I don’t know when’s the last time that a team who hasn’t had a winning record in literally the past decade was made the favorite to win the division in a season after which they posted a losing record—even if that losing record was their best during that entire time span.
That is the situation we are looking at right now in the AFC North, however, at least according to the early betting lines in Las Vegas. The Cleveland Browns, who finished 7-8-1, third in the division, are favored to outpace the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens for the title this time around.
Now, I’m not saying that’s an absurd proposition. On paper, they look to be a good team that should be capable of winning eight or more games. But they do have to actually do it first. The Steelers have had very talented teams that failed to win the division in the past.
New Browns Head Coach Freddie Kitchens is not shying away from the boosted expectations of his group, however, whose ranks have been bolstered by the likes of wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., defensive linemen Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson, and, after his suspension, running back Kareem Hunt. They did trade away starters right guard Kevin Zeitler and safety Jabrill Peppers.
“It’s all Browns, all the time right now. That’s the way we want it to be. We like our expectations high”, Kitchens told reporters yesterday in attendance at the annual league meeting. “I’ve never seen one team make the Super Bowl without having those expectations. I don’t mind expectations. I want them. I guarantee the New England Patriots, their expectation next year is to play in the Super Bowl”.
For the record, the last time the Browns have reached the postseason was in 2002. That is the only time since they returned to the league in 1999 that they did so. And that was as a Wildcard. They have never won the AFC North, and have only placed second twice. Prior to placing third in 2018, they were fourth for seven consecutive seasons.
“Now, we’re not in the predicting business but we’re going to take an everyday approach to do our jobs and then we will see where we are a week from now, then a month, then a year”, Kitchens said. “In January we’ll see if we’re good enough. We might not play good enough, or we might not have coached good enough, but that’s always gonna be our goal”.
Personally, I like the attitude Kitchens brings not just to the job but to the game, but he has a lot to prove as a novice head coach who even has limited experience as a coordinator. One thing he doesn’t lack is confidence.
“To me pressure is waking up without a job, having a baby at home to feed, your wife just left you and you have no money in your pocket”, he said of the burden of the position. “So that’s pressure. I don’t think what we do is pressure”.