The Cleveland Browns have officially achieved “puzzle wrapped in a puzzle inside a puzzle” status. As long as they have a quarterback with some recognizable names — whether it’s Deshaun Watson or Joe Flacco — the team plays with the confidence of a far more dangerous organization. Kevin Stefanski’s club could be motivated by skeptics, or by a cult of football fans who don’t want to talk about them because they’re owned by a scumbag who traffics in the alleged pervert, but whatever the case, the Browns have a way to go.
They have wins over both Baltimore and San Francisco, which no other team in the league can boast, and are 8-2 with quarterbacks who have regular starting experience in the NFL. This is the baseline.
DeJoe Watco has thrown for 2,422 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 11 picks, while averaging a completion percentage of nearly 60 percent over 9 full games. (Technically, Watson played in 10 games, but Watson attempted just five passes against Indianapolis before leaving with an injury. Cleveland went on to win the Week 6 contest, 39-38.)
Extrapolating 15 games, Watco is basically Matthew Stafford with a slightly higher risk-reward. I don’t know what to make of Amari Cooper’s record-tying 265-yard performance. He’s not even 30 yet, but he feels Flacco’s age in his wide receiver years. Was it game design? Was Houston due to a bad odor? What are you betting on when Flacco eclipses 265 passing yards against the Jets on Thursday?
While I want to say this is unsustainable, people wonder if Flacco could be the next Nick Foles, as if he wasn’t the original Nick Foles. If Baltimore was as scrappy as Carson Wentz’s Philadelphia team, Flacco likely wouldn’t have held John Harbaugh and this franchise hostage for as long as he did.
Regardless of whether the Browns are actual contenders, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them defeat Jacksonville in the first round and then upset one of the big hitters in the divisional round. The Bills, Chiefs, and Dolphins have all gone through periods of weakness this year. Everyone is on board with the Ravens after Monday night’s show, but the AFC North matchups are pretty weird. (Of the three possible losses to a single seed, two came to AFC North foes.)
The Browns lead the NFL in total offense allowed with over 400 yards. For context, four quarterbacks have thrown for more yards than Cleveland has given up (3,905). They upset opponents, sack QBs, and finish in the top ten. If you can be feisty when the quarterback room combines for 19 touchdowns and 20 interceptions, you should get the attention of the league.
It’s Cleveland, so football fans are used to the other shoe dropping. You could say some people are actively encouraging this considering the villain Jimmy Haslem and Watson are in mind. (They’re the world’s worst buddy comedies that literally can’t be put down.)
If anyone wants to talk about the Browns, we can talk about them more. We’ll have to if they keep winning after January. The midget on the field probably won’t be recognized, but what else is new?