After months of speculation, we now know that Deshaun Watson will miss the first 11 games of the regular season. Jacoby Brissett will start in his place, and if something should happen to him, Josh Dobbs would likely be the next man up. With such a drastic shift in quarterback talent, it makes it difficult to project how the Browns’ 2022 season will go. The team still has one of the best running back duos in the league, and one of the most talented offensive lines in the league. They can lean on that and hope for smart quarterback play, but will the receiving talent be enough? There is a fear that teams will blanket Amari Cooper, and the rest of the team’s receivers won’t be good enough to make a difference.
Defensively, the team is very much unchanged, so the team is hoping for more maturity at a few positions — like linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and safety Grant Delpit taking on more impactful goals. Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney are terrifying forces to be on opposite edges at the same time, but for the second year in a row, the defensive tackle depth appears incredibly weak, and the team’s other linebackers aren’t Pro Bowl-caliber players. The cornerback position has a chance to improve if Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome, and Greedy Williams can all stay healthy.
On special teams, rookie Cade York has been the talk of camp it seems like. He has had a very high conversion rate, including on kicks from beyond 50 (and even 60) yards. The Bengals and Ravens both have elite kickers; can Cleveland make it a trifecta?
DraftKings Sportsbook has the Browns’ regular season win total at 8.5 games. My first instinct was that even though Brissett will be the starter, I was surprised to see it that low. With a 17-game season these days, you really need at 11 wins to have a fighting chance at the postseason. Because of Baker Mayfield’s shoulder injury in 2021, he and the offense often underachieved mightily — but even with that, they still limped their way to eight wins. Brissett might not wow anyone, but he can manage the offense (something that Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski should have turned to Case Keenum last year to do). The Browns have a very soft schedule to open the season against the Carolina Panthers, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Atlanta Falcons. I hope I don’t eat my words, but Cleveland should be favored in all of those games and take at least three out of four of them as wins.
Things will get rougher after that, but with a few squeaked-out victories, before you know it, Watson will be back in Week 13 to take on his former team, the Houston Texans. The expectation is that Watson will elevate the offense, but that is easier said than done — even though he was clearly the sharper quarterback in training camp by far, he will have essentially had two full seasons off from live game action before suddenly being thrust into late-season action. That’s where the 8.5 win total seems fair — because although it’d sound great to pencil in the Browns as top contenders when Watson returns, it’s hard to imagine him shaking off the rust that easily. I would go with a record prediction of 9-8, all thanks to the dynamic at the quarterback position.