At this point in time in the NFL season, teams are either playing to keep their playoff hopes alive, improve their seeding in the playoffs or focused on the NFL draft. Generally, teams and their fans have something to root for and look forward to.
While the Cleveland Browns have a good amount of draft picks, without one in the first round the NFL draft feels like an afterthought. The team still has the slightest of chances at making the playoffs but no one believes that is a realistic possibility even though it has a statistical chance.
Instead of rooting for wins to help a playoff run or rooting for losses to help draft positioning, Browns fans are left to argue about who/what is at fault for their 5-8 record. As we shared in our piece about the center position earlier today, the answer is far more nuanced than just one thing.
Winning out is still vital for this Cleveland team. While it would drop their draft positioning (and that of the Houston Texans) and create a glimmer of playoff hope until they are officially mathematically eliminated, a 9-8 record is meaningful for the team going into 2023.
First, a winning record proves that the team is more good than bad over the entirety of a season. While that isn’t much to write home about, especially with some folks’ high expectations, it is a sign of a quality football team.
Second, winning the next four would likely mean that QB Deshaun Watson continued to show improvement throughout the rest of the year. Watson, like every quarterback in the league, is the key to the Browns future. If he can show glimpses or games of the old Watson, fans can get excited about 2024 and it not just be about hope but actual proof on the field.
Third, the closing four games could be against bad teams that they should beat. The Baltimore Ravens could be without Lamar Jackson, the New Orleans Saints haven’t been good and the Pittsburgh Steelers already lost to Cleveland and still have questions at quarterback. Only the Washington Commanders could give the Browns a strong game with their solid defense and good rushing attack.
Fourth, finishing 9-8 could be a good recruiting tool for free agents especially veterans looking for a chance to make a playoff push in 2024. Finding a couple of players who are willing to take reasonable deals to join Watson and a team in 2023 that would have been a few plays and players away from the playoffs would be a great selling point.
Finally, a 9-8 season would likely squash any talk of HC Kevin Stefanski being fired after the season. Whether you like Stefanski or not, he helped lead the team to the playoffs in 2020 and would be coming off a winning season. We will talk more about Stefanski as a team of writers later in the week.
If we rewound back to the start of the season, many fans and media would have probably clapped at the idea of a team led by Jacoby Brissett for 11 games and with Watson coming back after missing almost two seasons still, somehow, winning nine games. It is likely that most prognosticators had them at a worse record than that.
Unfortunately, the team wasted great opportunities too often early in the year to make the playoffs a possibility this season but a 9-8 record could be a good catapult into next year.