The NFL 2019/20 season kicks off in just under a weeks time, with the Green Bay Packers visiting the Chicago Bears in the season opener on Thursday September 6.
In amongst the 32 teams chasing Superbowl glory, there are four teams who hold shared entry to a group that no one wants to be part of. The Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns have not just not won a Superbowl….they have never even appeared in a Superbowl.
The Jaguars and Texans are playoff regulars – and are again fancied to go well this season. The Detroit Lions are an enigmatic franchise – known for being pretty much boom or bust – but they have made the play offs over recent seasons also – 2016 and 2014 being their most recent post season appearances.
But, for the Cleveland Browns franchise and their long suffering fans, it is 16 seasons and counting since they last appeared in the play offs – a ‘one game and out’ wildcard berth in 2002 where they got eliminated by divisional rivals Pittsburgh Steelers. Since then, they have only had one winning season (where a team wins more games than they lose) and no post season excitement to enjoy.
However, confidence and belief is growing that, for the NFL’s worst club (in terms of play off appearances) – the tide is about to turn and the unthinkable could just happen….that not only could the Browns make the playoffs….but they could actually make the Superbowl as well.
For several seasons now – and thanks largely to some juicy first round draft picks – the Browns have been building a strong, savage defence – the basis of which many successful NFL teams build their playing quota around. Going into the 2019/20 season, the Browns should field one of the league’s top pass-rushing defensive lines.
But it is the offense which has got many people turning their attention Cleveland’s way. In the 2018 draft, the Browns used their, and the overall, first pick on Quarterback Baker Mayfield – a Heisman Trophy winning rookie out of Oklahoma University. Mayfield didn’t have to wait long to make his NFL debut – coming on for injured QB Tyrod Taylor in week 3 of the 2018/19 season and leading the Browns to a comeback win, 21-17 over the New York Jets. Whilst Mayfield (above) couldn’t lead the team to the playoffs, with limited weapons on offense at his disposal, Mayfield helped lead the Browns to a 7-8-1 record and their most wins in a season since 2014, as well as their fewest losses since 2007. He finished the season with 3,725 passing yards and also surpassed Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson for most touchdowns thrown in a rookie season with 27.
This season though – Mayfield has those missing weapons. The Browns shocked the NFL when they made a huge trade with the New York Giants to take stud Wide Receiver Odell Beckham Jnr (above), and he will link up with Jarvis Landry to form one of the most formidable WR duos in the NFL. David Njoku should come on again after a promising rookie season at Tight End, whilst in the backfield, Mayfield will have Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt – although he will have to wait until Hunt completes a suspension for his services to be available. Still, Chubb is more than useful, and if the Browns need a second half season push, or fresh set of legs to carry them into the playoffs, Hunt, assuming he reproduces the form shown with the Kansas City Chiefs, would be pretty much perfect for them.
With divisional rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers having lost the likes of Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell and not having the same smothering defence as before, the Cincinnati Bengals being in something of a transition and the Baltimore Ravens explosive but inconsistent, the Browns may be able to take the division with maybe 11, 10….possibly even 9 wins. The preseason has gone well….no injuries of note and 3 out of 4 wins – the one loss being by a single point.
Head Coach Freddie Kitchens, promoted by the Browns from Running Back Coach to HC, was been widely lauded for bringing Mayfield on and turning the Browns around. This will be his first full season in charge of the Browns….it could be a truly memorable one if Kitchens, Mayfield, Beckham and Co can do what no other Browns team has done in its history, and make their first Superbowl appearance ever. Even if they cant, it would appear their grasp on the number one draft pick has released – and it may take a goodly while for it to return.
Browns fans, and all those in the ‘Dawg Pound’, will hope it never does.