The Cleveland Browns bounced back from a historically awful 0-16 season to a commendable 7-8-1 in 2018. Some attribute this change of pace to the midseason firing of head coach Hue Jackson and hiring of his replacement Gregg Williams, while others give credit to breakout rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, but the biggest question is whether or not this team has what it takes to make the playoffs.
The Browns played eight teams with a winning record in 2018 and were 1-6-1 in those games, with the win and tie both coming before Hue Jackson was fired in October. Regardless, the franchise finally has a quarterback who they believe in and a defense that is beginning to take shape after years of investing high picks in the draft.
The idea of the Browns playing football next January is an exciting concept not only for Cleveland fans, but for all who enjoy the sport and have watched them struggle for the last twenty years. The Browns have had a record-breaking twenty-eight starting quarterbacks since the turn of the century. Brian Hoyer, who played for the Browns in 2013 and 14, is the only one of these quarterbacks to finish his time in Cleveland with a winning record at 10-6.
What is it that made these 2018 Browns a legitimate playoff contender until Week 16? Baker Mayfield played great as a rookie, but he couldn’t have done it without the Browns offseason free agent addition Jarvis Landry (WR) and the 2018 second round pick Nick Chubb (RB), who rushed for just under a thousand yards. While the Browns finally have most of the pieces on offense, their defense is improving as well, with young first-round picks Myles Garrett (DE) and Denzel Ward (CB) both selected to the 2019 pro bowl. The missing piece for this team falls on the coaching staff. The Washington Posthas them ranked as the second-best open head coaching position going into 2019. If the Browns have a roster talented enough to get to seven wins under the revolving door of Hue Jackson and Gregg Williams, they should be able to make it to nine or more wins with improvement in staff. One option is Mike McCarthy who was fired midseason after a thirteen-year tenure in Green Bay that included nine trips to the playoffs and a Super Bowl win in 2010. Despite the recent decline, an experienced coach with nearly a decade of playoff experience could be just what this young team needs.
The streak of losing seasons continued into its eleventh season in Cleveland this year, but the Browns have a bright future. The Pittsburg Steelers went 9-6-1, but their roster is trending in the wrong direction. This season they lost Le’Veon Bell (RB), who held out from playing all season after being franchise tagged. Additionally, rumors of an Antonio Brown (WR) trade have spread in the final weeks of the 2018 season, following drama with staff and teammates.
The Cleveland Browns are the second youngest team in the NFL and have drafted thirteen players in the first round in the past seven drafts. With improvement at head coach and a successful draft in April, I believe Cleveland can make the playoffs in 2020 and finally be a team that opponents fear on their schedules.