The Cleveland Browns have one playoff game since returning in 1999. To make matters worse, that one playoff game was a Wild Card loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers after leading 24-14 after three quarters. Isn’t it fitting that even the franchise high point since returning to the league in 1999 is an embarrassing failure at the hands of the most hated rival? This post isn’t about dwelling on past failures because the Cleveland Browns have their best chance since that 2002 NFL season to win enough games to qualify for a Wild Card. Before you pop a blood vessel laughing in my face, remember that teams with losing records have made the playoffs before.
We’ve seen crazier things happen. In 2010, the Seattle Seahawks made the playoffs with a 7-9 record. In 2014 the Panthers made the playoffs over the 7-9 Saints with a 7-8-1 record. I’m not saying that I think the Cleveland Browns can go 12-4 and obliterate the division after going 0-16 in the prior season. I am saying there’s a scenario where this team takes one of the most dramatic infusions of talent at the most important positions and squeaks out something improbable. Here’s how it could happen.
As we’ve been saying around these pages for years, it starts with the quarterback. The Cleveland Browns should have one of the most dramatic improvements at quarterback, year-over-year, maybe in the history of the NFL. That speaks to struggling rookie DeShone Kizer as much as it does to Tyrod Taylor, but it’s all about comparisons. Taylor compares well in the AFC North.
Tyrod Taylor played for an entirely different franchise in 2017, but he was the 13th-best quarterback in terms of QBR. Only Ben Roethlisberger was higher in the AFC North with Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton finishing at 23, and 24 respectively. QBR isn’t a perfect statistical measure by any means, but what this does mean is that the Cleveland Browns have a quarterback that could put up the best season in the division in any given year, especially once you factor in age and injury chance for Ben Roethlisberger.
The addition of Jarvis Landry is a huge deal as well. Most NFL commentators spend their time poking holes in Landry’s game, including his rough 8.8 yards-per-reception. I prefer to look at him as a quarterback’s best friend. He was targeted 161 times in 16 games last season and caught nearly 70% of the balls thrown his way. Landry spent the season with a cobbled-together quarterback crew featuring Jay Cutler yoinked from the broadcast booth, Matt Moore, and the unfortunately-named David Fales. Say what you want about Jarvis Landry, but assuming Tyrod Taylor is the starter, he might be the best quarterback that Landry has ever been able to play within his entire career.
The Browns have other additions as well, which would have to contribute for the team to challenge for the playoffs. Guys like Demarious Randall, Chris Hubbard, E.J. Gaines, T.J. Carrie, Denzel Ward, Carlos Hyde, and Nick Chubb must yield some positive starters. All these players must find a way to come together to take a 4.5-win Vegas team and defy those odds to win nine games or so.
Of course, I wouldn’t bet on the Browns making the playoffs. I mean, I might bet on it because the odds would be so good, but I recognize how unlikely it is to happen. At the same time, when I’m looking at the recipe to turn around a team in a hurry, I look to the quarterback first. The Browns have a quarterback who took a team to the playoffs a year ago. They play in a division with teams that have question marks all over the place, including at quarterback. The Browns have an infusion of young-but-experienced talent with guys like Landry and Randall. They added some rookies like Denzel Ward and Nick Chubb at positions where rookies can contribute early in their careers.
All this might just add up to enough wins in a wacky year where the Browns could sneak into the playoffs with an otherwise mediocre record. These qualify as dream scenarios in the minds of Browns fans. Be thankful to have even this paltry opportunity to dream.