Every year is different in the eyes of us. We're fans. It's our job to be optimistic and cheer on the team, oblivious to all flaws and shortcomings imperceptible through our brown and orange lenses. Playoff drought be damned, one win years followed by no win years matter not, and the entire mess of instability and failure pales in comparison to the fact that every single year we think we're going to not suck. But this year isn't optimism. This year is just pointing out a clear fact. The Cleveland Browns will break the cycle, and punch a ticket to the playoffs.
There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who are me and those who are not me. The latter is clearly inferior, and we will begin by following what is most important and dissecting me. Well, the Browns, who fill the role of me.
The talent the Browns boast is undeniable. We said this last year but half our position were not as good as we thought and a percentage of what remained was injured, suspended or in Freddie's doghouse; herein known as 'In the Kitchens' because doghouse sounds like praise given the team's identity.
The easiest way to speak on that talent is with a position review.
The backfield: Last season's second-leading rusher is Nick Chubb. 2017's leading rusher is Kareem Hunt. Last season they combined for almost 1,600 yards and 10 touchdowns at a combined 4.7 yards per carry. They also added over 500 combined yards in the air. Hunt isn't suspended this year, and the two-headed monster is prime to be unleashed early and often. And don't look now, but D'Earnest Johnson is no slacker. There is a reason Hilliard is out. Johnson added 5 yards per carry last season and added 71 yards on 6 receptions. The kid was quietly impressive this offseason, but we didn't read about it because Kareem Hunt has come back looking twitchy-er and faster than ever, and Nick Chubb is solidified as a top five running back. Bucking recent tradition of snubbing the position, we also traded for one of the best young fullbacks in the NFL, who PFF labeled as one of the biggest Pro-Bowl snubs last season. The Browns have arguably the best backfield in football, and these guys rushing for over 2,000 yards total is more likely than not.
The receivers: Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. In a system which didn't fit the quarterback, supported by tackles who couldn't block, while both injured, these guys recorded 1,000 yard seasons. They're so good they're good when everything else is wrong. Odell Beckham has returned in such impressive form his teammates don't even care that he may be spending his time literally getting shit on by a two-outta-ten. Sitting right behind them is Hollywood Higgins, who responded to a free agency snub by solidifying himself as the third receiver despite impressive performances from this camp's receiving cast. He'll still have stand outs in DPJ and Hodge nipping at his heels, but credit where it's due, you don't bet against Hollywood Higgins. The only notable Hollywood and Higgins in our division. I don't think it's out of the question for repeat 1,000 yard seasons from Odell and Landry.
The tight ends: A former first round selection who broke out big before breaking his wrist and finding himself in the kitchens, Njoku appears to be in the best shape of his life and impressing enough that his trade request was swiftly and strongly ignored, but also destined for the least playing time he's had since, well, since finding himself in the Kitchens. That tends to happen when you sign a 2x Pro-Bowler with the opposite of drop problems (Drop solutions. Hooper has drop solutions) and a proven ability to be a stand-out, big bodied red zone threat. Hooper is the only thing preventing Harrison Bryant from making headline news because that kid just won the training camp award for being so impressive that even Cleveland break writers possess the football IQ to know you're good. The kid is drawing George Kittle comparisons and that's one hell of a load of praise for a secondary option teams have to consider.
The OL: Greg Robinson is in prison for something unrelated to last yea'rs blocking, but just as nefarious. Hubbard is on the bench, a sentence which I have waited to write for so long that it could unfairly be handed down to Robinson. They've been replaced by one of the top blockers in the class and the top free agent tackle who is a former first-team All-Pro. That's it. That was the extent of the OL issues. You heart has to go out to Freddie Kitchens. The man is an idiot but these additions would have made his life so much easier.
