Flashback: The year is 2020 and the Cleveland Browns are closing out the calendar year with a chance to make the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2002. A loss to the New York Jets in Week 16 drops the team to 10-5 and makes the Week 17 matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers a must-win.
Browns fans know the rest of the story as the Steelers sat their starters, Cleveland eeked out that needed victory and set up a playoff rematch for the following week. In the wild-card round, everything broke the Browns way on the field and, if it weren’t for a dirty hit from Dan Sorenson, Cleveland would have won the following week and headed to the AFC Championship Game.
Coming out of the 2020 season, Browns fans finally knew they had the right general manager, head coach and quarterback to lead the team to where the fanbase deserved.
Two years later, we know how the story is going.
While GM Andrew Berry and HC Kevin Stefanski are still in place, they are likely on the hot seat in 2023. QB Baker Mayfield was traded to the Carolina Panthers, cut by the Panthers, signed by the Los Angeles Rams as a free agent then hit free agency again where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will try to resurrect his career.
Early in the calendar year of 2021, at the end of the team’s 2020 playoff run, no one would have guessed that two years later the GM and head coach would be on the hot seat and the quarterback would be on his fourth team in less than 365 days.
Sadly, that has been the lot for football for Cleveland.
While the 2023 offseason has been a positive one, Browns fans haven’t had the kind of sustained success that most other teams’ fans have gotten. Recently, a couple of data points really stood out.
First, that 2020 season is the team’s lone winning season in the last decade:
losing seasons the last 10 years:— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) March 3, 2023
9 - CLE
8 - NYG, NYJ, JAX
7 - TB, WAS, LVR, CAR, ATL
6 - CHI, DET, DEN
5 - CIN, HOU, LAR, SF
4 - MIA, MIN, LAC, ARI, NO, TEN
3 - BUF, PHI, GB, IND
2 - NE, BAL, DAL
1 - SEA
0 - KC, PIT
Generally, success in the NFL comes segmented. A team goes from bad, to good, to really good and, hopefully, great before sliding back down, again hopefully, just to good before building back up. Cleveland has been somewhere between bad and good for the last decade including the last two losing seasons.
Tough in the NFL to jump from good to great but that is the expectation given the trade for and contract given to QB Deshaun Watson.
Not only has the Browns struggled to win, but it was also pointed out recently that the team’s inability to finish a season better than their rivals in Pittsburgh is long-standing:
Stat of the Day, courtesy @RuiterWrongFAN: The Cleveland Browns have not finished ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the division since 1989.— Sal Capaccio (@SalSports) March 24, 2023
Obviously, the playoff victory is a notch in their belt but the Steelers ability to just have better records than their rivals to the west is infuriating.
While this site, rightfully, and many others have been accused of being too positive and optimistic, the above records speak to the deserved negativity the team deserves. In some ways, it is also why we tend to focus on the positives here. All of us that love this team have dealt with so much negativity in a game that is supposed to bring us joy. Trying to find reasons for realistic optimism is an attempt to help that joy, just a little, instead of piling on the sad.