If there’s one thing in which the Cleveland Browns are well-versed, it’s underperforming. And anything short of a playoff run in 2021, for many, would qualify as just that this year. For the first time in more than a decade, the Browns posted a winning record last season, going 11-5. They won their first playoff game since 1994, in their first playoff appearance since 2002.
It was the culmination of years and years of rebuilds and hopes and failures, finally getting over the hump in new head coach Kevin Stefanski’s first season. Now perhaps finally entering an opportunity for some stability, the question is, can they sustain it and build off of it?
“We definitely had a lot of conversations about, expectations come within our own locker room”, fourth-year quarterback Baker Mayfield recently told Cleveland 19 News. “You set your own standards. You can’t listen to the outside stuff, and that’s what matters. You can feed into the good stuff or the bad and it’s all going to negatively affect you. So, we have to do a good job of keeping our guys focused one day, one week at a time”.
The pundits have been high on the Browns for three years running now. They were an immense disappointment in 2019 in a season that really blew up in their faces under the mistake-hire of Freddie Kitchens as head coach, regressing from where they had gotten during Mayfield’s rookie season the year before.
Still, they remained optimistic entering 2020 and were finally rewarded. They didn’t win the division, but they came close, and made the postseason, and even gave the Kansas City Chiefs a run for their money for the right to play in the conference finals.
Are the Browns at the point now where the expectation is Super Bowl or bust? From the outside, perhaps not. But I would imagine that those in the locker room fully expect that they should be able to win a championship, and that failure to do so would be a disappointment.
Cleveland built a quality offensive, behind the strength of one of the top offensive lines in the league and a great one-two combination in the backfield. They set their sights on shoring up the defense this offseason, both in free agency and the draft, and also get some starters back from injury.
Frankly, any expectations that might persist from the outside shouldn’t even match up to the standards the Browns should be holding themselves to. If they don’t have their eyes on a championship, then they’re doing things wrong. It’s hard to reach a goal you don’t believe in.