The first time that I started paying attention to the Cleveland Browns was during the 2001 season, but it was the 2002 season in which I was a full-blown die hard fan who couldn’t miss a second of any game. That season, the Browns made the playoffs with a 9-7 record. The first Browns postseason game that I was cognizant of took place on January 5, 2003. I was 13 years old.
January 10, 2021 will be the Browns’ next postseason game. I am now 31 years old. 18 freaking years later.
I still remember that playoff game fondly, with Kelly Holcomb getting the start, and the early catch-and-run to Kevin Johnson that saw his bare ass showing for a bit after the play when he was tackled, my mom making note of it. We jumped out to a surprising lead, picking off Tommy Maddox twice and Dennis Northcutt catching two touchdown passes and returning a punt for big yardage. Northcutt was my favorite player back then, so I was even more ecstatic to see him coming through with some big plays.
The rest of the second half didn’t go too well. I will forever remember Northcutt being unable to haul in another perfect pass from Holcomb, one that fans will forever knock him on for having “stone hands.” I will forever remember precisely how to pronounce the name Chris Fuamatu-Maʻafala as he walked into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown, dropping to his knees in celebration. And I will forever remember Holcomb’s final pass to Andre King, and King diving toward the sideline with the clocks reading 0:00. No field goal attempt for Phil Dawson. Holcomb bends over, crushed at the defeat. And then Bill Cowher’s huge grin as he walks onto the field, knowing his team just stole a victory.
I started Dawgs By Nature on March 2, 2006. This is the first time I’ve ever been able to blog for my team during the playoffs, something no other blogger can say on our network for that length of time. I wish I could call that a badge of honor, lol, but it made it all-the-more special last week when the Browns pulled off the 24-22 victory over Pittsburgh to clinch a playoff spot. I desperately wanted Cleveland to get back to the playoffs. We have all waited so long for this.
Last week, I had anxiety all week just about making it. After the win, I had a sense of comfort. Not because I’m content with just making the playoffs, but we’re part of the tournament now, and I’ll be proud of whatever effort our guys put forth. The deflating thing about this week’s game is that it’s difficult to evaluate what type of Browns team we’re going to get on Sunday. Over the past several weeks, rather than enjoying the Browns, all I keep doing is checking my notifications on my phone — to see whether the Browns’ PR director sent me an email with the subject like, “Statement from the Cleveland Browns.” When Ronnie Harrison tweeted a facepalm emoji at the same time the Francisco Lindor trade was announced, I knew that the tweet had nothing to do with the Indians. I thought, “F@#$, I bet he has COVID.” He did. Heck, when the news about Myles Garrett and Jack Conklin came out earlier today about them being named first-team All-Pros, my first instinct for a second was panicking that Conklin had COVID-19. Whew, what a relief, right? Except that a few hours later, he missed practice with an “illness.” What the heck?
The uncertainty sucks, but this team still has a job to do on Sunday: beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. It won’t be easy — but I also think Cleveland has a damn good chance of winning, even with everything that has gone on. Baker Mayfield has had a terrific second half of the season, while Ben Roethlisberger has made a lot of questionable decisions with the ball in his hand. The Steelers often have a poor run-pass imbalance. And their defense, while still dangerous with the blitz, lost Bud Dupree a few weeks ago, and won’t have Joe Haden back from COVID-19 yet. Pittsburgh’s defense ranks 11th against the run (Cleveland, funny enough, actually ranks better against the run). The key to the Browns’ rushing attack is Wyatt Teller, and we saw what Nick Chubb did against them in the first quarter last week before Kevin Stefanski made the bold decision to rest him for much of the game, in anticipation for this week. Joel Bitonio being out at left guard is the biggest loss the team has suffered this week, because you don’t know how badly that will collapse the left side of the line. But Cleveland also has four other high quality linemen who they can rely on. They have no other choice.
I think Cleveland is going to have something up their sleeve offensively to throw the Steelers’ defense for a loop. Stefanski has now seen in two games how Pittsburgh impacts his playaction scheme. He’s going to adapt, and that’s where Pittsburgh won’t know what to expect. Can the Browns execute the gameplan in a big moment?
For the defense: I’m just hoping Roethlisberger plays like crap. Otherwise, those receivers should beat us more times than not, and Pittsburgh’s line holds up very well in pass protection. If Roethlisberger is “off” again, that can really turn the tide early in the game. If that happens, can Cleveland hold them off? Or will we be horrified by a late Steelers rally?
If I was a general NFL analyst, I would go with the home favorite here. But dammit, after waiting 18 years for another Browns playoff game, and this being my first one under the Dawgs By Nature umbrella, there is no way I’m taking the Steelers. Let’s Go Browns. Browns 24, Steelers 20.
Other DBN Staff Predictions
Here are predictions from staff members at DBN (will be updated as more predictions come in).
rufio: “We’re an inexperienced playoff team playing a road game, we’re missing our head coach, a few position coaches, a pro bowler, probably 3/4ths of what would be our starting secondary (including Greedy and Delpit), our second best pass rusher, our most explosive receiver, and another deep threat. We’re facing a rested defense featuring some of the best front 7 players in the league and a future hall of fame quarterback. No one is giving us a chance in this game, and we’d have all the excuses in the world to lose.
But we won’t.
Baker plays better when people count him out, and Jarvis might too. Casual fans and media members are going to underestimate the amount of coaching that Stefasnki will have already done by the time we kick off (we’ll miss him but not as much as one might think). As rested as that defense is, Nick Chubb has only carried the ball 190 times this year, including 25 in the past two games combined.
Somehow, some way, the Browns pull this one out.” Browns 31, Steelers 28
Ezweav: “It’s something of an honor to be participating in the very first DBN Playoff prediction. What a year for our guys, and how good does the future look than it did about a year ago at this time?
All that aside...yeah this one looks damn near impossible. If the Browns are cursed, it’s probably a safe bet that the spell was cast over there at Ketchup Stadium in Pittsburgh. Oh and we won’t have our HC due to the wretched virus, along with Joel Bitonio, who’s waited an entire career for this opportunity only to have it taken away.
And of course look how close that game was last week going up against helmet-head? I mean if that guy can look good against our consistently terrible defense (featuring a number of practice-squad DB’s) that means PigPen will simply roll all over us, right?
Normally this is where I invariably predict the loss, which I did for all except two games this year - the two against these schmucks. But there are reasons to think that it may not be all bad.
The team has been doing virtual practice all year, so it’s not like coach Stefanski’s influence will be nothing. On game day he manages the game flow and calls the plays, and he’s divvied those respective roles up between Priefer and AVP. I’d say if we lost him during the week but had him for the game, that would actually be worse. To be sure, the situation isn’t ideal, but it sounds like they’re organized enough to be able to handle it, which is a stunning turn of events for this franchise.
Thus, we’re going to hang with these jokers. They’ll stymie our rushing efforts early but as the game flows those 1’s & 2’s will become 7’s, 8’s, 9’s, or longer. The defense will be characteristically horrid but will make enough plays to keep it within striking distance.
Outside of Stefanski, the biggest stabilizing force this season has been Baker Mayfield, and this is about to be his moment to shine. In the 4th quarter, he will be the difference.” Browns 29, Steelers 28
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.