The QB: Mixed bag Mayfield presents a polarizing figure for many. From record-breaking rookie to a sophomore slump so brutal it got everyone fired. But that which hurt Mayfield is now position to help. His receivers are healthy and the depth is strong. The system fits him. The play calling will be better. The blocking has been bolstered. The schedule is a little more forgiving. Mayfield is more experienced and better understands what is required of him. That much doesn't change without corresponding improvement for the individual. Improvement upon 4,000 yards and 20 touchdowns sounds like the kind of season which helps propel a team to the playoffs - especially considering the success the ground game aims to bring.
The DL: Myles Garrett, Larry Ogunjobi, Sheldon Richardson, Olivier Vernon. Enough said. The Browns finished with 38 sacks last year despite Myles and Olivier missing damn near half the season, Larry getting unfairly suspended for pushing a back-up who dropped the hard R and pushed a minimum of four times and Sheldon battling his own injuries. That's how good this group is. Considering how much injury and suspension the Browns D faced in 2020, it's a miracle to have still finished average. Adding to the chaos is an impressive young Jordan Elliot and a veteran Adrian Clayborne. This group should give opposition quarterbacks nightmares. This group is the strongest on the roster, and I just about touch myself when thinking about the tight ends and receivers, so you know why the next paragraph is at least six minutes away.
The DBs: I jumped to the DBs because sticky fingers is currently apt. I'm devastated to have lost Grant Delpit. The kid is a star in the making. But I am not intimidated because, like JSS said to me that one winter by the roaring fire, we can't get much deeper. Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams are studs. Some were upset with them last year but some were wrong. Backing them up is a who's-who of excellence in Money Mitch, the reigning camp interceptor, Kevin Johnson, M.J Stewart and Tav Thomas. Seriously, we can't get any deeper. We've got former first and second rounders who stole the show in camp and they're not even the next man up. At safety, we bring in a hard hitting Karl Joseph who is no longer weighted down by the pressures of everyone have to pretend Gruden doesn't spend a large portion of his time being just terrible. Andrew Sendejo fills in for Delpit, a savvy veteran who quietly fills the get'er done box left behind by another rare white DB, Jim Leonard. The ascending Ronnie Harrison was got cheap because employed black men won't help getting Dabo Swinney's signature and Sheldrick Redwine showed damn well why he's here and Randall is a free agent. I'm not kidding. That dude couldn't even get a veteran practice squad signature. The corners are stars, but the safeties are solid and unlikely to wet the bed.
The linebackers: The can't be any doubt there are questions at the position, but the answer isn't too frightening. At worst case scenario, B.J Goodson and Malcolm Smith are solid veterans who have proven their ability in the league. At best, a combination of Mack Wilson, Sione Takitaki and Jacob Phillips are going to shock the world and play at a high level. The group may not boast stars, but it boasts enough to see us through a season. This defense will feature a heavy rotation of DBs as is, so the linebackers won't be tasked with a do-it-all approach. We don't need superstars.
Now for the less interesting part of the not me equation. The not me group. Our opponents.
Baltimore: They got worse. I get the hype, I get they're a great team, but they lost a lot of talent and didn't fill those positions with what was lost. I'm not going to pretend D.J Fluker is Marshall Yanda, Deshon Elliot is Earl Thomas or Calais Campbell fixes their pass rush despite recording fewer and fewer sacks for three consecutive seasons to a point in which Derek Wolfe actually had more last year. I don't know why some are willing to pretend. The Ravens are tough, but we split with them last year and know how to play them tough.
Dallas: They get paid to much to underachieve that their new name is Desmond Bryant. The Dallas Desmond Bryant are learning a new system after an eternity of disappointing their last coach. It's a change of pace for an outfit which already has one of the longest lists of departures from last season. They lost their superstar C to retirement and now Cam Erving is blocking for Dak and Zeke. Their front seven is excellent but their secondary is questionable and Dallas always seem to drop their load against good teams.
