This past season, the Cleveland Browns fell a couple of wins short of making the playoffs, finishing 8-9 amidst a number of key injuries.
But they will enter next season reloaded with a serious upgrade at quarterback and wide receiver, making it seem that the team can accomplish more.
Will they actually do so, especially given all the high-profile improvements other teams in the AFC have made in recent weeks?
Or would a more modest set of expectations be more reasonable?
Watson Is A Flat-out Star
In four seasons in Cleveland, QB Baker Mayfield has shown potential, but he hasn’t put it all together.
Some speculated that the team all but gave up on him, and perhaps the final straw was a comment someone in the organization made about wanting someone more mature under center.
ESPN’s Chris Mortensen says Baker Mayfield and the Browns are breaking up because the Browns want an “adult” at QB pic.twitter.com/cXPIOKNklr
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) March 16, 2022
Plenty of people may bristle at the addition of Deshaun Watson, wondering how he could possibly seem like more of an “adult” than Mayfield, but one cannot deny that he is a better NFL quarterback than Mayfield.
In 2020 (he sat out the 2021 campaign while demanding a trade), Watson had a league-high 4,823 passing yards plus 33 touchdown passes for the Houston Texans, numbers that Mayfield hasn’t even come close to producing.
Watson has also been named to the Pro Bowl in three consecutive seasons, while Mayfield has never gotten a single Pro Bowl nod.
What makes Watson’s performance in 2020 all the more impressive is the fact that he didn’t have a Pro Bowl wide receiver alongside him.
But in Cleveland this coming season, he will enjoy the services of Amari Cooper, the former Dallas Cowboy who has been named to the league’s all-star game three times.
He has made three postseason appearances, giving him some big-game experience that the Browns could sorely use.
The Offensive Line Is Solid
At that line of scrimmage, Joel Bitonio is considered one of the best left guards in the NFL, but the Browns’ offensive line as a whole was hit with injuries in 2021.
Right tackle Jack Conklin was able to suit up for only seven games due to a knee injury and a ruptured patellar tendon.
At left tackle, Jedrick Wills has been considered a talented player with plenty of potential, but because of injuries and perhaps a lack of focus, he hasn’t quite panned out yet.
If the Browns’ offensive line gets the job done in 2022, it could set up Nick Chubb for a monster year.
He is one of the league’s best and most productive running backs, and in each of the last three seasons, he has posted at least 1,000 rushing yards and eight touchdowns en route to a Pro Bowl selection.
— Craig Fountain (@CraigAFountain) April 7, 2022
The bad news for Cleveland is how strong the rest of the conference looks.
The entire AFC West could conceivably make the playoffs, while the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins also look like postseason material, at least on paper.
Perhaps the Browns will need to win the AFC North to make the playoffs, and that seems unlikely given that the division boasts the defending conference champion Cincinnati Bengals.
On the other hand, a couple of key injuries to other teams in the AFC could open the window for the Browns to sneak into the postseason.