CBS Sports - No. 20 (down 3 spots)
They have to be concerned with what they’ve seen from Deshaun Watson so far. Rust or not, he’s not playing well.
ESPN - No. 24 (down 1 spot)
The FPI reflects what the Browns are — a bottom-half team across the board. The defense has started to play better, but blown coverage and an inability to stop the run earlier have led this unit to underachieve. Offensively, the Browns have fallen apart since their bye. Injuries along the offensive line have hurt. QB Deshaun Watson, after an 11-game suspension for violating the NFL personal conduct policy, has led the Browns to just one offensive TD in two games. And with the exception of a couple of big plays, special teams has been a consistent fiasco.
NFL.com - No. 24 (down 4 spots)
Deshaun Watson’s second start went better than his first, but he still has plenty of work to do to start resembling the $230 million QB the Browns paid for — dearly, some would say — in the offseason. Watson threw his first touchdown pass in 707 days on a connection to tight end David Njoku (the pair showing instant chemistry in their first action together), but that would be the only touchdown for Cleveland in a 23-10 loss to the Bengals. The Browns were stopped on three fourth-down attempts and were penalized nine times for 98 yards. With the playoffs a distant long shot, the rest of this season is about getting Watson back up to NFL game speed, with an eye on 2023.
Sporting News - No. 24 (down 4 spots)
The Browns hoped to have some playoff contention relevance upon Deshaun Watson’s return, but their defensive issues let them down in a big spot against the Bengals. They can now focus on putting all it together with Watson full-time next season.
Yahoo Sports - No. 21 (down 2 spots)
What happened to the Browns’ defense? It looked like Cleveland was building on that side of the ball, but there are no playmakers aside from Myles Garrett. Garrett has 12 sacks and nobody else on the Browns has more than 2.5. No Browns defender other than Garrett has more than four quarterback hits, which is hard to believe given the attention Garrett demands. Nobody on the Browns has more than one interception all season. Garrett and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah have two forced fumbles, and nobody else has more than one. How can an entire defense — Garrett excepted, of course — be this bad at making any impact plays?
Bleacher Report - No. 20 (down 2 spots)
Any realistic chance the Cleveland Browns had of making the postseason in 2022 is gone after the team lost in Cincinnati this week. But the reality is that Cleveland’s postseason hopes have been slim for some time. The rest of this season is about building toward next season. And in that regard, there were some positive signs in Week 14. Deshaun Watson didn’t play great in his second start for the Browns—26 completions in 42 attempts for 276 yards and a score with an interception. But relative to his performance a week earlier, it was a step in the right direction.
“The game is going to continue to speed up,” Watson told reporters after the game. “Each week is going to get better. Today was another learning lesson. Just need to continue to improve. The progress is always taking one step forward. The biggest ultimate goal is to get the W.”
The challenge for Cleveland in the offseason will be improving the team without much in the way of resources with which to do so. Cleveland’s first-rounder in 2023 belongs to the Texans, and the team has less than $4 million in projected cap space next season.
The Ringer - No. 22 (down 1 spot)
Nick Chubb was bottled up by a vaunted Bengals run defense in Week 14, and Deshaun Watson simply wasn’t efficient enough to keep the offense on schedule without a successful run game. In the two games since Watson took over as Cleveland’s QB, the Browns offense ranks 31st in EPA per drive and last offensive points per game.
Listed below is a summary table of where teams in the AFC North are ranked this week.