The Cleveland Browns had the biggest turnaround in franchise history in 2018 as the team posted seven wins after totaling just one victory in the previous two seasons combined.
The Browns will likely not experience another seven-win improvement this fall, but what is a realistic expectation for the team in 2019?
After years of ranking as the lowest over/under on the board, the Browns aren’t a joke anymore. Baker Mayfield & Co. would have come narrowly short of this total at 7-8-1 in 2018, as ties count as losses for the purposes of these bets. With a young core and Hue Jackson safely ensconced outside of the Cleveland metropolitan area, it would be reasonable to expect the Browns to improve in 2018.
What might hurt the Browns, though, are some of the factors that pushed them to success in 2018. Their schedule will be tougher, as they got to face Jeff Driskel for one and a half games vs. the Bengals, while the move up the standings will get the Browns a third-place schedule in 2019. Cleveland’s turnover margin was extremely likely to improve in 2018, but its plus-7 mark could be tough to keep up. Teams that improve as much as the Browns did in general often have a consolidation year; 67 of the 89 previous teams (approximately 75 percent) that improved by five or more wins since 1989 declined by at least one win the following season.
Barnwell hits on a few valid points, most notably when it comes to the team’s turnover margin, which is unpredictable from season to season. (Although the Browns can work to cut down on the number of turnovers they make, which would balance out a reduction in the turnovers they force.
There are a few things, however, that Barnwell may be overlooking or underselling when it comes to the team.
The first is there is no way to underestimate the impact of Hue Jackson, the worst head coach in NFL history, no longer running the team. Getting rid of Jackson easily adds two or three wins to the victory column.
The Browns will also have quarterback Baker Mayfield for the entire season, and it is not unreasonable to expect him to improve in his second season.
And while the schedule may appear to be more difficult, consider that:
- Even if they had faced quarterback Andy Dalton for two games, the Browns were clearly better than the Cincinnati Bengals and the two teams are moving in opposite directions.
- The Browns were one final drive away from sweeping the Baltimore Ravens.
- Cleveland was a blocked field goal away from splitting the season series with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
- The Browns face the AFC East this fall, but outside of the New England Patriots, which teams in that division should the Browns fear?
- Cleveland also faces the NFC West, but get that division’s two best teams - the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks - at home. The Arizona Cardinals are a complete mess, and while people are giving the San Francisco 49ers a pass for 2018 because they lost quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to injury, the 49ers are as unproven as the Browns.
The regular season is still almost eight months away, but barring a major injury to a key player or two, it is hard to see the Browns approaching double-digits in wins this fall.