The Cleveland Browns have long been the laughingstock of the NFL, but those days might soon be over, perhaps as early as 2018, just one year removed from an 0-16 season.
That’s right, the hapless Browns, the franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2002 and has posted a 1-31 record over the past two seasons might have a puncher’s chance of not only improving but, get this … making the playoffs. Seriously.
Time for Change
The potential turnaround likely won’t have much, if any, to do with rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, the top overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He isn’t expected to start, but improved QB play is almost a certainty.
In 2017, Cleveland lost six games by less than a touchdown and were -8 in the turnover margin in those games. While it may seem silly to place the blame for a winless season on one player, the DeShone Kizer experiment was a complete disaster, to say the least.
Kizer, a rookie out of Notre Dame, threw 22 interceptions (six more than any other QB in the league), completing a mediocre 53.6 percent of his passes with a horrific 60.5 QB rating, The only positive from his performance last year was that at least it wasn’t worse than Ryan Leaf’s infamous rookie season in 1998 in which the second overall pick in the draft threw 2 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, completing just 45 percent of his passes.
The Kizer experiment is over and the Browns acquired former Buffalo Bills play-caller Tyrod Taylor, who is expected to start while Mayfield watches from the sidelines.
Taylor won’t dominate games on his own like Tom Brady or Matt Ryan. But he takes care of the ball, having thrown just 16 interceptions with 65 touchdowns in three years with the Bills. The former Virginia Tech star also has the kind of mobility the Browns need from their quarterback.
Cleveland is currently an 80/1 pick to win the Super Bowl. That’s an improvement compared to last year’s preseason handicap at 150/1. But by getting a quarterback who will take care of the football, the Browns might start winning some of those close games. Even better? The schedule is favorable.
It will be tough for Cleveland to compete with the Pittsburgh Steelers (12/1 to win the Super Bowl) in the AFC North, but a wild card spot isn’t beyond reason. The schedule includes nine games against teams that didn’t make the playoffs in 2017.
Following a tough start to the season against Pittsburgh and New Orleans, the Browns face three straight teams that missed the playoffs last year (New York Jets, Oakland, and Baltimore). They could potentially start out 3-2. And if they do, a postseason berth will be within reach.