Expectations for the Cleveland Browns haven’t been higher in recent memory. With the pressure mounting to rescue the dormant franchise, the new-look Browns team will look to knock off their foes one by one. A crushing playoff defeat at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round has motivated Cleveland to turn things up a notch in 2021.
The Browns open the season against the same team that ended their 2020 run.
The Browns look to build on their offense improvements from 2020
The Browns finished the 2020 season with an 11-5 record, good for third place in the tightly-contested AFC North. The division will be a tough out once again in 2021, but Cleveland is in a great position to compete for its first division crown since 1989.
Before the 2020 season, the front office hired former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski as the new head coach in Cleveland. He was an instant upgrade over Freddie Kitchens, and it showed.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield is entering his second season in Stefanski’s system after enjoying the best season of his career in 2020. The former No. 1 overall pick threw for 3,563 yards and 26 touchdowns. His eight interceptions were the lowest of his NFL career.
Odell Beckham Jr. returns from a season-ending injury. It will be interesting to see if the three-time Pro Bowler can build on the chemistry with Mayfield. Jarvis Landry led the team in receiving again, and Donovan Peoples-Jones is pushing Rashard Higgins for the No. 3 wide receiver spot.
Led by Jedrick Wills Jr., Wyatt Teller, JC Tretter, and Joel Bitonio, the Browns arguably have the best offensive line in the NFL. Teller received a grade of 92.9 from Pro Football Focus, which is one of the highest at the position.
The biggest beneficiaries of the solid offensive line play are running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Chubb rushed for 1,067 yards and 12 touchdowns in just 12 games in 2020. The Georgia product averaged 5.6 yards per carry, the highest mark of his career. Hunt tallied over 800 yards on the ground and 300 receiving yards. He scored 11 times.
The Browns are loaded on defense heading into 2021
As talented as the Browns are on offense, their defense may be even more loaded. Defensive end Myles Garrett leads the charge. Cleveland drafted him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, and he’s progressively gotten better year after year.
Garrett is coming off of an impressive 2020 campaign. He registered 48 tackles, 12 sacks, and four forced fumbles. He got after opposing quarterbacks often, recording 18 QB hits as well. The Browns brought in Jadeveon Clowney to play opposite Garrett, forming a fierce pass-rushing duo. The team even made sure they secured depth, adding Takk McKinley as well.
Linebacker Jacob Phillips is on injured reserve and may miss the entire season. However, defensive coordinator Joe Woods still has talent at the position. Anthony Walker comes over from Indianapolis and will be the primary signal-caller on defense, per The Athletic. Notre Dame’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is an exciting prospect and may end up being the steal of the 2021 NFL Draft.
The Browns defense will feature its most complete secondary in recent memory, led by cornerback Denzel Ward and recently acquired safety John Johnson III, who recorded 105 tackles for the Los Angeles Rams in 2020. General manager Andrew Berry added cornerback Greg Newsome II in the draft. Troy Hill will most likely start in the slot.
The secondary has plenty of depth, with former LSU stars Greedy Williams and Grant Delpit, who both missed the entire 2020 season.
The Kansas City Chiefs present an early-season challenge, but it will be a measuring stick to gauge the potential of the Browns defense.
The Kansas City Chiefs are the favorites to win Super Bowl LVI
The Kansas City Chiefs open the 2021 NFL season as the favorites to come out of the AFC and win the Super Bowl.
The Chiefs boast the most explosive offense in the NFL, led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The three-time Pro Bowler has taken the league by storm since he took over the starting quarterback spot in 2018.
Head coach Andy Reid, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, and company coached Kansas to top-6 finishes in total offense in each of the past three seasons. The 2021 season will likely carry a similar result.
Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are near the top of the NFL at their respective positions and present defenses with matchup nightmares. Clyde Edwards-Helaire is entering year two in this system and should only produce more with the extra familiarity.
Mahomes torched the Browns over the middle of the field during the 2020 playoff game. Cleveland hopes the addition of John Johnson III will help them improve in that area. Their defensive rebuild was geared around generating a more consistent pass rush. Clowney and McKinley should give them more balance and take some of the attention away from Myles Garrett.
With their added depth on defense, this Browns team is more suited to slow down the high-powered Chiefs offense. As for the Browns offense, they’ll indeed have their opportunities to make big plays. Kansas City safety Tyrann Mathieu is on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, and his status for the game is uncertain.
The Cleveland Browns are a much more balanced team than they were in 2020. A statement game against the two-time defending AFC champs would put the league on notice.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.