The Cleveland Browns are going to the Super Bowl but not in the way their fans would prefer.
OK, everyone knows the Browns aren’t actually going to Super Bowl LI — the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons will meet in Houston in two weeks after convincing conference championship wins. And Browns fans, by now, should be accustomed to losing and not seeing their team playing for the Lombardi Trophy.
However, there might be a little extra pain this season for Browns backers, given the roster construction of both the Patriots and Falcons.
Let’s start with the Patriots, and it starts at the top.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick — before he was setting NFL records by going to seven Super Bowls with Tom Brady — used to be Browns coach Bill Belichick. Cleveland had a good thing going, and then the Browns decided to move to Baltimore (ouch). Months later, the franchise fired Belichick (ouch again). This one is a bit of a stretch, of course, given it all went down more than 20 years ago, but it can’t feel good to see a former Browns coach transform into arguably the greatest coach of all time somewhere else.
Another key figure for the Patriots — running back Dion Lewis — has Cleveland ties. The Browns cut Lewis right before the 2013 season started after he fought back from a broken leg, with the team instead opting for Isaiah Crowell. When healthy, Lewis has been a dynamic offensive weapon for the Patriots, as evidenced by his three-touchdown game in the AFC divisional round last week.
(The Browns haven’t played in the divisional round since 1994. Belichick was their coach. Ouch everywhere you look.)
If Barkevious Mingo somehow does something in the Super Bowl, we’ll know for sure the Browns are cursed.
As for the Falcons, however, well … Browns fans might want to stop reading at this point if they already haven’t.
There are Browns connections from the top of the Atlanta roster down to the bottom. ESPN.com already did a great job of laying all of that out, and it’s not pretty.
Two integral pieces of the Falcons’ NFL-best offense used to play in Cleveland. Center Alex Mack for a long time was a dependable piece of the Browns’ offensive lines. After multiple clashes with management, Mack jetted for Atlanta in the offseason. The Falcons now have one of the best offensive lines in football, protecting likely MVP winner Matt Ryan all season.
On the outside, Taylor Gabriel has been a revelation in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Gabriel is a legitimate big-play weapon for the Falcons, averaging 16.5 yards per reception and scoring six touchdowns — five more than he scored in two combined seasons for the Browns.
Speaking of receivers, people forget the Browns also could have had Julio Jones. The Falcons moved up in the 2011 draft to take the incredible wideout in a deal that came with plenty of risk. The Browns, however, turned it into this.
Oh, and going back to Shanahan, whom we mentioned earlier. As ESPN.com also laid out, the Browns had Shanahan — before he helped orchestrate an all-time offense in the ATL — as their offensive coordinator for the 2014 season.
Shanahan resigned after one season, reportedly upset with the organization’s decision to make Johnny Manziel the starting quarterback. According to an ESPN.com report, Shanahan felt the front office forced Manziel on the staff, and the coach was very popular among the players in the Cleveland locker room.
Oh, and speaking of Manziel, the Browns’ 2014 first-round pick who is currently out of football …
Yep, you guessed it: Ouch.
Dion Lewis thumbnail photo via Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports Images
Kyle Shanahan thumbnail photo via Ron Schwane/USA TODAY Sports Images