Indy: So you signed an elite quarterback after his life-long team decided that juice wasn't worth the squeeze and expect it to go well. Sounds familiar. The Pittsburgh Colts signing Rivers was apt because they signed several notable names who aren't who you want anymore (Hello, Justin Houston and Xavier Rhodes).
Pittsburgh: I don't get the hype. Their 38-year-old quarterback, a year removed from any play and coming back from elbow surgery, is tipped to return to MVP form and a defense which flashed against the weak second half of the schedule after getting obliterated early is supposed to be great. Congratulations on the success against the Rams, Browns, Bengals, Bills, Cardinals and Jets... I guess. Pittsburgh's core continues to get older and they already haven't been a genuine contender for years. I don't see how they're expected to turn back the clock when those predictions have fallen flat for years already. Pittsburgh are a shell of their former selves.
Las Vegas: I like the Raiders. I like their personnel on offense and their defense should be better than many give them credit for. I think they'll be a better team than many give them credit for. But I don't think they're going to be a top team, or even a top ten team. I see them as a middle-of-the-pack unit who won't suck enough to fire everyone but won't suddenly leap to the ranks of contender because they added some rookie receivers and several okay veterans.
Houston: I'm still not entirely convinced giving Bill O'Brien the role of GM and HC isn't a cry for help. KC just blew them away because they still can't block for Watson, their defense is average and a handful of okay receivers isn't DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans will bounce back and be a good team, but their once elite defense appears long gone and their star quarterback still isn't getting enough help.
Philly: In week 11, it's highly likely Carson Wentz won't be around. The Eagles fell off last year because they're still trying to relive their Superbowl glory days. Not much has changed yet again. The Eagles are another consistent playoff team on the verge of dropping off. Besides, they lost Andrew Berry, is it any wonder none of their rookies are tipped to start?
Jacksonville: At this stage, they're tanking so heavily they might actually forfeit if they've strung together some wins by week 12. It's bizarre. I know Q dropped (No, not that Q, old forum) their departures were based on character, but it is interesting that casting off most of their good players was considered an exercise in building character.
Tennessee: I just don't see them repeating last year. I feel like they got hot after a quarterback change and had a nice 5-2 run, with three of those wins against bad teams. They ultimately finished 9-7 and had some nice wins in the post season, but they're also a Tannehill-led team with a worse OL and some one-and-done pass rushers who don't give a damn about the team. I don't see them heading back to the division championship.
New York Giants: Call me crazy, but I like what the Giants are doing. I do believe they are a year away from living up to an 'almost there' potential. Their pass rush needs improvement, their secondary is in rebuilding and the offense isn't going to carry them with the ball in Daniel Jones' hand.
New York Jets: Oh man, what a mess. Poor Sam Darnold. I'd comment on half of their roster if I knew who they were but I will credit them as the reason for the Jaguars tanking. By this stage, I'm not even sure Gase will be their coach so I won't comment on him either because I might be triggered in to night terrors by those eyes which make Mark Zuckerberg on a bag of cocaine look poised.
That's our season. That's it. A team comprised with the most talent we've had since the return, a coaching staff assembling a perfect scheme for our talent on both sides of the ball, and a schedule which shouldn't intimidate our roster.
We thought last year was different, but last year was too sexy. Our offense was designed to generate big plays, not designed to accentuate the strengths of our quarterback. Our injuries were insurmountable. Our coaching staff too aligned with the hype rather than a rational vision. Our players too frustrated to maintain their poise and discipline. This year isn't sexy. It's football. Pound the rock, be smart with the football, don't beat ourselves and don't beat ourselves up. Understand what we do and don't do well. Revolve talent to maintain balance. Keep opponents guessing.
This is why the Browns will break the cycle and return to the playoffs. By that stage, the sky is the limit. Who knows what momentum can be generated off the promise of where just one more win will lead. I don't think it will be consistent. I don't think we'll take the league by storm. I do think we will quietly chip away, never falling too far behind or reaching too far ahead.