The talent is there, so it’s time to live up to the expectations. The Browns are the favorite in the AFC North for a reason. Can they handle the hype?
Person on the hot seat: WR Odell Beckham Jr.
The Browns proved last season they can move the ball — and win — without OBJ. Now the pressure is on Beckham to prove he can elevate Cleveland’s ceiling — and its offense — to another level. Beckham has struggled to find a chemistry with QB Baker Mayfield since arriving two years ago. He has been limited by injuries as well, including 2020’s season-ending ACL tear. But OBJ appears healthy again. And all eyes will be watching to see if the three-time Pro Bowler can make his mark in what figures to be a make-or-break season for his Cleveland tenure.
The Browns had one of the league’s best offenses in the red zone last season, a major factor in finishing with 11 regular-season wins despite posting a negative point differential (-11). Per ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, Cleveland averaged 5.6 points per trip inside the 20, a tribute to a healthy and effective offensive line, the paired greatness of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and considerable gains by Baker Mayfield. There is some post-hype talk of regression for the Browns, but all the things that made them a winning team last season are still there — with a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. back in action, as well. The AFC North is going to be a street fight, but Cleveland is well-fortified for the battle to come.
The Browns plan to open up their offense more with Baker Mayfield and they have some promising reinforcements behind Myles Garrett on defense. Kevin Stefanski has been established as a top-flight coach in Year 2 and the organization is organized for more success for a change. Look for the Browns to jump from strong wild card to first-time AFC North champions.
Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com said Odell Beckham Jr. is on track to play in the season opener, that he has passed all the tests and “looks great in practice.” Beckham could end up being one of the key players to the 2021 season.
For the second time in three seasons, the Cleveland Browns were the offseason hype darlings of the NFL. After winning 11 games last year and the team’s first postseason victory since the mid-’90s, the Browns spent the offseason overhauling the defense, adding talent at all three levels. Per Andrew Gribble of the team’s website, defensive coordinator Joe Woods said he wants to turn Cleveland’s defense into one of the NFL’s most feared units.
“We want to be a fast, aggressive team,” Woods said. “We want to be able to take away the ball. We really want to dictate the way the game is played. I want to be aggressive with our game planning, aggressive in terms of getting after the quarterback with blitz packages and not really worry about what they are doing—make them worry about what we are doing. That is the hope.”
That revamped defense is being thrown to the proverbial wolves in the season opener: a trip to Arrowhead to face Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
“I’m the lowest of the three analysts on Cleveland to open the season,” Davenport said. “It’s not that I don’t think the Browns have the talent to make a Super Bowl run. But I also remember the hype in 2019 that was followed by a six-win debacle of a season. Let’s see the new defense in action at least once before we start ticketing the team for a February trip to Los Angeles.”
From free agency to the draft to the return of WR Odell Beckham Jr., did any team have a better offseason? Unlike 2019, time to take Cleveland’s Super Bowl hype quite seriously ...
Listed below is a summary table of where teams in the AFC North are ranked this week.