Is this the most important Browns opener......ever?

Is this the most important Browns opener......ever?

Mac Blank
10 months ago
5 min read
Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski looks on during preseason game

Phrases we hear a lot during the NFL season include “take it one game at a time” or “one game doesn’t define our season”, but since 2018 the data on the Cleveland Browns says different. Every franchise has different eras, and since the winless season in 2017 the Browns have actively tried to build a winning team to make a run for the playoffs.

 Funny enough, since this era began you can look at the home opener of every season and it will give an accurate summary of how the season usually goes.

In 2018, despite it not being a playoff year for the team, Browns fans look back at this year and smile as this was the first year in a while the Browns were finally competitive. Their bitter rival in the Pittsburgh Steelers came to town and Cleveland took them to the literal last second of the game. 

Due to missed kicks and absolute ineptitude on offense, the game ended in a 21-21 tie in OT. While this ended a 17-game losing streak, it didn’t result in a win. This encapsulates how the next few months would go for the team as Cleveland would not be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs until they stepped on the field Week 17. 

Months leading up to the 2019 season, there was so much hype around the Browns. Their second year QB Baker Mayfield was 2nd in ROY voting the year prior, they just traded for superstar WR Odell Beckham Jr, and the offensive play caller from the year prior in Freddie Kitchens was now the teams head coach. 

The Browns would not only lose this game but embarrass themselves as they turned the ball over 3 times and committed a whopping 18 penalties for 182 yards. Most people like myself thought it was a fluke and the team just needed time to straighten out, but sadly it would only get worse. 

Baker Mayfield would go on to lead the league in interceptions with 21 and the Browns would be 4th in the league in penalties with 122. The season would end with the team going 6-10 and firing their head coach.

2020, on the other hand, was a magical season that has the hearts of many fans as the Browns broke their decade’s long playoff drought. The cherry on top was of course the beat down of the Steelers in Pittsburgh to give the team their first playoff win since 1994. The season started off rocky though as the Browns were blown out in the season opener, but they rebounded in the home opener vs. the Cincinnati Bengals. 

The concerning part came when the team was up by 12 points with less than 4 minutes left and the defense gave up an easy 75 yard drive. If it wasn’t for an unsuccessful onside kick, we can’t say for sure the Browns would have won that game. Funny enough, months later the Browns would find themselves playing the Chiefs needing one defensive stop to keep their hopes of advancing to the AFC Championship alive.

They had caught a break in this game as well as starting QB Patrick Mahomes was out with a concussion, yet the defense couldn’t stop backup QB Chad Henne. Most teams would be licking their chops having a backup QB on the ropes with a 3rd and 14, yet the defense let Henne off the hook as he scrambled for a 13 yard gained setting them up with an easy 4th and 1 conversion. 

2021 had a similar offseason spike in hype as 2019, but this time the team heavily upgraded their defense. The offense was coming off a great playoff season and new faces in Jadeveon Clowney and Anthony Walker Jr were brought into fix the defense. In the season opener the Browns barely lost to the Chiefs, the team that knocked them out of the playoffs the year before. 

The home opener would be a win over the Houston Texans but the lasting ripple effects of that game would doom the season from the start. Starting WR Jarvis Landry would injure his MCL missing several weeks, only to come back nowhere near to full strength. Then you have Baker Mayfield tearing his labrum after trying to make a tackle. Not only would Mayfield’s injury and play get worse, but by the end of the season over 20 players that either started or played a significant role for the team were out with injuries. This would end in a disappointing 8-9 losing season after an offseason of heavy expectations.

Out of all the openers since 2018, last year had to be the most difficult. After an offseason of controversy due to the trade for Deshaun Watson, the Browns won their first season opener since 2004 after rookie Cade York drilled a 58 yard field goal to win. 

The home opener would have a completely opposite result. For 58 minutes of this game the Browns had shown despite playing with a backup QB, they could take care of business and win against inferior teams. 

They were up 30-17 with 1:55 left in the game only to lose 31-30. It stung even worse considering 37 year old Joe Flacco threw for over 300 yards on a defense that was predicted by some to be top 10 in the league. There was speculation that due to Deshaun Watson being suspended for the first 11 games that the offense would struggle, but the defense was a liability all season long giving up over 350 total yards of offense six times that season. This led the Browns to another losing season as they ended with a record of 7-10, their worst season record in the Kevin Stefanski era. 

Of course with stats and trends, there can always be outliers right? Then again, a team is also what they put on tape. The Browns open the season in Cleveland in front of their fans who have been waiting 3 years for their team to show some promise again. 

It’s fair to say how they perform against their division rivals will tell the world what kind of team Cleveland is this year. With a ton of new additions and the best roster this city has seen in a very long time, there is promise the Browns can reach the playoffs once again. 

What we know for sure is they have to turn that hope and promise into undeniable fact come Sunday. 

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