"Hard Knocks" has come and gone. A head coach has, again, come and gone. But for the first time in a long time, there's something new that has arrived in Cleveland and it might just be here to stay: hope.
There's no doubt that the NFL's "It" team in 2019 is the Browns. It's not hard to see why either. They have a hotshot young quarterback, a loaded roster and traded for one of the best wideouts in the league. The group was energized when Freddie Kitchens, now the head coach, was elevated to offensive coordinator and formed quite the tandem with Baker Mayfield. Cleveland went 5-3 in the second half of last season and that kind of momentum has carried over into this year's campaign in a big way.
The hype has never been higher since the NFL's return to the city and now the franchise has to deal with something rather foreign: expectations.
Can the Browns meet — or even, gasp… exceed — all the rarefied talk? Those by the lake certainly think so. Athlon Sports asked several experts to share their predictions for just how Cleveland's season will play out and what the team's record will be when all is said and done:
Cleveland Browns Game-by-Game Predictions for 2019
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
I really want to tap the brakes on the massive hype machine but you look up and down the roster, and then see the schedule, and you really do start to believe that this could be something special brewing in Cleveland. I'm not 100 percent convinced about the new coaching staff navigating a few tough stretches though and you have to think there's a huge combustibility factor with this franchise given all of the egos involved. Ultimately the group comes together for some big wins but at the end of the year it wouldn't surprise me if the record is a bit deceiving as to how good this team really is on the field. Progress is progress though — especially given the past two decades — so a playoff berth is certainly something to be celebrated with an eye toward 2020.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
It’s no secret the Browns are a team on the rise in 2019, and it seems the only question is whether or not they can unseat Pittsburgh or Baltimore atop the North or earn a wild card spot for the playoffs. With Baker Mayfield throwing to Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, the rest of the AFC North is going to have its hands full trying to defend this passing game. The overall depth chart doesn’t have too many holes, but there is room to improve on defense after finishing 21st in the NFL in points allowed last year. While every week presents its own set of challenges in the NFL, the schedule is very manageable. A couple of tough road trips – 49ers and Patriots – outside of the division are swing games, but I’ll take the Browns to be in the thick of the AFC North title picture going into late December.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMark)
There's so much hype surrounding the Browns and I can understand the reasons for it. But let's not forget that this is still a relatively young team that has a rookie head coach and an interesting mix of personalities. To me, this has all the makings of a team that will beat someone they aren't supposed to (win at New England?) but then follow that up by losing to one (or more) teams that are considered inferior (hello, Cincinnati!). But in the end, I think there's more than enough talent for Cleveland to win 10 games, which is something the franchise hasn't done since the 2007 season. That still may not be enough to claim the AFC North but it could put the Browns in the playoffs. I think Cleveland fans will happily take that outcome.