2020 certainly has been a strange year. Between a worldwide pandemic, shutdowns, and a crazy national election, I think it’s safe to say nobody expected the year to unfold like it has. For those who follow sports and football, I bet few people expected the Cleveland Browns to be doing as well as they currently are!
But as we head into December, the Browns are 8-3, in second place in the AFC North, and currently projected to make the Playoffs for the first time since 2002! I don’t know how many truly understand the suffering of the Browns fanbase. Let me give you a glimpse: They are on the verge of just their third winning season since 1999, and from 2016-2017, they won only once in 32 games. This season has been like a drink of water after wandering the desert!
Turning the Corner?
Yes, it’s only Year 1 under new Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski. But he has been the main reason the Browns are succeeding. In the past, the Browns were a mess. There was no identity to this team, players didn’t play disciplined, and there were quite a few guys who were only in Cleveland to collect a paycheck.
That all changed when Coach Stefanski was direct and straightforward at his introductory press conference in January 2020: “Personality is welcome. Production is required,” he said. He threw down the gauntlet. He issued the challenge on Day 1. He set the tone right away that his Browns were going to put in the effort, discipline and teamwork that is necessary to becoming a winning football team!
Even though the Browns still have a lot of improving to do, and they are nowhere near where they eventually want to be, I’m noticing marked improvement under Coach Stefanski’s leadership. They no longer commit stupid penalties on what seems like every play, the majority of play calls make sense, and they’ve developed an identity as a physical team that can run the football extremely well.
The team that used to be circled on the calendar as a guaranteed win is gone. In its place is an improving, tough, hard-nosed team that will give anybody their best shot on Sundays. They also seem to genuinely love and enjoy playing for each other, too! In a previous episode of the YouTube series Building the Browns, I saw nothing but encouragement between teammates. If the offense had a good drive or scored a touchdown, as soon as they came off the field, the defense high fived them, encouraged Baker Mayfield and the guys to keep it up, and then they went out there to try and shut down the opponent. On the other side of things, if one of our defensive linemen had a sack or there was a big defensive stop, several of our offensive players were pumped up and encouraging their teammates. It was beautiful to see. That is the beginning of a good football team!
A word to every naysayer, Negative Nancy, and armchair quarterback
Yes, most of the games the Browns have won this year have come against mediocre to bad teams. There’s no getting around that. The best win of the season so far was at home in Cleveland against a fellow playoff contender in the Indianapolis Colts. This has caused some to dismiss the possibility that the Browns are becoming a good football team. I see their reasoning, but I wholeheartedly disagree with them for one reason, and one reason only: The Browns are finishing games. Let me say it again: The Cleveland Browns are finishing football games. Too often in the past, the Browns would have the lead late in the game, and for whatever reason they’d let it slip away. Whether it was from an exhausted defense failing to shut down the opponent, committing a crucial penalty, or poor decisions from previous coaches, they could not finish off ballgames.
I don’t know what he’s done to change that, but Coach Stefanski has instilled that killer instinct in this team. Every time the Browns have been within striking distance or in the lead this season, they’ve won the game. They have yet to lose a game in which they’ve had the lead in the fourth quarter. They’ve closed teams out. Good and improving football teams do this on a consistent basis!
With that in mind, I say this to all the people who still complain for whatever reason: Enjoy the ride! Enjoy the fact that the Browns are actually winning games, no matter how they do it. Think positively, and enjoy Sundays again. We haven’t been able to have fun like this in a long time!
Playoff-Bound Cleveland Browns?
Pardon me for a second, folks. But allow me to leave this right here 😉
It has been what seems like AGES since the Cleveland Browns have been even remotely close to making it to the Playoffs. They haven’t played in a playoff game since January 2003 at Pittsburgh, and haven’t won a playoff game since January 1995. But as things stand, these are the current AFC Standings:
- Pittsburgh (10-0)
- Kansas City (10-1)
- Tennessee (8-3)
- Buffalo (8-3)
- Cleveland (8-3)
- Miami (7-4)
- Indianapolis (7-4)
- Baltimore (6-4)
- Las Vegas (6-5)
- New England (5-6)
- Denver (4-7)
- Houston (4-7)
- LA Chargers (3-8)
- Cincinnati (2-8-1)
- Jacksonville (1-10)
- New York Jets (0-11)
The top seven teams in the AFC and NFC are currently projected to make the Playoffs as of Week 12. Keep in mind there is a LOT of football to be played. The regular season isn’t over until Week 17 on January 3rd. A lot can change between now and then. Nobody’s clinched a playoff spot yet.
The Browns have earned wins against teams like the Cowboys, Bengals (twice), Eagles, Texans and Jaguars. The friendly schedule ends now, though. They travel to Tennessee on December 6th to battle a fellow playoff contender in the 8-3 Titans. Last season, the Titans just barely missed making it to the Super Bowl, losing in the AFC Championship Game to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs. You can bet Tennessee is hungry to get to the Super Bowl this time around. They’re incredibly tough, and well-coached by former New England Patriots assistant and Ohio State Buckeye, Mike Vrabel. Plus they have a monster running back in Derrick Henry. Cleveland is a definite underdog this week.
After tangling with the Titans, the Browns will go home to Cleveland to battle another team looking to make the playoffs in the 6-4 Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens seem to be in a bit of a tailspin, losing four of their last five games after starting 5-0. Perhaps the Browns would be able to catch the Ravens at a good time, and keep them in a freefall?
After that, the schedule might get a little easier with back to back road games in New York against the Giants and Jets, although no win is a sure thing in the NFL. And then the Browns will wrap up their regular season on January 3rd, 2021 when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Personally, my gut feeling is that the Browns will unfortunately lose to the Titans. But they’ll rebound with three straight wins over the Ravens, Giants and Jets. That would put them at 11-4. Then, depending on whether Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin decides to play his starters or not, the Browns may get a win to end the season.
It’s there. The chance to clinch a playoff spot is in the Browns’ sights! Three more wins could get them in. If that does happen, there’s going to be a major party in Cleveland!
Until then, enjoy the ride everybody! This might be a season 18 years in the making! GO BROWNS!