The 2023 NFL season is a little less than two months away, so it’s time to look ahead and prepare for another year of football. This upcoming season should be a lot of fun as there are a ton of talented teams who have a legitimate shot at winning the Super Bowl, such as the Kansas City Chiefs, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Buffalo Bills, just to name a few.
While most people probably want to talk about teams who are legitimate championship contenders, let us go a different route. Instead, let’s focus on a team who has become synonymous with losing; the Cleveland Browns (sorry, Dawg Pound).
Although the Browns have made the playoffs just three times since 1990, it is worth believing they have put themselves in a position to overcome their vast history of losing and become a sneaky contender in the AFC. Let’s dive in and see why the Browns might have what it takes to shock the NFL next season.
2022 was a Season to Forget for Cleveland
The Cleveland Browns had an interesting season last year. After the 2021 season, they made a blockbuster trade with the Houston Texans for their superstar quarterback Deshaun Watson. However, Watson missed the first eleven games of the season as he was suspended after being accused of sexual assault by over 20 masseuses.
Veteran quarterback Jacoby Brissett started for the Browns to start the year and he played quite well, ranking 8th in QBR and 6th in PFF grade. With him under center, the Browns had a strong offense, ranking top ten in EPA per play for the first eleven weeks of the season. Brissett wasn’t the main reason for their success on offense as their rushing attack was elite, but he definitely played way better than anyone could’ve expected.
Once Watson returned from his suspension, the Browns’ offense fell apart, ranking 24th in EPA per play from week 12 to week 18. After over a year of not playing football, Watson was statistically one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL, sporting the lowest passer rating of his entire career.
Watson’s struggles weren’t the only reason why the Browns underperformed expectations as they also had an extremely poor defense, ranking 20th in points allowed per game and 25th in EPA allowed per play. Their pass defense performed very well, ranking fifth in passing yards allowed, but their run defense was putrid, ranking 25th in rushing yards allowed and yards allowed per rush.
Considering their defensive woes and poor quarterback play the second half of the season, it might be a miracle that the Browns won seven games at all last year. And after reading all of this, you may think it is insane to even suggest that this team could be good next season.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel
Although the Browns struggled last season, there are reasons to be optimistic about this team. For starters, they have one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL led by one of the league’s best running backs in Nick Chubb. Last season, the Browns ranked sixth in rushing yards and fifth in EPA per rush and they should continue to be a dominant rushing team next season.
They also made some huge moves this offseason to improve their defense, like signing Dalvin Tomlinson and Juan Thornhill, trading for Za’Darius Smith, and drafting Siaki Ika. Adding Tomlinson and Smith to their defense which already featured Myles Garrett and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah could improve their run defense and give them an incredibly strong front seven.
The one thing that will determine if the Browns can get over the hump and become a serious contender in the AFC is how Deshaun Watson responds to last season. He was not good last year, but that’s not completely shocking. As mentioned earlier, he had not played football in over a year and was learning a brand new offensive system. It probably would’ve been more surprising had he continued playing at an elite level.
However, he needs to play better for the Browns to be a legitimate contender and he definitely can. He was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL when he played for the Texans and the Browns have a great run game, a fantastic offensive line, and plenty of talented pass catchers including Amari Cooper, David Njoku, Elijah Moore, and Donovan Peoples-Jones.
Simply put, this is a great situation for a struggling veteran quarterback.
If Watson continues to produce like a below average quarterback next season, he won’t have anyone to blame but himself. Hopefully he can bounce back and return to his glory days, because the city of Cleveland desperately needs it.