National Football League

Are the Cleveland Browns on the cusp of greatness or destined to disappoint?

April 14

Winning without expectations is easy.

But winning when you're expected to? That's a different story.

The Cleveland Browns played the role of the hunter in 2020, winning 11 games after going 6-10 in 2019. They clinched their first playoff berth since 2002 before losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC divisional round.

Coming off an 11-win season, the hopes and dreams of Cleveland fans presumably will be through the roof.

However, according to oddsmakers, the Browns are projected to win just 9.5 games in the new 17-game season, a win total that shocked Colin Cowherd. He discussed why on "The Herd."

"If you look at the best rosters in the NFL, in my opinion, and many others, Tampa's the best, Kansas City second, I'd put Cleveland third. Best offensive line, best running back tandem, great tight ends, wide receivers, major upgrade in the secondary. ... They are loaded. And they've got a competent head coach."

For the Browns, there is no shortage of playmakers on both sides of the ball. The running back tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 1,908 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns in 2020.

Cleveland also boasts one of the most dominant edge-rushers in football in Myles Garrett, who recorded 42.5 sacks in his first four seasons in the NFL, and Wednesday morning, the Cleveland pass rush became even more fearsome.

With the addition of Jadeveon Clowney – the No. 1 overall pick from the 2014 NFL Draft who agreed to a one-year, $10 million deal – the Browns have former top overall picks on each edge of the defensive line.

Even beyond that, the Browns' defense is expected to be more potent this season, with the addition of free-agent defensive backs Troy Hill and John Johnson, both of whom signed with Cleveland after spending the past four seasons with the Los Angeles Rams.

Add that to the fact that Cleveland will see the return of superstar wideout Odell Beckham Jr. – a torn ACL forced him to miss the final nine games of the 2020 regular season and the playoffs – and Cowherd just might be onto something with his praise for the Browns' roster. 

So why is Vegas so pessimistic about the Browns? Cowherd says there can be only one reason.

"What that's telling you is FOX Bet and Vegas don't trust Baker Mayfield," he said.

Mayfield showed significant signs of improvement in his third year as the Browns' starter, throwing 26 touchdown passes with only eight interceptions, completing 62.8% of his passes.

But the truth is the former No. 1 overall pick has yet to string together consecutive good seasons as a starter.

After a respectable rookie campaign in which he threw 27 TDs and only 14 picks, Mayfield experienced a sophomore slump, throwing 22 touchdown passes with 21 interceptions.

Now the ball is in his hands, and on Tuesday's edition of "Get Up," ESPN's Marcus Spears said Mayfield has the tools around him to carry the Browns to the Super Bowl. 

"If he doesn't take a step back, Cleveland is going to be better than they were last year."

There was a time when nine wins would have been seen as a great season for the Browns. But with this roster, nine wins would be underachieving – to say the least.

How expectations are managed in Cleveland could determine whether the Browns reach their ceiling as legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

And that makes for one of the most fascinating storylines heading into the 2021 NFL season.

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