With Jacoby Brissett playing for the suspended Deshaun Watson, they are an uncertainty for sure. They have talent, but it’s up to Brissett to keep this team afloat until Watson is back.
Who’s on the hot seat: Coach Kevin Stefanski
No Browns head coach has survived three full seasons since Jimmy Haslam bought the team in 2012; Stefanski is now entering his third season. And though he won NFL coach of the year in 2020 while guiding the Browns to the playoffs, last year’s losing season was a massive disappointment. The pressure is now on Stefanski to get Cleveland back in the postseason despite enormous turmoil at quarterback surrounding Deshaun Watson. Although he spearheaded the Watson trade, Haslam has never demonstrated patience as an owner. If the Browns struggle under the circumstances, the heat could fall on Stefanski.
Can this roster hold down the fort until the QB arrives? Deshaun Watson is eligible to return from his suspension in Week 13 against the Texans. Cleveland’s playoff chances will hinge on the rest of the team’s ability to tread water until the controversial quarterback takes the field. Publicly, the Browns have been optimistic about Jacoby Brissett’s ability to handle the QB1 job, but a 14-23 record as a starter helps to explain why he’s become one of the league’s preeminent journeymen. Add in an underwhelming wide receiver group, and you can safely expect the Browns to run the ball — a lot. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are both gonna eat in this offense.
The Browns drop down more as Jacoby Brissett will now need to start the majority of the season with Deshaun Watson’s suspension raised to 11 games. The Browns have the offensive line, running game and defense to stay competitive in the AFC North, but it’s a two-team race between the Ravens and Bengals with the Steelers now headed to have the better QB change.
The problem with evaluating the Browns is that the assumption is Deshaun Watson will look like his normal self when he returns from an 11-game suspension. Watson didn’t play at all last season, got just a handful of preseason snaps this year, and will be joining a brand new team and offensive scheme about two-thirds of the way into the season. Watson is a talented quarterback but assuming he’ll be great right away is asking a lot.
No team in the NFL had a more chaotic offseason than the Cleveland Browns. But after months of uncertainty, the team now knows how long it will be without quarterback Deshaun Watson. The league suspended him 11 games after he was sued by 25 women for sexual misconduct and assault during massage appointments. While Watson is serving that suspension, Jacoby Brissett will lead the Cleveland offense. The team didn’t look good in the preseason finale, but Brissett told reporters after the game that he was pleased with how things went.
“I thought it went smooth. Getting in and out of the huddle was one of the biggest things that we wanted to do, getting up to the line of scrimmage, making the calls, seeing the defense and seeing the structure of the defense. I thought that went well. Obviously, I knew where I was going with the ball at times and seeing it well. Like I said, it was a good step in the right direction.”
Brissett may be confident in his ability to keep the Browns in the playoff hunt until Watson returns. But at least one of B/R’s analysts thinks the team will be hard-pressed to keep the season on track.
“An 11-game suspension for Watson should destroy any hopes the Browns have of putting together a productive 2022 campaign,” Sobleski said. “At best, Brissett can probably hold water at quarterback and possibly keep the team around .500.
“By the time Watson is ready to start, Cleveland is likely looking at an uphill climb to even make the postseason. The Browns will do so with a quarterback who hasn’t properly practiced with the first team for three months and hasn’t played a meaningful NFL down for nearly two years. ... The rest of the Browns roster is good enough to compete with any opponent. But it’s a QB-driven league, and they’re automatically at a disadvantage this season.”
Deshaun Watson will serve an 11-game suspension before he throws his first regular season pass for the Browns, so this ranking accounts for a team quarterbacked by Jacoby Brissett, who was 2-3 in five starts with Miami last season. Brissett will lead a run-first offense that will live and die by the success of the offensive line and play-action passing game. The Browns defense has insane talent at all three levels and will need to play like an elite unit to keep Cleveland in playoff contention.
Listed below is a summary table of where teams in the AFC North are ranked this week.