Many are doubting the Cleveland Browns heading into the new season, but there are plenty of reasons to believe in them.
No NFL team did more to improve its personnel situation in the 2019 offseason than the Cleveland Browns. Whether it was during free agency or via the NFL Draft, the Browns have spent the last couple of months adding starters and impact players to the roster.
The initial public reaction to many of these moves was what you’d expect. Fans of football in general began mentioning Cleveland as a serious contender in the AFC. The longer the “experts” and talking heads had to analyze the moves, however, the more you heard the narrative change to one of doubt.
That doubt even made its way to the sportsbooks in Las Vegas. Despite having the what appears to be all the right parts in all the right places to be serious contenders for the AFC title, the oddsmakers have six AFC teams with equal or better odds to win the Super Bowl. Additionally, Vegas has the over/under for Browns wins in 2019 set at nine. That seems awfully low for a team that won seven games in 2018 and improved its roster the way Cleveland did.
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So what could be the reason for the growing doubt surrounding the Browns in 2019? The only thing I can point a finger at is recent history, which is strange. Those Browns teams of five and 10 years ago did not have anywhere near the talent and structure that the 2019 Cleveland Browns franchise has.
In fact, looking at how this team is built — from the players to the coach — they look an awful lot like a certain team that just played in the Super Bowl.
For the past two seasons, we’ve watched the Los Angeles Rams rise to the top of the league. They got there with a solid combination of veterans, talented young players and an innovative young coach in Sean McVay, who talking heads swoon over. McVay came up through the coaching ranks working for both Jon and Jay Gruden, as well as Mike Shanahan. It is from that experience that he draws his rare combination of maturity and innovation.
We’re watching the Bengals, Cardinals and Packers try to mimic what the Rams are doing by hiring young, innovative coaches, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle like L.A. did with McVay.
Freddie Kitchens seems to be a bit of a forgotten man, lost in the shuffle of these young coaching hires. Kitchens will turn 45 during the 2019 season. He has the rough edges of an old-school coach who commands respect, but also brings a splash of youth and innovation to the table. So far, it appears the Browns gravitate to both sides of Kitchens’ personality and coaching style. In terms of pedigree, the young Browns coach cut his coaching teeth under the likes of Nick Saban, Bill Parcells and Bruce Arians. Not bad.
The Los Angeles Rams made their big leap in 2017 during the second year of Jared Goff’s career. 2019 is Baker Mayfield’s second season. The Rams field one of the best offensive lines in the NFL — a huge reason they are able to do what they do offensively. In 2018, Pro Football Focus rated the Browns offensive line as the second-best unit in the league — four spots ahead of the Rams.
L.A. has a group of elite skill players, dynamic enough to execute McVay’s elaborate offense at a high level. We all know what kind of talent the Browns have at the skill positions and new offensive coordinator Todd Monken once oversaw one of the nation’s most prolific collegiate offenses under Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State. He specializes in putting points on the board.
Defensively, the Rams were statistically average, but fielded a collection of playmakers who were often matchup problems all over the field. In 2018, the Browns were able to flirt with .500 while fielding what was statistically one of the worst defenses in the league. Like the Rams, however, Cleveland’s defense is filled with some of the finest individual talent in the NFL.
With the additions of Oliver Vernon and five draft picks on the defensive side of the ball, the unit has nowhere to go but up under new coordinator Steve Wilks. Before his short stint as head coach of the Cardinals, Wilks played a huge part in building an elite defense in Carolina.
When the Rams made the jump from 4-12 in 2016 to 11-5 in 2017, it took many of us by surprise. We didn’t know what exactly McVay brought to the table or what his vision was. We didn’t know that all of the ingredients for his recipe of success were already on the Rams’ roster.
Knowing what we do now about how quickly teams can go from worst to first, there aren’t many reasons to expect the 2019 Cleveland Browns to fail. The structure is in place, from the general manager down to the coach and coordinators. The talent — elite talent — is all over the field with a solid mix of veterans and young players. The organization is finally built to win.
The past is the past in Cleveland, and the future is now. Whether you’re a Browns fan, avid sports bettor, fantasy owner or just a curious bystander, there are more reasons to believe in the 2019 Cleveland Browns than there are to doubt them. Don’t be shy — go all in.