There is an air of confidence around the Browns camp this year. The team are more focused, better drilled and ready to step up to a new level. Some have suggested that 2018 provided a reboot, a much-needed period of transition that could turn the Browns into a playoff team in 2019.
For Browns’ fans, there will be some reluctance to get too excited. The team have not made the playoffs since 2002 and have only achieved that target twice since 1990. And their last Championship win was way back in 1964. But there is no denying that things feel different this year.
From long shots to contenders
Before the last confetti from Super Bowl LIII had even been swept, fans were already speculating on who would win the 2019/20 NFL Championships. The early bookmakers’ odds backed up the Browns’ new-found optimism, with prices of 34/1 available at Moplay, compared to the prices of around 100/1 that had been offered at a similar stage in recent years.
So, what has changed? And do the Cleveland Browns really have what it takes to make it to the latter stages of the NFL Championship?
On field improvements
Well, first things first, there was a significant improvement on the field. The 2017 campaign yielded a franchise-worst 0–16 record, while 2018 began with a 21-21 tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was their first stalemate since 1989 and also brought an end to a 17-game losing streak. That moment proved to be pivotal as they went on to post a 2018 record of 7-8-1 record – their best performance since 2007. It wasn’t enough to make the playoffs but it lifted some of the gloom that had engulfed the FirstEnergy Stadium.
The season also saw the departure of Hue Jackson, who left the head coach role with a 3-36-1 record. Interim boss Gregg Williams took just five games to equal Jackson’s record of three wins and finished the season with an impressive 5-3-0 record.
For the 2019 campaign, former Browns associate head coach, running backs coach and offensive coordinator, Freddie Kitchens, was promoted to the head coach role.
Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield threw 27 touchdown passes, breaking the previous record for a rookie held jointly by Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson. Meanwhile, tight end David Njoku claimed 56 receptions for 639 yards and four touchdowns in the 2018 campaign. That was a massive improvement from 2017 when he caught 32 for 386 yards and four TDs.
Your QB could never.
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) February 8, 2019
Shaking the losing habit
Game weeks 14 through 16 saw the Browns post their first three-game winning streak in four years, end an 11-game losing streak against the Denver Broncos, and record their first win over the Cincinnati Bengals since 2002. However, it was not enough to keep them in contention for the AFC North title or to qualify for the postseason.
Pro Bowl recognition
In a further boost, Browns’ defensive end Myles Garrett was voted as a starter in the 2019 Pro Bowl, while cornerback Denzel Ward was named as a reserve. In addition, the Browns were represented by Joel Bitonio and Jarvis Landry as alternates, Nick Chubb and Britton Colquitt as second alternates, and Baker Mayfield and Kevin Zeitler as fourth alternates.
All this, combined with the fact that the Browns have the most unused salary cap space in the NFL ($56.5 million), should give fans plenty of reason to get excited in the offseason.