Every year, it feels like experts of the National Football League take a team that had recently seen dark days, and place them atop their division, inflating fan expectations and the team’s conference.
This year, we have their latest hype pick: the Cleveland Browns.
Let’s face it, the Browns really haven’t been on the map since Bernie Kosar was slinging passes for the Browns in a pair of memorable AFC Title Games against John Elway and Denver.
Kosar is now 57.
Here we are in 2021, and the NFL is once again taking notice of the Browns, who have now won their second preseason game. On Sunday, they beat the New York Giants 17-13 at home.
Sunday was mostly a battle of the backups, with QB Case Keenum throwing for 74 yards and a score in the win.
Despite the low score and the backups on the field, many experts still predict not only that the Browns will win the AFC North, but that they’ll actually take down the entire AFC for the first time in their history.
Cleveland’s success seems to be ready to ride on their three stars: Nick Chubb, Baker Mayfield and Myles Garrett. This team also has a number of complementary parts that should help – including wide outs Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.
The Browns will have an excellent measuring stick on opening day, as they travel to the very site of their AFC Divisional playoff loss, Arrowhead Stadium to battle Pat Mahomes and the Chiefs.
While it felt like the media and fans were satisfied with how well the Browns played in that divisional playoff loss, you get the sense that a win over K.C. in Week One might set the tone for a monster season for the franchise.
But as we all know, NFL pundits have made some pretty awful predictions in the past, and you have to wonder whether their prediction of a Browns’ AFC title has just doomed the team in 2021.
They play in perhaps the toughest division in the NFL, the AFC North, against the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals.
The Steelers and Ravens won’t simply start bowing down to the Dawg Pound anytime soon, and the Bengals were less than 20 seconds away from a win against the Browns in Cincinnati last year.
Yes the team seems to have done all the right things in the offseason, but they still have things to work on in Kevin Stefanski’s second season as head coach.
Case in point: while Pittsburgh was No. 2 in total defense a year ago and Baltimore No. 3, the Browns were a very average 21. They allowed 30 points or more in seven games, even though they won four of the seven games in which they allowed 30 or more points.
Their defense should be better, but injuries and inconsistency could come back to haunt the Browns in a big way.
With an offense boasting big names, this team will be a fun one to watch, but when the going gets tough, teams like the Ravens and even the Steelers are still going to put up a fight to try and win the division.
So don’t jump on this team’s back just yet. Yes, all things considered, they should win anywhere from 11-13 games and be a huge force in the AFC. However, the difference between being a great NFL team and an average NFL team is a matter of inches. It remains to be seen whether Cleveland will find those inches.