Safe to say that the offseason champions of 2019 did not delivery last season. Despite adding copious Pro Bowl-caliber talent, the Cleveland Browns managed to fall from 7-8-1 to 6-10 in 2019.
But with a new head coach and a new start, the Browns have the opportunity to finally establish themselves as a playoff team. Or, at least finish higher than third in the AFC North for the first time since 2007.
Former Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski will be tasked with unlocking Baker Mayfield’s immense potential at quarterback, and he’ll have one of the best set of offensive weapons in the league to work with.
Nick Chubb is one of the top young running backs and the Browns will get a full season of Kareem Hunt to complement him. Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. quietly combined for 2,209 receiving yards last year, and Cleveland made a splash by signing tight end Austin Hooper in free agency. Perhaps most crucially, the team upgraded a porous offensive line with first-rounder Jedrick Wills Jr. and free-agent signing Jack Conklin.
Fixing the offense won't be the only problem, though. The Browns finished 30th in the NFL in rush defense last season (144.7 ypg) and didn't do much to address that over the offseason. They did add three intriguing SEC defenders on Day 2 of the draft (Grant Delpit, Jordan Elliott, and Jacob Phillips), and their impact under new defensive coordinator Joe Woods will be worth monitoring.
The good news for the Browns is that their schedule should be a tad more manageable this season. They're trading the AFC East and NFC West for the AFC South and NFC East, and their harder non-division games will mostly come at home (Colts, Texans, Eagles).
Is this the year a young Browns team can finally break through? Athlon Sports asked several editors 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 2020
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The Browns are a fascinating team to watch in 2020. Baltimore and Pittsburgh appear to be a few steps ahead in the AFC North, but new coach Kevin Stefanski is inheriting a roster with talent and the upside to surprise. Will Baker Mayfield thrive under Stefanski’s watch? With Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry back on the outside, additions to improve the offensive line, along with running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, scoring points shouldn’t be a problem. The defense has room to improve after finishing near the bottom of the league against the run and 20th in points allowed. A full season out of end Myles Garrett should help both of those causes.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMark)
Stop me if you've heard this before – Cleveland is breaking in a new head coach. Change has been the one constant (well that and losing) with the Browns recently but call me crazy, I think the team is finally headed in the right direction by hiring former Minnesota offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski as head coach.
Stefanski's No. 1 priority is getting Baker Mayfield back on track, and new general manager Andrew Berry helped out his young quarterback by addressing the offensive line through free agency (Jack Conklin) and the draft (Jedrick Wills Jr.). If all the pieces come together, this offense could be really good and the defense doesn't lack for talent either. However, that's a big "if," so I'm not quite ready to jump on the Browns bandwagon again just yet. Remember how that turned out last year? But posting a winning record in Stefanski's debut and possibly sneaking into the playoffs isn't out of the question so keep the faith Dawg Pound.
Ben Weinrib (@benweinrib)
This offseason could not have gone better for Baker Mayfield. If he doesn't find some success this season, that's going to be on him. The former No. 1 pick was constantly under pressure last season, which forced him into too many poor decisions. But with more time and even more weapons, the Browns should be in position to be a top-10 offense. Kevin Stefanski's run-centric strategy may hold the team back from being a truly elite unite, but at least that should help cut back on turnovers. But if I'm an optimist about the offense, I'm pretty down on the Browns' D. The loss of linebacker and leading tackler Joe Schobert will sting, and they'll need their pass rush to really step up and cover their other holes. With a seventh playoff team this season, the postseason is a strong possibility, provided Mayfield takes the next step.