The 2018 Cleveland Browns are a Playoff Team
Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you to bet on the Browns to win the Super Bowl. This article isn’t about the Browns being a 12 win team and dethroning the Steelers. However, between the Browns improving this offseason and a weak conference, Cleveland certainly have a chance. Before we look at why Cleveland will be in, let’s look at some of the givens of the AFC.
Who’s In and Who’s Out
Going into each NFL season, there are some teams that, barring injuries, you can assume will be in the playoffs. I think the Patriots winning the AFC East and the Steelers winning the North are foregone conclusions. And while some may argue other teams for winning the South, I don’t think many people are arguing against the Jaguars making the playoffs. So we have three pretty solid certainties so far. Let’s just assume those are our division winners. Now, let’s look at some teams that probably won’t make the playoffs. I think we can safely eliminate the rest of the AFC East. If we are arguing for the Steelers and Browns to get in, we can probably eliminate the Ravens and Bengals. I don’t think anyone (Including me) is giving Gruden a chance, so let’s get rid of the Raiders as well. While I like the Chiefs, I think they’ll take a step back while Mahomes grows, so that eliminates the Chiefs. That leaves us with the Chargers, Broncos, Texans, Colts, and Browns for three playoff spots. While a lot of people are high on the Broncos for next year, I don’t think they’l beat out the Chargers. So we have the Broncos, Texans, Colts, and Browns for the two wild card spots. So let’s look at why the Browns will beat out two of those teams and make the playoffs.
The Browns are in because…
They have a real offensive coordinator calling plays. Last year, Hue Jackson was the head coach, offensive coordinator, quarterback’s coach, and play caller. This year, Todd Haley, (Who I think is great as a coordinator) takes half those duties away from Jackson. The less Hue has to do, the better. But it doesn’t just take a good coordinator. The Browns need good pieces for him to work with. The Browns not only improved on offense; they are actually good on offense. Tyrod Taylor is a reliable, high floor quarterback. He won’t turn the ball over and he’s a great leader in the locker room. He provides stability at the position until Baker Mayfield is ready to take over. At running back you have a solid receiving back in Duke Johnson. Remember what Todd Haley did with a great receiving back in Pittsburgh? While Duke Johnson obviously isn’t Leveon Bell, he should see a spike in production this year. Cleveland also has two tough runners in Nick Chubb and Carlos Hyde. Moving to receiver, we have old reliable in Jarvis Landry and a dynamic playmaker in Josh Gordon. I liked Corey Coleman as the third receiver here but they traded him to the Bills for a 2020 7th round pick (Classic bad Browns’ move) at the time of writing this article. At tight end, they have David Njoku, who’s freakishly athletic and should see plenty of targets from Tyrod Taylor. On defense, they have Myles Garret, who by all reports is tearing up training camp. At linebacker, they have Pro Bowler Joe Schobert, perennial top 5 tackler Christian Kirksey, veteran Jamie Collins, and new addition Mychal Kendricks. In the secondary, they have first round pick Denzel Ward, former Chief Terrance Mitchell, Demarious Randall at Free Safety, and either Jabrill Peppers or Derrick Kindred at the other safety position. When looking at this Brown’s roster from top to bottom, it doesn’t just look okay. It actually looks like a good, competitive NFL roster. It’s a roster that won’t just win the games it should win. The Browns may actually steal some victories from better teams. But how many wins can this team actually get?
The Browns’ Schedule
The Browns schedule doesn’t seem too hard but also doesn’t seem like a cake walk, depending on how some things break. Steelers and Saints isn’t a fun way to start the season. But, they play the Steelers in Cleveland and the Steelers may not have Leveon Bell depending on how the holdout shakes out. They may catch Pittsburgh off guard and steal a win. After that, they get the Jets and Raiders. Let’s say worst case scenario, they are 2-2. Their next four games are Ravens, Chargers, Bucs, and Steelers. Again, the Ravens game is a home game, so they can win that one. The Bucs will be bad so they should win that as well. Once again, worst case scenario, they are now 4-4 through half the season. The next four games are Chiefs, Falcons, Bengals, and Texans. I think Falcons are a loss and Bengals are a win. Chiefs and Texans are going to be a toss up and is really going to depend on how each team progresses with their second year quarterback. Let’s say they split those two, putting them at 6-6. The last four games are Panthers, Broncos, Bengals, and Ravens. I actually think the Panthers take a step back this year and since this is a home game for the Browns, they can win it. But even if they don’t, they just need to win out vs the Broncos, Bengals, and Ravens to go 9-7. Somewhere along the way, they may lose some games that they shouldn’t or take some games off good teams. But, 9-7 certainly is attainable. So is this good enough to make the playoffs?
Final Two Wild Card Spots
I really don’t think the Broncos can get to 9 wins this year. I think they’ll be close, but they won’t quite make it. Their week 15 matchup vs the Browns may actually decide their playoff fate. So the Browns now just need to beat out the Colts and Texans. If Luck isn’t healthy, then the argument is pretty easy. If he is, then it becomes interesting. The advantage for the Browns is that the Texans and Colts will have to beat up on each other and get beat up by the Jaguars, meaning even if both of them are better than the Browns, one of them won’t be able to get to nine wins.
So there you have it. The Cleveland Browns are a playoff team in 2018. Just remember, the Bills and Titans made it last year. The AFC playoff race is wide open every year, especially for the wild card spots. So why not the Cleveland Browns?
-Stephen Brown III (@sbtrey23)