rivals are the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, and Pittsburgh Steelers. Out of those three, the Baltimore Ravens are the biggest rival. When you look across the NFL landscape, it seems as though every team has a rivalry with someone outside of the division. For example, the Ravens had a brief rivalry with the Tennessee Titans from 2019 to 2021.

As stated above, it seems like the rivalry that appeared to be forming between the Browns and Chiefs isn’t going to develop. So that begs the question, which non-AFC North team could become the new rival for the Cleveland Browns?

One could make an argument that the Buffalo Bills are the answer to this question. However, that’s not the direction I’m going in. Instead, I’m going with the Indianapolis Colts.

The Colts are in the AFC South, while the Browns are in the AFC North. Since they’re not in the same division, the two teams play each other once every three years (the last one in Week 5 of the 2020 season) or if the two teams finish in the same place in the standings.

The past few times Indianapolis and Cleveland have matched up with each other, the games have been fantastic. In 2020, the Browns defeated the Colts 32-23 (in Cleveland). In 2017, Indy defeated Cleveland 31-28 (in Indianapolis). In 2014, the Browns were attempting to make a run towards the playoffs when the Colts came to town for a Week 14 showdown. The Colts were able to overcome a 21-7 deficit to defeat the Browns 25-24.

Unfortunately, the Indianapolis Colts and Cleveland Browns haven’t met in the playoffs recently. Although they have met in some high-profile matchups, most notably in 2020 and 2014. Moreover, the 2014 game between the Browns and Colts was essentially a playoff eliminator.

The past few times the Browns and Colts have matched up with each other, the animosity seems to have increased. Could you imagine if these two teams met every season? It would go from a simmer to a slow boil.