The Cleveland Browns have proven to be one of the most interesting teams in the NFL since their return in 1999. Interesting, but without significant success. There have been only 2 Browns playoff appearances since ’99.
Sprinkle in many unknowns going into the 2022 NFL season, the Browns need a few things to go their way in order to reach the playoffs. Here are the 5 keys that I feel are the most crucial:
Key #1 – Surviving till Watson returns
Deshaun Watson, the marquis and controversial Browns acquisition in the off-season, is suspended for 11 games. Put another way, the Browns will be without their star quarterback for 64.7% of the regular season. That is assuming he does not get any injuries while serving as suspension or once he returns to game action.
The Browns need to figure out how to
manage survive the 11 games without Watson. Jacoby Brissett will serve as the starting QB for the 11 games affected by the suspension. The Browns need to be prepared to win ugly, win silly, win accidentally, or in any other manner while Watson is out. Be prepared for some wild weeks with Watson out.
Key #2 – Defense leading the way
Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney, Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, John Johnson III. You, me, or anyone could make an argument that the Browns have a star-studded defense. They will need it. I hate to make an absolute, but the Browns defense must absolutely create turnovers, limit points, and make game-changing plays for the Browns to reach my prediction of 6-5 over the first 11 games.
Key #3 – Chubb and Hunt Attorneys at Law
Nick Chubb will probably get quite a few handoffs this year and might lead the NFL in rushing yards. Strangely, Kareem Hunt could also lead the NFL in rushing yards if he got those same number of handoffs. *I assume that was potentially one of the reasons that Hunt had a short-lived “hold-in” in training camp.*
Regardless, both of these Cleveland running backs will need to stay healthy and be productive in order to ease the burden on Jacoby Brissett, allow the Browns to control the ball, and score touchdowns. They are both really freaking good.
Key #4 – Efficiency
Efficiency, mistake-free football, touchdowns over field goals. These will be the tenants of a successful Browns season. I have a feeling that the defense will keep them in games but without the game-changing talents of Watson, the Browns can’t shoot themselves in the foot.
If the Browns can maximize their current squad’s strengths and win the turnover battle, I think they can still manage to maintain a winning record during Watson’s absence. Fingers-crossed.
Key #5 – A fast start
Have you seen the Browns first 4 opponents? Panthers, Jets, Steelers, and the Falcons. Arguably, the most winnable stretch of games the Browns have this year. Not that it will be easy, but I do think that if the Browns want to make the playoffs, they need to win at least 3 of those first 4 games.
*Disclaimer, the Browns rarely beat the Steelers and Baker Mayfield will be playing for the Panthers and will be fired up to play Cleveland. However, Pittsburgh is starting former Mentor High School quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who, despite my love for him, is not in the same insanely high-echelon of quarterbacks that was occupied by Ben Roethlisberger. Also, Joe Flacco will almost assuredly start for the Jets, so kind of a mixed bag here.*
Regardless, after these first 4 games, the schedule gets tough. The Browns need to come away with multiple wins as quickly as possible. By the way, if Baker beats the Browns in week 1, cue the city-wide panic/depression.
Did I miss any other crucial keys for the Browns to survive? More to the point, what do you think the Browns record will be over the first 11 games? I optimistically think they will be 6-5 but I am just lifelong Clevelander who is desperate for success.