Long one of the doormats of the NFL, the Cleveland Browns' turnaround isn't a mirage this time.
After earning their first playoff victory of this millennium, walloping rival Pittsburgh on Super Wild Card Weekend, the expectations are on the rise in Cleveland. Most expect the Browns to compete for the AFC North title. They're one of the clubs in a top-heavy AFC that could give the Kansas City Chiefs a run for conference supremacy.
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield joined TNT during Tuesday's The Match charity golf match and said the locker room isn't concerned about outside expectations but rather setting its own goals.
"We've definitely had a lot of conversations about expectations come within our own locker room," Mayfield said. "You know, you set your own standards, you can't listen to any of the outside stuff and that's what matters. Because you can feed into the good stuff or the bad and it's all going to negatively affect you. We have to do a good job of keeping our guys focused one day and one week at a time."
It's not the first time the Browns have been hyped. After Mayfield closed his rookie season in promising fashion, Cleveland was endlessly hyped the summer of 2019, with some analysts going as far as picking them as Super Bowl contenders. That team, coached by Freddie Kitchens, famously crashed and burned, with Mayfield struggling in Year 2. Those Browns went 6-10.
It's a much different squad two summers later, and the expectations don't seem outlandish for Kevin Stefanski's team. NFL.com analyst Marc Ross, a longtime NFL front office personnel man, ranked the Browns roster as the most complete heading into 2021. That pick didn't even register on the Interweb as a hot take.
With Odell Beckham returning from injury and the ever-consistent Jarvis Landry at wideout, the best backfield combo in the NFL in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, the Browns O should be stellar if Mayfield's play improves like it did down the stretch of the 2020 season. Additionally, the Browns revamped the entire defense, including adding Jadeveon Clowney, John Johnson, Troy Hill, and draft picks Greg Newsome and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.
"I'm really excited," Mayfield said. "All the moves that we've made, bringing some of these guys in. Obviously, really talented people, but seems like it's a bunch of locker room guys. Good chemistry going on. I'm excited to get this thing, get it running."
With a roster that looks loaded on paper, the pressure will fall on Mayfield's shoulders if the Browns don't live up to lofty expectations early in the 2021 season.