I’ve been an avid Browns fan since 1966 which means that (1) I’m old, (2) I’ve been there when the team was good and (3) I’ve experienced a lifetime's worth of disappointment. The pre-season hype this year makes me very nervous. Who can forget the misplaced hype in 2019, or 2008 or even 2003? So I thought that this might be a good time to do a post hoping to take some of the air out of the hype.
Now I’m extremely hopeful and am an eternal optimist. It is an obviously good collection of talent this year. I would note a couple of facts:
-This year’s schedule should be much more difficult than last year. This year the Chiefs, Ravens (x2) & Packers are Super Bowl contenders as well as the Chargers, Vikings, Broncos, Steelers (x2), Patriots, Bears & Cardinals who are playoff contenders on the schedule.
-We are counting on an improved defense backfield due two free agent DBs, a rookie, two DBs returning from lost season injuries and a rookie hybrid LB all learning a new defense.
-In addition the DL has two injury prone DEs, two veteran rotational DTs and several young and unproven DTs.
-The Linebacking is still suspect.
-The offense is expected to get even more dangerous with the return of OBJ although the offense didn’t play as well with him on the team last year.
It seems obvious that if the Browns hype is accurate the other teams in the best position to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl are the Chiefs, Ravens and Bills. Wins against two of those teams would go a long way to actualizing the hype. So how realistic is it to expect us at the top of the AFC?
To match up the teams we need to look at matchups. It does little to our understanding to compare linebacking to linebacking. We need to look at matchups like a rushing offense against a defensive front seven.
I do think that it is reasonable to compare game coaching, play calling, defensive systems and quarterbacks as those resources make such a difference. Ranked in my judgement:
So the Browns if matched up with the other teams lose or tie as follows:
Chiefs 1-3, Ravens 0-4, Bills 2-2
The rankings are mine and are subjective. In many cases the difference is very close. In some cases I was influenced by history (ex. game management- Reid) and in others I didn’t anticipate past failures to reoccur (ex. play calling - Roman). Stef and Woods have the shortest historical record.
For on the field match ups I judged the following:
Note: Rushing offense is shown as two resources, OL & RB. Theory is that you can have a good rushing offense with good OL and mediocre RBs, or you can have a good rushing offense with a good RB and a mediocre OL.
It is quite apparent that our position groups are competitive and in many cases are superior to those of the other top teams.
Looking at both charts it appears that the Chiefs advantages in coaching and quarterback are the strongest argument for their superiority over the Browns. On the field the Browns matchup very well.
The Ravens look to be a near match on the field but have an apparent advantage in coaching and quarterback. I will note that Stef has only 1 year as HC & play caller. Harbaugh is not a renowned game manager and Roman has gone over the edge as OC in two previous assignments after a few years of success. Will it happen again? Finally I’m not ready to anoint Jackson as a quarterback clearly superior to Mayfield in career value after only three seasons. I can visualize Mayfield as the superior player over time.
The Browns and Bills appear to be well matched on the field and on the sidelines. Like Jackson I’m not convinced that Mayfield may not over time be a better quarterback than Allen.
My conclusion was that there isn’t really any air to let out of this year’s hype. It will be a huge disappointment if the Browns are not competitive as one of the best teams in the AFC and I’ll tempt fate by stating that, for the first time since the 1980s, the Browns will warrant a wager to make the Super Bowl.