The Cleveland Browns have become a sexy Super Bowl pick after what was among the most event-filled offseasons in franchise history.
Adding star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and former Pro Bowl running back Kareem Hunt to the mix has put this long downtrodden organization on the front burner.
For most, Cleveland is favored to win the AFC North and compete with the top dogs in that conference for the title.
There’s certainly optimism on this front. Second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield is coming off a record-breaking rookie season. OBJ and Hunt join a talented young skill-position group that already included running back Nick Chubb, tight end David Njoku and wide receiver Jarvis Landry.
Defensively, the Browns performed much better with a young core group later last season. That side of the ball is only going to be better this coming year.
Unfortunately, the Browns are being overhyped by both Las Vegas and the media. Here’s why.
Natural sophomore struggles: History tells us something about Baker Mayfield.
- We’ve seen this multiple times in the recent past. After seeing smashing success during their rookie seasons, former top picks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota struggled during their sophomore seasons.
- It’s been a constant theme around the NFL. Defenses acquire a better understanding of tendencies that young quarterbacks possess.
- In turn, said quarterback must change up his tendencies in order to continue on an upward trajectory.
- With almost a full season as a starter, there’s tape on Mayfield. That’s going to make his transition into his sophomore season a difficult one.
AFC North: This division is going to be ultra competitive.
- Even after losing All-Pro performers Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown this offseason, the Steelers are still a formidable foe.
- Ben Roethlisberger joins youngsters James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster to form an elite trio.
- In Baltimore, the Ravens are now going to scheme their entire offense around young quarterback Lamar Jackson.
- Given the success coordinator Greg Roman has had with players of the same ilk, that has to be a scary proposition for AFC North opponents, the Browns included.
- Jackson is joined by Mark Ingram and rookie receiver Marquise Brown in forming a potentially elite trio in Baltimore.
Narrow path: Losing out in the division would create difficult trek to the playoffs.
- Half of the AFC finished last season with winning records, including two double-digit win teams making it as wild-card squads.
- If Cleveland were to miss out on winning the AFC North, its journey to the playoffs becomes a difficult one.
- Outside of last season’s division winners, the Chargers, Broncos, Colts, Titans and Steelers will be potentially vying with Cleveland for one of the two wild-card spots.
- Cleveland’s best chance at a postseason berth will come via winning the AFC North. As noted above, that’s going to be an ultra-competitive division.
Holes on the roster: Cleveland is still relying on unproven talent.
- The Browns are stacked at a ton of positions. But like every other contender, there are some major holes here.
- Is former first-round bust Greg Robinson the answer to protect Mayfield’s blindside? He was among the worst tackles in the NFL before upping his game last season.
- We’re also openly wondering whether the linebacker duo of Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert can get it done behind a talented defensive line.
- Will Cleveland be relying on rookie Greedy Williams at cornerback? There’s not a whole lot of proven talent at that position behind Denzel Ward. That’s a major question mark.
We obviously wouldn’t bet against Cleveland making a rare playoff appearance come January. But the idea that this is a Super Bowl contender seems to be premature.
How will the youngsters perform with added pressure? Is Mayfield’s mentality going to be a detriment now that he’s in the limelight?
Meanwhile, Freddie Kitchens has a lot to prove as a full-time head coach. How will he handle the pressure?
This isn’t meant to question the Browns as an ascending team. What they have done over the past two years is nothing short of amazing.
But it might be time to pump the brakes on the idea that Cleveland will compete with New England and Kansas City in 2019.
The next logical step in their maturation process will be to finish over .500 and vie for a latter-rung playoff spot. Those have to be the expectations this coming season.