Cleveland Browns fans are in rare territory. They are 9-3 and on the verge of reaching the playoffs for the first time since January 2003, when they lost in the wildcard round. Head coach Kevin Stefanski has got this team playing in a way that we have not seen in some time in Cleveland. Their 41-35 win over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday has sent out a statement to the rest of the league.
Other writers have expressed their concerns over the Browns when it comes to the postseason.
Here is why Cleveland are a team to watch out for.
Comparisons With San Francisco
When we saw the San Francisco 49ers reach the Super Bowl last season, Jimmy Garoppolo would often be limited in his attempts as the 49ers relied heavily on their run game. He did have the occasional stand out game, as we saw in week 14 last season against the New Orleans Saints. In the 48-46 win, Garoppolo threw for four touchdowns and 349 yards.
Sound familiar? This feels the same with the Cleveland Browns this season. The Browns have two of the top nine running backs in terms of rushing yards this season in Nick Chubb (799) and Kareem Hunt (739). Cleveland has the best running back duo in the league. Both Chubb and Hunt have combined for 11 touchdowns and 1,538 rushing yards this season.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield has been often a second option as the Browns have gone for a formula that works and used the running game. This is a reason Baker Mayfield is 21st in the league for passing attempts this season (327), 20th for passing yards and 13th for passing touchdowns (21).
Baker is not on the same level as the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson. This is not a secret and it is clear that Stefanski also feels this way, with the more frequent use of the running game.
However, as we saw with Garoppolo last season against New Orleans, Baker had his best career game on the weekend.
Baker Mayfield’s Impressive Day
Mayfield recorded his second most attempts this season (33) and most completed passes so far in 2020 (25). Baker also threw for four touchdowns and his best yardage in a game this season (334).
This showed the league that Mayfield is a capable quarterback on his day. If he can be at his best at the same time as Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, then the Cleveland Browns should absolutely be considered a dark horse for the Super Bowl.
In the playoffs, anything is possible. The Browns are by no means the finished article, but when everything clicks then their opponents should be ready to fear the worst.
Baker Mayfield has shown, both on the weekend and against the Colts in week 5, that he can bring out these performances. We have not even talked about the defense, with defensive end Myles Garrett tied for third in the league for sacks (10.5). Should Mayfield and the run game have an off day, then Cleveland have a legitimate threat on defense that can get to any quarterback.
Kevin Stefanski: Coach Of The Year?
What a difference a year makes. Cleveland saw an improvement in the 2018 season after going 0-16 in 2017. There was hype and excitement going into the 2019 season but this ended up being a disastrous season. The Browns went 6-10 and Freddie Kitchens was fired after his only season as head coach.
Kevin Stefanski was brought in after impressing as Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator in 2019. He managed to turn around Kirk Cousins and he appears to be doing the same with Mayfield.
Stefanski has already won more games than Kitchens did in his season as head coach. He seems to have found a way to win and also galvanised a locker room that had issues in previous years. He is definitely a contender for Coach of the Year.
Can The Cleveland Browns Do It?
We all went into the season feeling that the Browns could do something.
These thoughts were held with caution after the anticlimax of last season.
With the run game as productive as it has been all season and a quarterback that showed the world what he can do in a key game, it is certainly time to believe in Cleveland.