The Cleveland Browns have been a laughing stock in the NFL for years. Their last championship came in 1964, before the merger and Super Bowl era. Cleveland has yet to make a Super Bowl appearance since the game debuted in 1967. Since 1990, the Browns have made only three playoff appearances and have two postseason wins – their last coming in 2020.
Cleveland made a huge move in the 2022 offseason, acquiring three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson from the Houston Texans. The move came with loads of criticism due to Watson’s off-the-field troubles, leading to an 11-game suspension last season. Watson has shown he can be one of the best signal-callers in the league, elevating the Browns’ chance of becoming a contender. Cleveland’s turnaround had to wait a year after Watson missed most of the 2022 season.
The upcoming 2023 season could be now or never. Will Watson return to form? Time is ticking for coach Kevin Stefanski. Will he silence the doubters? Were the Browns’ changes on defense enough? Will it be the stinky Browns yet again, or will the franchise earn brownie points with a postseason appearance?
Forming Expectations for Cleveland
Before delving into Cleveland’s chances for the 2023 season, where should we set our expectations? According to NFL odds, the Browns have a projected win total of 9½. They have finished the regular season with an above-.500 records once since 2008. Reaching nine wins would be a success … I guess? Taking the heat for acquiring Watson says enough. Cleveland has bigger fish to fry. It wants to win it all.
Edge rusher Za’Darius Smith told the Akron Beacon Journal, “So that’s the No. 1 goal is help this team win a Super Bowl. Well, first of all, win the (AFC) North, well, win the division, sorry, and then go on and play in the Super Bowl,” Smith said.
Winning the Super Bowl seems out of reach at +3000. Like Smith said, winning the AFC North comes first, which is easier said than done with the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens lurking. Behind the Bengals (+125) and Ravens (+250), the Browns are the third choice to win the division (+375), per Vegas NFL odds.
It takes most franchises years to become consistent contenders. Massive changes do not happen overnight. On paper, Cleveland has the talent to eventually get there. Watson was in the debate of being a top-five quarterback in the 2020 season, Amari Cooper is still a solid No. 1 wide receiver, running back Nick Chubb remains the best pure runner in football, the offensive line is elite and Myles Garrett is one of the NFL’s best pass rushers.
Just a reminder about how good Myles Garrett is… pic.twitter.com/HSgFsU1Qdl
— ESPN Cleveland (@ESPNCleveland) May 27, 2023
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Replicating the 2020 season would be a success for the Browns, which resulted in a wild-card berth and one postseason win. Winning the AFC North would cause pandemonium in Cleveland. The franchise has yet to win the division since it was created in 2002.
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Link the Over and a Playoff Berth
Cleveland’s roster truly looks the part. Its defense was disappointing last season, finishing 19th in allowed points per game. The run defense was especially concerning with perhaps the worst defensive tackles in the league. After ranking 25th in allowed rushing yards last season, the Browns’ defense could reach its potential as a top-10 unit.
Jim Schwartz was hired as the defensive coordinator. He led the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense when they won Super Bowl 52. Most importantly, the defensive tackle group was revamped with free agent Dalvin Tomlinson and rookie Siaka Ika. Linebackers remain a concern but, if healthy, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Anthony Walker Jr. have proven they can be quality starters. Signing safety Juan Thornhill was another good acquisition. He provided consistent play for the Kansas City Chiefs over the last few seasons. An improved defense will certainly help Cleveland reach greater heights.
Watson’s play will likely decide how far the Browns go. If he returns to an elite level, anything is possible. Even laying money on Cleveland’s high +3000 odds to win Super Bowl 58 in your NFL predictions could be worth it considering the potential payout. Early into camp, nothing but rave reviews are coming out of The Land. If Watson is truly back, the AFC North is about to get brutal.
A lot of buzz coming out of #Browns OTA’s that Deshaun Watson is returning to form.
One source said, “He looks like a totally different player than he did last year”.
— NFL Notifications (@NFLNotify) May 31, 2023
The Browns could keep upgrading before the 2023 season kicks off. Cleveland has been linked to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who was released by the Arizona Cardinals on May 26. The Browns, Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, and Dallas Cowboys seem to be the favorites. Hopkins and Cooper would be one hell of a one-two punch. If the Browns can ink Hopkins to a deal, NFL expert picks will surely generate some hype for Cleveland.
With the roster as is, the cover for the Browns’ win total (+120) and a playoff appearance (-110) are enticing. Cleveland has the tools and its schedule features winnable games against the Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans, Arizona Cardinals, and Los Angeles Rams. Ultimately it could come down to if you are buying the Watson hype. He looks sharp as a tack in camp, but will it translate to the 2023 season?
Browns fans could be in for a sweet treat in the upcoming season. Think about it, – even making the playoffs is a huge deal. In my 23 years of existence, Cleveland has made the playoffs twice. Will the Browns stumble or succeed in the 2023 season? We will get the answers in a few months’ time.
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