The Cleveland Browns nearly shocked the world last season by making it to the AFC title game, but a furious comeback effort fell just short against the eventual AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs.
Still, Cleveland was able to accomplish more than most thought heading into the 2020 season under a first-year head coach. They earned their first playoff appearance in 2002 and their first playoff victory since 1994, even after finishing third in the highly competitive AFC North. There’s plenty for Browns fans to be excited about heading into 2021.
11-5, third place AFC North
Points: 26.2 points per game, rank 21st
Yards: 5.5 yards per play, rank 18th
Football Outsiders Ranking: 25th
Points: 25.5 points per game, rank 14th
Yards: 5.8 yards per play, rank 16th
Football Outsiders Ranking: 9th
2021 DraftKings Sportsbook odds
Super Bowl: +1600
AFC/NFC Champion: +800
AFC North: +150
Win Total: 10.5 (Over -120, Under +100)
The Browns' offense was pretty solid throughout the season last year, keeping them competitive in virtually every game. But the defense was never able to play on a consistent level. They made a clear effort to bring the defense up to speed this season by inking Jadeveon Clowney to a one-year deal, which should make life easier for Myles Garrett. They also got one of the best free-agent DBs available in John Johnson III. And they went defense-heavy in the draft, picking up Greg Newsome II, a DB from Northwestern, in the first round.
Biggest question entering training camp
One of the biggest is will Odell Beckham Jr. come back and make an immediate impact? After his injury last year, the Browns offense continued to move along pretty easily against opposing defenses. If he comes back and plays to his ability, Cleveland could go to another level offensively.
The other major question is how long will this new defense take to get up to speed? Yes, there are clear upgrades across the defense and a good young talent in Newsome. Still, it could be an adjustment over the first months of the season, and in such a good division like the AFC North, a slow start could doom them.
What needs to happen for the Browns to win the Super Bowl?
I would say the Browns need some help from the Chiefs to make it to the Super Bowl, but last season showed that’s not the case. They don’t need KC to have a down year, because the Browns took them down to the wire in the divisional round. Their loss to Mahomes and company was a far more exciting affair than the AFC Title game a week later when the Chiefs easily dispatched Buffalo.
In reality, the defense needs to come together early on and the offense just needs to keep doing what it did all last season. With OBJ coming back into the fold, they should be one of the best in the league again this season.
The Browns stunned most football pundits and fans alike last year and became a feel-good story. They won’t sneak up on anybody this year, though. Teams across the NFL will have a target on Cleveland as a potential AFC title contender. Still, with all they have in their arsenal, they could make a deeper run in the playoffs this year if the defense performs as the front office hopes they do.