The Cleveland Browns just experienced their worst week of the 2021-2022 season.
A 45-7 thumping at the hands of the New England Patriots sets up a gut-check week that could send the season one of two directions.
On Sunday, the winless Detroit Lions come to Cleveland.
Many will call it a “must-win”, but just about every game is at this point.
There are some good reasons why the Browns cannot lose to the Lions.
1. It’d Be Embarrassing
Pittsburgh Steelers fans are thanking their lucky stars after their team tied with the Lions last Sunday.
No team in the history of sports has wanted to be the one that gives a winless team their first W of a season.
It stinks for the players, coaches, fans, and organization as a whole.
As someone who attended the Browns-Chargers game on Christmas Eve of 2016, I can assure you no one in blue and gold left that stadium with any sense of pride.
— CLE SPORTS WORLD (@Browniestalk) December 24, 2020
It happens, as winless seasons are not commonplace across the NFL.
Still, as a team that entered this year with high-level goals, dropping one to the Lions essentially assures those goals will not be met.
3. Looking Differently at Stefanski
Kevin Stefanski has not been free of criticism. Fans have questioned some of his decisions, and rightfully so.
His play-calling in particular is under fire as of late.
Many feel he abandoned the run too quickly in Sunday’s loss to New England.
However, larger issues may be looming.
Ben Axelrod of WKYC notes a lack of adjustments in the passing game.
Criticism of Kevin Stefanski abandoning the run is overblown, imo. The Patriots clearly changed their defensive approach after the opening drive to sell out for the run. The better question/criticism is why can't the Browns passing game take advantage of that?
— Ben Axelrod (@BenAxelrod) November 15, 2021
Cleveland has the 7th-fewest passing in the NFL, an astonishing number considering the talent.
Baker Mayfield, especially after suffering the torn labrum, has not been sharp.
Still, Stefanski is the one responsible for finding a way to make it work.
Even if Baker is not able to go Sunday, Case Keenum has proven he can step in and find a way to win.
If Stefanski can’t help lead Keenum and Cleveland to victory over Detroit, he’ll only be put further under the microscope.
The last thing the organization needs is questions about its head coach.
3. Hurts the Divisional Race
The playoffs seem to be the last thing on anyone’s mind right now, but Cleveland is still right in the thick of the AFC North race.
Thanks to a lousy week from Pittsburgh and Baltimore, on top of the bye week for the Bengals, the Browns’ loss doesn’t sting too bad from a standings perspective.
However, as the season gets later, the margin for error becomes smaller.
This game against Detroit is followed by two straight against Baltimore along with a tough finish to the regular season.
If the playoffs are still something this team wants to be a part of, they have to get the win this week.
It is far and away the easiest game left on their schedule, and it is at home.
There will be opportunities against divisional foes even if the team slips up Sunday.
Still, the outlook moving forward looks a lot worse if they lose.