If it were not for certain former members of the Pittsburgh Steelers going crazy and the organization having an uncharacteristically active offseason in free agency and the draft, we may have spent the spring talking more about the Cleveland Browns on this site than the Steelers. After all, everybody else was, as well.
In spite of the fact that Cleveland has failed to post a non-losing record in over a decade; in spite of the fact that the franchise has not reached the postseason since 2002; in spite of the fact that they have literally never won the AFC North in the division’s history; the Browns, who finished third in the division in 2018, were favored to win.
They had Baker Mayfield, the 2018 first-overall pick, who despite only starting games surpassed the rookie record previously held by Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson for the most touchdowns thrown in a season. They had largely rebuilt the offensive line, and it had grown over the course of the season. Nick Chubb at running back looked like he could be a Pro Bowler in the future. David Njoku at tight end was still developing as well.
Then they added All-Pro wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. to pair with Jarvis Landry. They signed big Sheldon Richardson in free agency and acquired Olivier Vernon in trade to boost their defensive line and give Myles Garrett some battery mates. They managed to still nab a starting cornerback in Greedy Williams despite having no first-round pick due to the Beckham trade.
Suddenly the Browns were the most talented team in the division. They got off to a slow start, surely understandable, the growing pains of so much change, which would smooth over in short order. The turnaround came in Week Four when they throttled the Baltimore Ravens, the defending AFC North champions.
That turnaround, however, was for Baltimore. The Ravens haven’t lost since, now 7-2, on a five-game winning streak. The Browns only just snapped a four-game losing streak to end up at 3-6 on the season, third, again, in the division, and certainly not in position for a playoff spot.
The Steelers, in fact, are currently sitting in the spot for the sixth seed. They are tied at 5-4 with the Indianapolis Colts and the Oakland Raiders. The Tennessee Titans are 5-5. The Jacksonville Jaguars are 4-5. The Los Angeles Chargers are 4-6. The Denver Broncos are 3-6, and currently own a tiebreaker over the Browns.
This is Cleveland’s season, over the course of the next three games, during which they play the Steelers twice. If they can beat Pittsburgh—twice—then the faint glimmer of a playoff hope could still breathe, if faint.
Alternatively, the Steelers could crush them tonight in their own stadium, with all the talent they’ve assembled over the course of the past nine months. And then they can crush them again, in two weeks, at Heinz Field. And pour confetti on their heads to allow them to celebrate the offseason Super Bowl they won, but forgot to properly appreciate.