It seems hard to believe that while the Cleveland Browns are 3-1 this season, many people, including me, think they still need to prove themselves as an elite team.
Just two years ago, a 3-1 record would have been all anyone cared about when it came to the Browns, and it would not have mattered if the three wins were by one point each over the three worst teams in the NFL. Fans would simply have been happy to win three games in a month.
However, these are clearly not the same old Browns, and the fact the majority of the coverage surrounding them this year has been people asking whether or not they are good enough to win a Super Bowl proves it.
But despite the fact that they have three wins and a defense that has developed from one of the worst in the league last season to one of the NFL’s best this year, Cleveland still needs to prove itself as a legitimate contender. Fortunately, the next two weeks provide a perfect opportunity to do so.
In Week 5, the Browns travel to Los Angeles to play the 3-1 Chargers. They follow that up with a Week 6 home game against the Arizona Cardinals, the only remaining undefeated team in the league.
For the first time since their 33-29 loss to the Chiefs in Kansas City in Week 1, the Browns have a chance to add a signature win to their resume. If the defense can continue their dominance against two top-tier quarterbacks, it will show that their beatings of two rookies and Kirk Cousins were not at all misleading.
More importantly than the team proving that they are ready, however, Baker Mayfield needs to prove that he can lead a team to the places that Cleveland wants to go. After solid showings in the first few weeks, Mayfield was awful against the Vikings this weekend.
The play that really stuck out was a horrible miss on a deep ball to Odell Beckham Jr. that would have iced the game, but Mayfield could not get anything going whatsoever on Sunday. He finished with just 155 yards on 33 attempts, of which he only completed 15.
Through the first three weeks of the season, Mayfield was completing a high percentage of his passes and while he only had two touchdowns, he was doing exactly what he needed to in order to support Cleveland’s excellent running game.
Even though the Browns rely heavily on their ability to run the ball, and, in the last two games, their defense, they will need Mayfield to be a lot better than he was on Sunday if they want to win either of their next two games.
During the second half and playoffs last year and the first three weeks this year, Mayfield appeared to be the quarterback that the Browns have been searching for my entire life. It seemed as though he could be the one to lead them to the promised land, and having the same coach for a second season for the first time in his career only made that more likely.
Unfortunately, his performance against the Vikings was legitimately concerning, and the fact that he has steadily gotten worse as the season has gone on does not inspire confidence for the rest of the year.
The bottom line is that if Baker’s performance on Sunday was a sign of things to come, he may be playing himself out of a contract extension. Luckily for him, however, he and the Browns have a chance over the next two weeks to prove that that is not the case, and that Cleveland belongs with the NFL’s elite.
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.