NFL: Are the Browns AFC North Favorites?

It’s the season of optimism and being way too overconfident about products we haven’t seen materialize on the field yet. However, that’s not going to stop anyone making predictions about who is going to be good and who isn’t and one of those teams that will continually be in the mix is the Cleveland Browns.

Making a Change 

2018 offseason

The Browns have been laughing stocks of the NFL for years. They have been bottom feeders for years and have been mainstays at the bottom of the standings. However, last season, they brought in a new regime that helped them reverse the curse that it seemed like they had been afflicted with. They hired John Dorsey, former Chiefs general manager. Then midway through the season, they fired Hue Jackson and replaced him with Freddie Kitchens at the start of the offseason.

Last offseason, the Browns started to make some moves to better the team on paper but they weren’t quite there yet. They drafted Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick who has looked like the best quarterback from that draft class. They also picked Denzel Ward with the fourth overall pick in that draft. He has shown the same aggressive press coverage he played effectively in college at Ohio State. Then Nick Chubb the team’s second round selection ended up being a star. He started nine games for the team and managed to put up 996 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns.

The Browns had few key acquisitions in free agency in 2018 but they managed to put a solid team together. They most notably added wide receiver Jarvis Landry and acquired safety Damarious Randall through a trade. Landry and Randall are not star players but they’re enough to make it certain no one is worried about finding a replacement.

2019 offseason

This offseason the Browns didn’t slow down. They acquired Olivier Vernon in a trade with the Giants. Then, one free agency opened, they signed Sheldon Richardson to give the defense some strength up the middle. Those are two additions that strengthen the team but they’re nothing compared to the move that shocked everyone.

The Trade That Shocked The World

The New York Giants traded Odell Beckham Jr. to the Browns in exchange for a 2019 first round pick, 2019 3rd round pick and safety Jabrill Peppers.

This move, along with everything else, makes the Browns the favorite at this point in time to win the AFC North next year. Their core on offense consists of Mayfield, Chubb, Beckham, Landry, Antonio Callaway and David Njoku. The core in Cleveland could be lethal for years to come with all those young, dynamic playmakers. Especially when looking at what the competition in the division has done lately.

The Competition

Pittsburgh Steelers

The biggest losses for the Steelers this season are Antonio Brown and Leveon Bell. Regardless of what anyone thinks about James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster, they don’t bring the same magic to the table that the “Killer Bees” did. It’s going to be an uphill battle for the Steelers trying to find this new identity on offense.

They’re also trying to find an identity on defense which has proved challenging ever since the injury of Ryan Shazier. They’ve seemed lost on defense since then and they can’t turn it around. All they’ve done so far this offseason is sign cornerback Steven Nelson. Nelson is a solid player but it’s not a game-changing move by any means.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens turned around last season while head coach John Harbaugh was on the hot seat and ended up sneaking into the playoffs. Lamar Jackson is a good young quarterback and he’ll continue to work and get better. However, he currently is limited in the targets he’ll be able to throw to. Michael Crabtree was released and John Brown was lost to free agency by the Ravens.

Willie Snead is the best wide receiver on the team. Meanwhile, the Ravens lost key contributors on defense like Za’Darius Smith, Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle and CJ Mosely which will cause that defense to take a nosedive if they don’t do anything about it. One of the best defenses of last year losing four key contributors is definitely not optimal.

On defense, the Ravens signed safety Earl Thomas who fills the void left by Weddle but there’s still a hole in the middle of the defense. Smith and Suggs combined for 15.5 sacks last season. Those two signing elsewhere leaves holes on the edge and losing CJ Mosely leaves the linebacker core even more depleted. They also added Mark Ingram who adds dimension to the offense as a player that can be active on passing downs as well as run in between the tackles. He can complement the rushing attack already there with Lamar Jackson perfectly. However, he is not the only piece the team needs to be back in contention in 2019.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals finished last this season in the AFC North and it doesn’t look like it’s going to end any differently next year. The only notable move the Bengals made this offseason is hiring head coach Zac Taylor, former quarterbacks coach of the Los Angeles Rams. Then they gave Bobby Hart, a bad offensive tackle, a new contract. So unfortunately for the Bengals, barring a top tier draft and some magic in the latter periods of free agency. The look ready to end last season exactly where the last one ended.

Looking Ahead

The Browns have been bad for so long and it’s great to finally see the team be relevant and put together a core that looks exciting for once. There’s just one problem with that. We can say all this in the offseason and it can prove to be just noise in the regular season. They’ve passed the offseason test. Now the players need to show that they deserve the praise they’ve been given. However, that being said, it seems likely that it’s time for a changing of the guard in the AFC North.

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