The amount of preseason expectations for the 2021 Cleveland Browns are virtually unprecedented for a franchise that has not been on the winning side of things for years prior to 2020.
Changing the coach and general manager in 2020 to Kevin Stefanski and Andrew Berry proved to be one of the best decisions Browns’ ownership has made recently.
Both have worked to revamp this team, but there are still challenges that lie ahead, particularly in the AFC, that will test the talent and tenacity of the 2021 Browns.
Here are three AFC teams in particular that could throw a wrench in the Browns projected 2021 success.
1. Kansas City Chiefs, Week 1
This is a no-brainer.
The Chiefs eliminated the Browns from the playoffs in 2020.
The Browns fixed the defensive woes that were exposed in that game.
In the meantime, the Chiefs fixed the offensive issues that caused Mahomes to not be as protected as he should have been at the end of 2020.
This is the rematch with a revamped Browns defense against an improved Chiefs offensive line.
It is the opening game of the season at Arrowhead.
Some predict this is a sneak peak of the AFC Championship.
Regardless, this is one of the toughest matchups possible to kick off the season, and the Browns are the underdogs.
— Ben Axelrod (@BenAxelrod) May 12, 2021
2. Baltimore Ravens, Weeks 12 and 14
The Browns have not beaten the Ravens since Freddie Kitchen was their head coach.
It always seems like the Browns cannot contain Lamar Jackson, and he pulls off his usual heroics to lead his team to victory.
"And here comes Lamar Jackson!"
A moment we'll all remember. 😈 pic.twitter.com/q3HLI9U3Hg
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 15, 2020
Compound that with a weird scheduling anomaly that has the Browns playing the Ravens two times in 14 days with a bye week in between, on November 28 at Baltimore and December 12 at home.
Going 0-2 against the Ravens in the span of two weeks would be disastrous as the Browns enter the last month of the regular season.
3. Las Vegas Raiders, Week 15
Last season, the Browns lost to the Raiders in Berea.
Weird weather was somewhat the culprit, but everyone knows that the Raiders like to be spoilers.
They beat the Chiefs in Arrowhead in 2020.
The timing of this game is also dangerous for the Browns.
It is immediately after the two games with the Ravens that could likely determine first place in the AFC North.
Win or lose, the Browns could fall into the Las Vegas trap.
AFC West Focus – Las Vegas Raiders
An 8-8 record gave the Raiders second place in the AFC West in 2020. Going into 2021, will this improve?
— The Irish NFL Show (@IreNFL) June 16, 2021
If they beat the Ravens in one or both of those preceding games, they could come out flat on the road in Vegas and be prone to a letdown.
Coach Stefanski is very good at having the team focus on each week’s opponent independently and separately, but this is a young team with great expectations.
How they handle adversity, both expected and unexpected, will be indicative of how well they perform in 2021.