The Cleveland Browns are sitting right where they should be as they enter Week 4 of the 2018 NFL season. While teams like the Miami Dolphins, Los Angeles Rams, and Kansas City Chiefs are fighting for the top spot in the Power Rankings, the Browns are in a dogfight in the AFC North.
The laughter that would once follow my bold statement is no more. Even though the Browns are 1-1-1 on the season, they have earned the respect of anyone who’s a real football fan. Their first game of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers was not supposed to end in a tie. If they had a real kicker, the Browns would have left Week 1, 1-0.
In their next game against the New Orleans Saints, the Browns played as if this was the playoffs and almost walked away with their first victory if not for, you guessed it, the kicker. Heading into their Week 3 meeting with the New York Jets, the Browns were playing as if it were 2016 or 2017. Nothing was going their way until Tyrod Taylor went down with a concussion and 2018 No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield came in and saved the day.
Now, with the Browns heading into their Week 4 matchup against the winless Oakland Raiders, many are wondering just how far can this team go.
The Cleveland Browns will face the Raiders, Baltimore Ravens, and Los Angeles Chargers in their next three matchups. By the time they reach Week 7 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Browns could very easily be 4-1. While the rest of their division has played great, how long before Andy Dalton malfunctions for the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers begin to miss Le’Veon Bell, and the Ravens fall back down to earth? This is the Browns’ “Golden Ticket!”
The Cleveland Browns have one on the leagues’ best defense and for those in doubt, think about who have they played so far? The Steelers won 13 games last season and with one of the best offenses managed just 21 points. The same goes for the Saints. How many defenses can say they kept Drew Brees and the Saints from putting up Madden-like numbers this year? The Browns held the Saints to 21 points.
While the AFC North is regarded as the toughest division in the NFL, the Browns will play spoiler. Anything over zero wins is considered a victory but this team wants more. With Mayfield now leading the charge, the Browns’ offense and defense have been giving new life. Out of the last 13 remaining games they have, their schedule is no cake walk but with the way the Browns have played this season, not many teams left on their schedule can say a game against the Browns is a cake walk either.
The advantage they will have over the rest of the teams in their division is their defense. Out of the last 13 remaining games they have, the Browns will only need to fear the Chiefs’ offense. The Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, Falcons, and the Houston Texans’ offense is not built to withstand this Browns’ swarming and attacking style of play. This is the reason why the Browns will be in the hunt at the end of the season.
Now, in order for this to happen, the Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals will need to falter. Early on, this seems a bit unlikely but the Steelers next three games before their bye week are against the Ravens, Falcons, and Bengals. With the Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown connection as good as ever, the Steelers are still struggling. The offense can score, however, it’s their defense that will be their downfall.
In the Steelers remaining 13 games, they will face off against Falcons, Panthers, Chargers, New England Patriots, and the Saints. Going score for score, they can manage but do they have the defense to stop Cam Newton, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Matt Ryan? The Browns have shown they can.
The Bengals are ranked in the bottom portion of defensive rankings while still having to play the Saints, Panthers, Chiefs, Chargers, and Falcons. To think they can keep up their hot start against some of the offensive powerhouses in the league is not accurate.
The same can be said about the Ravens. While Joe Flacco has played well, how long does that last with the Ravens’ makeshift offense? Will the Ravens offense be able to keep up with the likes of the Saints, Steelers, Falcons, and Chiefs? The Ravens defense has been pretty stout, they have yet to play a worthy opponent. This will change for the Ravens as the season progresses which will result in their true colors showing.
While each of these teams may have the experience over the Cleveland Browns, the Browns have been the most battle-tested so far in this season.
Yes, the season is just underway but comparing the four teams in the AFC North, it’s safe and scary to say that the Cleveland Browns are the best in the division.