Coming off of their best season since the franchise returned to Cleveland in 1999, the Browns have lofty expectations for the 2021 season. There is talk of division titles, playoff successes and even Super Bowl possibilities.
They have returned almost every contributor for an offense that was excellent last year and filled some minor holes on that side of the ball. On defense, Cleveland has made major additions and significantly upgraded the level of talent it possesses. It remains to be seen how that talent will mesh together, but at the very least, the Browns will have a more capable defense that they had last season.
Cleveland has, top to bottom, one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. Also, it will have the same head coach for two straight years for the first time since Hue Jackson inexplicably started three straight seasons as the team’s head coach. Additionally, the Browns play an easier schedule this season than they did in 2020.
However, there are a few potential issues for Cleveland this year.
First is the aforementioned defense. Not only have the Browns made many additions on that side of the ball this offseason, but there are also a solid number of players returning from injury. This group will undoubtedly be more talented than in previous years, but it remains to be seen if they can put it together on the field. They face a tough test week one as the team travels to Kansas City, but a favorable schedule after that game should give the defense time to get things figured out before the stretch run.
The second potential issue is Baker Mayfield. I think he will build on his play in the second half of 2020, but it is possible that he regresses. If Mayfield can be one of the seven-to-12 best quarterbacks in the league, that will be enough for the Browns to be a real Super Bowl contender. However, if the turnover issues that have plagued him for significant parts of his career return, it could be a disappointing season.
Third is the fact that Cleveland plays in one of the toughest divisions in football. The AFC North sent three teams to the playoffs last year, and while the Steelers probably will not be as good as they were last season, the Bengals will almost certainly be better. In addition, the Ravens, who swept the Browns last year, will likely still be one of the AFC’s top teams. Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson is one of the most dangerous players in the league.
If the defense gels, Mayfield builds on last year’s improvements and the team can take advantage of a weak extra-divisional schedule, another successful season should be on the cards.
Finally, there is one important thing that Browns fans, including me, need to remember. Winning a Super Bowl, or even getting to one, is difficult. There are many factors involved, and no matter how much talent a team possesses, there are never any guarantees of success in the NFL.
For proof, we need to look no further than the last three years. Over that span, the Chiefs have gotten three of the best years of quarterback play in NFL history from Patrick Mahomes, and they have just one Super Bowl to show for it.
The bottom line is that while the Browns should have another strong season, expecting a Super Bowl win, or even an appearance, is a fool’s errand. If things break their way, they absolutely have the talent to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, but in the meantime, we should just enjoy what should be the first consistent success this team has enjoyed since the late 1980s.
Will Cunningham is a junior studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk to Will? Tweet him @willocunningham.