The Cleveland Browns have spent years in the NFL wilderness, seemingly making all the wrong choices during their rebuilding process. Their quarterback situation was a nightmare and even stringing together a couple of wins was beyond them until rebounding last season (7-8-1).
But we may finally get to see the Browns as not simply a playoff threat but also a Super Bowl contender next season after they rocked the league with an eye-catching offseason, highlighted by the stunning trade for Odell Beckham Jr. You can be sure they have got the attention of the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs now.
Cleveland have a real opportunity here. The Pittsburgh Steelers are sure to take a step back without Antonio Brown (or Le’Veon Bell) while the Baltimore Ravens’ vaunted defense has been broken up in free agency (though somewhat solidified by the signing of Earl Thomas). The AFC North is there for the taking - and the oddsmakers know it. The Browns’ Super Bowl odds have been slashed in half to around 12/1 and you can bet on them to win the AFC at 7/1.
Beckham Jr. gives quarterback Baker Mayfield an explosive receiving option alongside Jarvis Landry. If he can eliminate some of the unnecessary theatrics, a monster year lies ahead. That receiving duo can score from anywhere. Running back Nick Chubb will give the offense balance and should be even better in his first full season as the primary rusher. Assuming all goes to plan, they are set up offensively for a string of playoff appearances. Look for Mayfield to make a solid leap in Year 2 after overcoming challenging dynamics in Cleveland last season, especially with Beckham Jr.’s big play ability.
The Browns’ higher ceiling is about more than just Beckham Jr., though. They have been active over the past few weeks defensively too, signing Sheldon Richardson and Olivier Vernon to team up with Myles Garrett as a three-headed pass rushing monster.
What comes next?
Cleveland may not be done with the upgrades just yet. They were linked with Thomas before he agreed to terms with the Ravens and will likely be on the lookout for another playmaker for their secondary. This is win-now mode after all and they have shown their intent to be aggressive.
Given how impressively the Browns finished last season, this is the right time to put their foot on the accelerator. After being an NFL punchline for so many years, Cleveland have to be respected as a genuine contender now. Head coach Freddie Kitchens has plenty of work ahead of him, as do the players, but the Browns are suddenly, improbably set up to compete for a championship.