The Cleveland Browns may have made the splashiest moves of the offseason, headlined by the acquisition of All-Pro wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., but also including adding running back Kareem Hunt, defensive end Olivier Vernon, and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.
That, coupled with their strong finish to last season and the predicted second-year development of quarterback Baker Mayfield, has had plenty of people buying in to what they’re selling out in Berea. Most outlets are predicting them to win the AFC North, even though they literally never have before (in fact, the last time the “Cleveland Browns” won a division championship of any kind was in 1989, when Ozzie Newsome was their tight end).
Now he’s with the team that has a legitimate gripe regarding all the Cleveland hype. After all, the Baltimore Ravens are the team who won the AFC North last year. They are the team that shut the Browns down at the end of the season finale to secure the division title and to keep their opponent from achieving a winning record. Why are they being ignored?
They, too, after all, have a flashy new quarterback in Lamar Jackson, who went 6-1 as a started an propelled them to an improbable second-half surge into the postseason after a 4-5 start to their season.
Sure, they have lost some names, most especially C.J. Mosley. His loss will not be easy to replace—the current plan is to utilize multiple players, from what I can gather—but others are manageable. They lost a couple of pass-rushers, neither of them elite (or still elite), and replaced them with a couple more. They cut Eric Weddle but replaced him with Earl Thomas. They let wide receivers go and drafted more, but are focusing on the run game instead and brought in Mark Ingram for that purpose.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have experienced it, too. They may not have won the division last year, but they came closer than Cleveland, yet they’re the ones being asked about the Browns. Are the Browns’ players being asked about the Steelers and Ravens? From what I’ve seen, not nearly as much. They’re being asked about themselves and if they can live up to the expectations. It’s being set up as their division to lose.
When John Harbaugh was repeatedly asked about the improvements Cleveland made last month, he was eventually forced to answer. “They’re the most talented team in the division; there’s no question about that right now”, Jamison Hensley quotes him. “We’ll see what that means. I know this: that’s right now. The best team in the division is the team that’s going to win the division. So, we’ll see what the best team is”.
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti also made light of it, joking during a conference call that if they’re so good now, maybe they’ll beat the Steelers every once in a while. Let’s hope not. Baltimore did lose to the Browns last year, but had not done so previously since 2015.