Bold Predictions for Browns' 2021 NFL Season
Predicting the Cleveland Browns to win 11 games in 2020 would have been as bold as it gets last year. This season, that would be a mild expectation considering what they did last season.
As weird as it is to write the sentence, the Cleveland Browns are a legitimate Super Bowl contender in 2021.
Kevin Stefanski had as much success as anyone could have hoped for as a rookie head coach last season. He debuted as the lead man in Cleveland with a season that included the franchise's first playoff win since coming back in 1999.
He took a roster that had some talent and formed an identity and culture that brought a winner to Cleveland. But repeated success is always a different ball game.
Cleveland will really have to play to lofty expectations to surprise this year. Let's take a look at the season ahead through the lens of a few bold predictions.
Myles Garrett Will Lead the League in Sacks
The coronavirus pandemic may have been the only thing holding Myles Garrett back from winning Defensive Player of the Year last season. He missed two games while on the COVID-19 list, costing him the opportunity to stack some additional numbers on an already impressive campaign.
The 25-year-old finished sixth in the league in sacks with 12.0 and almost had more games with more than one sack (three) than he did with none (four). His numbers are likely to improve in 2021. He was third in pass-rush win rate, a measure that accounts for the number of times a player beats his matchup regardless of the result of the play.
That was with Garrett playing on a defense that had limited playmakers up front. Teams could fairly easily scheme against him. That will become more difficult with Jadeveon Clowney rushing off the opposite edge, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah working as a moveable chess piece on the defense and Malik Jackson offering some rush on the interior.
That should set up Garrett with a few more one-on-ones than he got last season. With a full bill of health for all 16 games, he should lead the league.
The Browns Will Have a Top Three Offense
That was in a year when his transition to power took place in the height of the pandemic. Most of the installation of his offense, defense and team culture took place over Zoom meetings and phone calls.
Yet, the Browns showed dramatic improvement in every facet from the run game (over 400 more yards), to pass protections (from 41 sacks to 26) and explosive plays (from 109 in 2019 to 136 in 2020). They also dealt with a season-ending injury to Odell Beckham Jr.
Fast-forward to 2021 and the Browns are returning a remarkable amount of their production from last season. The entire offensive line is back, and there are no notable losses throughout the roster.
If anything, they should have hope that multiple players will outperform their 2020 campaigns. Donovan Peoples-Jones' progression has been a big storyline of camp, Beckham should return healthy, and Harrison Bryant gives them another receiving option at tight end.
Typically, the kind of leap the Browns made in 2020 would be viewed as unsustainable. Given their continuity, it could just be a stepping stone to even bigger things this season.
The Browns Will Play in the AFC Championship Game
After last year's breakout season, simply being in the playoffs won't be enough this time around. The Browns have constructed a roster that is worthy of Super Bowl consideration.
The coaching staff proved itself last season. They brought about massive improvements to the existing personnel while integrating new talent and changing the culture in Cleveland.
The front office has done everything it can to fix the remaining holes from last year's team. Bringing in Troy Hill and John Johnson III gives them veteran help to fix the secondary, while drafting Greg Newsome II and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah gives them two potential Rookie of the Year contenders.
Signing Jadeveon Clowney provides them with an additional threat up front. He isn't the pass-rusher he used to be, but he's an elite run defender.
That's all paired with the aforementioned offense with all the tools to be elite.
Winning games in a variety of ways is key to success in the playoffs. The Browns are built to do just that. They have the run game and defense to win ugly and the pass-catching talent with an emergent quarterback in Baker Mayfield to win in a shootout.
An AFC Championship game against Kansas City is a coin toss, but the Browns have everything in place to play for a conference title.