To say that this year for Cleveland has been unlike any other is an understatement.
It began with not giving QB Baker Mayfield that second huge contract when all other quarterbacks in the league his age were getting bank. Suddenly and without any discussion or prior attention, it was announced that the Browns were making a play for Houston’s star QB Deshaun Watson. Shortly thereafter, he was traded to Cleveland.
Then the circus that followed, and his six game, no, 11-game suspension.
So far his backup, Jacoby Brissett, has played admirably in some games and was just average in others. The Browns are currently the sixth-highest scoring teams, the franchise is one of the leaders in rushing yards, the offensive line is playing exceptional, Amari Cooper and David Njoku are paying dividends on their new contracts, and life in the NFL looks pretty good.
But beginning next game in Week 5, all hell could break loose. Have you seen the schedule from Week 5 to Week 12? It is brutal.
That is why the year cannot be looked at as a 17-game entity. It must be broken down into quadrants with goals to be on the plus side in each quadrant.
Sunday Cleveland came to the end of the first quadrant and is 2-2-0. The schedule is not 17 games, but four separate seasons. If the Browns can go 3-1 in each season, nobody will be able to catch them.
Obviously, 3-1 in every quarter amounts to 12-5-0 or 13-4-0 for the season, a record that would be tough to equal, much less surpass.
And by dividing the year into four quadrants, the formula works.
Let’s examine what the Browns must do to capture each quadrant. The next four games are against the Los Angeles Chargers, New England, at Baltimore and Cincinnati.
It all begins in Week 5 against the Chargers. Before the season began, some media outlets had the Chargers battling it out with Kansas City for AFC Western Division supremacy. But so far, Los Angeles is anything but elite.
QB Justin Herbert is the league’s fifth-rated quarterback (with at least 100 attempts) and likes to throw. Los Angeles has the fifth best passing team and lead the league in passing yards with 1,250. And they live-and-die with the pass since they are dead last in rushing yards.
DC Joe Woods already uses a lot of 4-2-5 formations and on occasion a sprinkling of the 4-1-6. This defense is used to these formations so against LA the transformation to an all-out passing attack should be seamless. The trick will be to sustain a constant pass rush since Herbert has a quick release.
The Chargers’ defense against the run is middle of the pack ranked 15th which plays into the Browns’ offensive strategy quite well. Plainly put, if Cleveland maintains the ground attack and can get to Herbert or at least hurry his progress, the Chargers are beatable.
New England is a roller coaster but mostly a mess. This should be a win for Cleveland, but so was the Atlanta game.
The Patriots are horrible at stopping the run, are playing with a backup quarterback, and are in the lower third in passing. But they can run the ball.
Baltimore is a sticky game. QB Lamar Jackson is having another league MVP-type season and is playing very well. Consider this one a loss.
With Cincinnati nobody knows which Bengals team will show up. Despite being revamped, their offensive line is a mess but are an excellent running team. QB Joe Burrow has a ton of offensive weapons at his disposal so the Browns secondary will need to be ready and have their assignments down. No more wide open receivers. Make this a win.
What do the Browns need? To go 3-1-0.
Third and fourth quadrants are the toughest yet
Isn’t it possible to finish the second quadrant at 3-1-0? When the games are broken down by opponent, and seeing their weaknesses, it is not difficult to imagine a Browns victory.
Week 9 is the bye week. Beginning in Week 10, their opponents are at Miami, at Buffalo, Tampa Bay and at Houston. Yes, it is difficult envisioning a three-win quadrant here. They should beat Houston handily, but the other three clubs are NFL elite right now. Buffalo is exceptional against the run while Houston ranks 31st.
The final quadrant is actually a pentagon with five games beginning with a road game against Cincinnati, then home games against Baltimore and New Orleans, at Washington and at Pittsburgh. There is where the Browns really need to win some games. The only question marks are Cincinnati and Baltimore. If Cleveland can manage a 3-2-0 record or even better, then maybe the post-season isn’t such a dream after all.
For the Browns to make the post-season, they will need to be on the plus side in each quadrant. By going 2-2-0 in the first quadrant, if they keep this up the best record that can be expected is 9-8-0 or 8-9-0 which isn’t going to be good enough for a playoff team.
Not in the ultra-competitive AFC.