Although the Cleveland Browns suffered a shellacking at the hands of Mike Vrabel’s suddenly competent Tennessee Titans, they have every reason to feel optimistic about their playoff chances.
The Baltimore Ravens have established themselves as the clear favorites in the AFC North behind two dominant performances from Lamar Jackson, who has taken further steps forward after leading Baltimore to the postseason in his rookie season. But the Cleveland Browns still lurk as a playoff-worthy team due to their vast amount of talent on both sides of the ball. Ben Roethlisberger’s season-ending injury has to make the Browns like their chances even more.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced that Roethlisberger will undergo season-ending elbow surgery, potentially forcing the team to start Mason Rudolph. While Rudolph gave the Steelers something of a fighting chance in the team’s last-gasp Week 2 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, he is an obvious downgrade on Roethlisberger. And the Steelers already had massive questions on offense with none of the skill position players really performing up to standard, so Rudolph will have his work cut out for him.
Roethlisberger’s injury effectively eliminates the Steelers as candidates to win the division, whch is where they stood before the start of the 2019 season. There are simply too many obstacles for this team to overcome, and they are a weaker opponent for the Browns to face twice this year. With the Cincinnati Bengals also reeling after an Andy Dalton clunker against the San Francisco 49ers, the Browns may only have one other team to truly contend with.
While the Ravens are a formidable divisional foe, winning the AFC North isn’t the Browns only path to making it to the postseason. The Wild Card race looks more than just “wide open”. It’s hard to know too much about this Browns team since they haven’t even completed two games yet, but their raw talent is undeniable.
In Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., and Nick Chubb, the Browns have a three-headed machine on offense with more than sufficient depth behind them, while the defensive line and secondary look ravenous after offseason upgrades.
On the basis of overall talent and depth, the Browns probably have a better roster than Baltimore’s, which was quietly gutted this offseason. The difference is that the Ravens star quarterback has lived up to superstar billing in his second season. Meanwhile, Mayfield had one of his worst performances of an impressive early career against the Titans.
Mayfield will, rest assuredly, bounce back in a big way. Not only is he too talented to deliver another underwhelming performance, but he has all the weapons he needs around him. Compare that to, say, the Ravens depth at wide receiver or Donte Moncrief’s comically awful start to the season, and Mayfield has all the help he needs.
The Browns entered the regular season as the AFC North’s most exciting team, and while Jackson and the Ravens have picked up the steam that Mayfield and Co. have lost, nobody should count out these Browns. They are out to prove the world wrong, and they now have one less franchise quarterback to worry about in their own division. If the AFC North crown ends up being out of reach due to Jackson’s brilliance, then the Browns have to be considered one of the most talented squad vying for a Wild Card position.
Following Roethlisberger’s injury, it might even be an upset if the Browns don’t finally make it to the playoffs.