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Then and Now: 2023 Browns playoff team has edge over 2020 squad

Cleveland is back in the playoffs with an improved roster that has turned over since their last postseason appearance.

Wild Card Round - Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Life, as they say, comes at you fast in the NFL, as rosters can turn over more quickly than casual fans may realize.

That fact of life is evident when taking a look at the roster the Cleveland Browns will take with them on Saturday when they face the Houston Texans in the first game of the Wild Card playoff round.

While it has only been three years since the Browns were last in the playoffs (although it has felt far longer at times), the difference between the starting roster that took the field in the Wild Card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and this year’s squad is quite different.

On offense, only five of the 16 players that were on the field for at least 20 percent of the snaps* against the Steelers will be available against the Texans for a variety of reasons:

  • Injuries have robbed the Browns of running back Nick Chubb, and offensive tackles Jedrick Wills Jr. and Jack Conklin.
  • Retirement took away center JC Tretter
  • Trades and/or free agency saw the exit of quarterback Baker Mayfield, tight end Austin Hooper, wide receivers Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, and Donovan Peoples-Jones, and offensive linemen Kendall Lamm and Blake Hance.

The five remaining players are guards Wyatt Teller and Michael Dunn, running back Kareem Hunt, and tight ends David Njoku and Harrison Bryant.

Think that is something? Wait until we run through the defensive side of the ball.

Eighteen defenders played at least 20 percent of the defensive snaps against the Steelers and only four are still with the Browns* - defensive end Myles Garrett, defensive tackle Jordan Elliott, and linebackers Sione Takitaki and Jacob Phillips.

The guys who are no longer in Cleveland include:

  • Defensive backs Terrance Mitchell, M.J. Stewart, Robert Jackson, Karl Joseph, Sheldrick Redwine, and Andrew Sendejo
  • Defensive linemen Adrian Clayborn, Sheldon Richardson, Larry Ogunjobi, Porter Gustin, and Vincent Taylor
  • Linebackers B.J. Goodson, Malcolm Smith, and Mack Wilson

Looking at those names, it is amazing that the Browns not only made the playoffs but that they beat the Steelers and came within a couple of plays of beating the Kansas City Chiefs the following week in the Divisional Round.

Fast-forward to this year and it is hard to argue that the primary portion of the roster is much improved.

Outside of Chubb, who is simply irreplaceable, the offense is better with Amari Cooper as the top wide receiver, as is the tight end position with how Njoku has taken his game to a new level this season. The interior of the offensive line is still sound, although the tackle positions remain a weekly concern with Geron Christian and James Hudson III trying their best.

As well as Mayfield played at quarterback that postseason, the Browns are currently riding “Flacco Fever” and Joe Flacco’s recent play and playoff experience provides the edge.

It is on the defensive side of the ball that stands out, however, as the Browns have built one of the league’s best units with Za’Darius Smith, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Shelby Harris, and Dalvin Tomlinson lending support to Garrett. Linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah continues to make plays all over the field, and the secondary is led by the game’s best cornerback trio in Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome II, and Martin Emerson Jr.

Will that be enough to allow the Browns to repeat their Wild Card magic this weekend and possibly go further than the 2020 squad? That remains to be seen, but comparing the two rosters it appears that this year’s squad has the edge and potential to make a deep playoff run.

*Even though neither played because of being on the COVID-19 list, guard Joel Bitonio and cornerback Denzel Ward are part of the list of key players who are still on the roster. The same goes for head coach Kevin Stefanski, who was also sidelined for the Wild Card game with COVID.