What should the Dog Pound expect?
By: Andy Davies
As a result, they went into the 2021 season with plenty of hype. However, it hasn’t worked out like this. The team’s current record is 5-5 and they are in a division where every team has at least 5 wins.
So, what has gone wrong for a team that many had down as AFC North division winners? Is there still a chance to win it?
The short answer is yes, they can. The AFC North is fast becoming one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL, but no team has managed to get some sort of consistency. Baltimore Ravens fans will certainly tell you that.
They had a 5-1 start, which included a 46-35 win over the reigning AFC Champions Kansas City Chiefs. The week after beating the Los Angeles Chargers 34-6, a team that many have as a Super Bowl dark horse, they lost 41-17 to division rivals the Cincinnati Bengals. On Thursday night, they lost 22-10 to the Miami Dolphins, who were 2-6 before the game. More worryingly for the Ravens, the Dolphins appeared to show the entire league the blueprint as to how to beat them.
The Cincinnati Bengals were briefly top of the division just a matter of weeks ago but now sits in 3rd place. We have seen the excitement of the Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase partnership but have equally seen the defense allow at least 34 points their last two games as they suffered defeats to the Browns and New York Jets.
There was a difficult start made by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite the surprise 23-16 win over the Buffalo Bills in Week One, they lost their next three games to go 1-3. However, they have not lost a game since and now sit 5-3-1. Head coach Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season, but they still have to face the Chargers, Ravens twice, the current AFC number one seed in the Tennessee Titans as well as Cleveland.
Cleveland themselves have to also play the Packers on Christmas Day and the rest of their AFC North rivals, but also get to play a 0-8-1 Detroit Lions and an inconsistent Las Vegas Raiders. Their schedule is fairly favourable, but they have to cut out their own erratic performances if they are to succeed.
Sorting Out Their Own Inconsistencies
The Browns have really struggled for consistency this season. They won three straight games after their opening day loss to the Chiefs but have failed to win consecutive games since.
If a team is to win championships, then they have to win games consistently. Whilst is it more important how you play in January than how you play in October or November, but you have to make sure you play in January past the regular season.
What have the great New England Patriots sides done in the past? Gotten a consistent run of good form down the stretch. This is exactly what the Browns need to do as runs like this help build momentum and confidence in the crucial postseason games.
The Baker Conundrum
Quarterback Baker Mayfield is easily one of the more polarising players in his position. There are some that feel he is the guy. There are others that view him as nothing more than a ‘game manager’.
So far in 2021, he has 1,990 yards, 9 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. This has him projected to finish the campaign with just under 3,980 yards but crucially just under 18 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. This would have him at around his career best in terms of yardage but his worst season when it comes to touchdown passes.
His career so far has defined patchy. He had amazing seasons in both the 2018 and 2020 campaigns but has been poor in 2019 and 2021. He will be expecting a good season in 2022 judging by how his time as a pro has gone, but there is no guarantee he will earn his new contract. This ends after the conclusion of the 2022 season, which may see him raise his game. He has to be careful that he doesn’t suffer a further dip in form.
Quarterbacks such as Jimmy Garoppolo and Tua Tagovailoa may be available that would fit into the game manager role and allow the excellent run game to flourish. He will have plenty of suitors due to being the number one overall pick in 2018 and the two excellent seasons he has had but he will want to succeed in Cleveland. This is clear to see. One thing that hasn’t helped is the broken-down relationship with wide receiver OBJ.
The OBJ Dilemma
Say what you want about Odell Beckham Jr, the dynamic around him and Baker’s relationship cannot have helped things in Cleveland. Throughout Beckham’s time in Ohio, the talk of a lack of chemistry between the pair has been a constant talking point.
There is substance to this, with the fact that the Browns made the playoffs last season with Odell injured.
The loss of running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to injury hasn’t helped, despite the best efforts of D’Ernest Johnson. The one-two punch of both backs reduced the need for Baker to throw to ball to. Instead, these injuries have meant Baker has had to throw to ball to. This can be seen by his stats, with Baker projected to throw for career highs in completed passes and his second highest total in attempted passes.
OBJ’s dad has posted videos on social media of the amount of times Beckham has been open and not received the ball. There is clear frustration from the Odell camp. Now that he has gone, along with the return of Chubb and Hunt, will help ease the tension at the franchise. Should the struggles ease, with such a good plethora of offensive and defensive talent, this should see head coach Kevin Stefanski guide them to another playoff appearance (or two). Should things further unravel, then Baker will be vastly looking over his shoulder at Free Agency and the 2023 draft quarterback prospects.