CBS Sports - No. 10 (up 1 spot)
The Browns are in the playoffs. The Browns are in the playoffs. That’s a heck of a season for first-year coach Kevin Stefanski.
MMQB - No. 12 (N/A - Swapped with ESPN)
The Browns are headed to the postseason. It’s hard not to feel good for the players and their fans. It’s also hard not to be excited for a rivalry rematch next week.
NFL.com - No. 9 (no change)
The Browns are back in the postseason for the first time since the 2002 campaign, a major accomplishment for a team that finished 0-16 just three seasons ago. Cleveland punched its ticket with a 24-22 win over a Steelers team playing backups in several key positions. The two squads meet again on Sunday night, and the Browns will have to be much sharper if they expect to contend against Pittsburgh’s varsity team. Tuesday morning’s news certainly doesn’t help: Head coach Kevin Stefanski and Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio have tested positive for COVID-19. It can never be easy with this team.
Sporting News - No. 12 (no change)
The Browns (11-5) should be thrilled about how much rookie coach Kevin Stefanski got the best out of Baker Mayfield, playing well off the running game, and how their defense shored up against the run. Getting to the playoffs alone is a major breakthrough for a team that hasn’t experienced anything like this in almost 20 years. Cleveland might be able to get past Pittsburgh again in the opening round, but the pass defense isn’t good enough to handle Mahomes, Allen or Jackson later.
Yahoo Sports - No. 11 (no change)
Over a four-season stretch from 2015-18, the Browns won 11 games total. Getting to 11-5 and making the playoffs is a great season. Next up is trying to get the franchise’s first playoff win since January 1, 1995, when Bill Belichick outcoached Bill Parcells in a win over the Patriots.
Bleacher Report - No. 10 (down 1 spot)
The NFL’s longest playoff drought is finally, mercifully over. Since re-joining the NFL in 1999, the Cleveland Browns only made the playoffs in 2002. That is, until they snuck past the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-22 to cap an 11-win season and earn the sixth seed in the AFC.
Veteran guard Joel Bitonio has seen the opposite end of the spectrum—a winless season in 2017. But as he told Albert Breer of The MMQB, the arrival of quarterback Baker Mayfield the following year marked a turning point for the franchise:
“That (2017 season) was depressing, but there was never a time where I was like, ‘I need to get out of here.’ I always thought we were kinda on the verge, and getting Baker, I think, re-energized me a little bit. I saw what he could do, and the type of player he was, and I was like, ‘I know this is a quarterback league, and once you have a quarterback that’s pretty good, that gives you a heck of a lot more chances to win games than when you don’t have one.’”
That these Browns are better under head coach Kevin Stefanski is undeniable. But as Sobleski wrote, Cleveland’s deficiencies on defense will more likely than not mean a quick exit from the postseason.
“The Browns finally found a way to put an end to the league’s longest playoff drought, and they did so through the continued improvement of Mayfield coupled with two outstanding running backs in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt,” he said. “Cleveland has enough firepower to stay in any game. Its downfall comes on the other side of the ball, where its defense is suspect at best (and that’s being nice). However, the potential returns of cornerback Denzel Ward and linebacker B.J. Goodson from the COVID-19 list could provide help.”
Associated Press - No. 12 (no change)
Listed below is a summary table of where teams in the AFC North are ranked this week.