The Cleveland Browns do not look like themselves of late, meaning they are no longer the laughingstock of the NFL.
The New York Jets have taken that throne.
Being second in the AFC North should earn some respect. Especially when your most talented offensive player, Odell Beckham Jr., is out for the rest of the season, yet you still manage to find success.
After last Sunday’s 27-25 win over Jacksonville, pulling Cleveland to 8-3, the Browns have entered the rare territory of a non-losing season. They haven’t done that since 2007.
For the first time since 2002, this team will likely go to the postseason.
We are in strange times, indeed.
Now, while the Browns have won eight games this season, their wins have not been consistent.
This team does not have a top-tier offense or defense by many indicators, even if they have some marquee stars in the league on their roster.
They are riding the middle of the pack on both sides of the ball.
We know their key on offense is getting running backs Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb the ball. They lead the league in rushing, averaging 161.4 yards a game. Their highly hyped quarterback, Baker Mayfield, has significantly fewer pass attempts and yards this season, which has worked well for the team.
Their offense is very old fashioned.
The biggest thing that stands out for this season seems to be the culture first-year head coach, Kevin Stefanski, has brought with him.
In his intro press conference earlier this year Stefanski gave his expectations saying, “Personality is welcome. Your production is required.”
That has worked. The team’s frivolous penalties have bottomed out. Even while defensive linemen drop like bricks, Stefanski has ushered in young guys to adequately plug the holes.
We all remember last season’s hit by defensive end Myles Garrett on Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph. It got him a 12-game suspension, which was the longest for a single incident in NFL history.
Or the failed social media strategy to engage with fans in 2014, resulting in porn plastering the walls of the Browns’ facility for over 20 minutes.
I still can’t believe that happened.
And we can’t forget former Browns safety Jermaine Whitehead’s infamous Twitter threats last year directed toward former NFL player Dustin Fox and other critics online after the team’s fourth straight loss. One of the Twitter handles’ names was “Does Jermaine Whitehead still suck.”
Whiteside replied to them: “Imma kill you… that’s on blood.”
That cost Whitehead his job.
The Browns are also a revolving door franchise when it comes to head coaches and general managers. They’ve had seven GMs and eight head coaches since 2009, more than any other team in the league.
A lot of the dysfunction was on display during season 13 of Hard Knocks in 2018.
That’s a Browns team I recognize. A team in complete disarray. Clueless about what they are doing. And the results illustrating that narrative.
And I didn’t even mention the profanity pinned screaming match between owner Jimmy Haslam and head coach Hue Jackson. ESPN’s Seth Wickersham did an entire deep dive into the team last year.
This year’s team has been relatively quiet, except for OBJ’s injury. They haven’t seen a massive COVID-19 outbreak, unlike the Baltimore Ravens or Tennessee Titans.
Playing professional football for an incompetent franchise during a global pandemic seems like a recipe for outright catastrophe. So kudos to the Browns for rising above it.