The Future of the Browns: Wild Card Weekend Takeaways


Jan 17, 2024

This past Saturday marked a rough Super Wild Card Weekend for the Cleveland Browns. Despite entering the game as the slight road favorite against Houston, the Browns were thoroughly outplayed, suffering a 45-14 defeat. The matchup showcased CJ Stroud, a rookie, outperforming the seasoned Joe Flacco, a twist emblematic of the Browns’ season.

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The necessity for 39-year-old Flacco to step in as the starting quarterback for the final six games highlights the team’s struggles. Remarkably, he was the fourth quarterback to start for Cleveland this year. This kind of turnover is not new for the Browns. From 2003 to 2019, they failed to make a single playoff appearance under ten different head coaches, whether interim or permanent.

However, the tide seemed to turn with the appointment of Kevin Stefanski as head coach in 2020. Since his tenure began, the Browns have made two playoff appearances, including an impressive run in his first year. Stefanski was absent from the sidelines due to COVID issues during that critical 2020 playoff game. The question now is: Can the Browns maintain their status as a perennial playoff team? The outlook is optimistic, with projections suggesting they could make the playoffs five times in the next decade, narrowly missing out in another two years.

Yet, there’s a catch. While the Browns have the potential, they face stiff competition in the AFC North. Teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers, known for consistently finishing above .500, Lamar Jackson and the elite Baltimore Ravens, and Joe Burrow‘s Cincinnati Bengals make reaching the playoffs much more challenging than if the Browns were in a division like the NFC South.

With Stefanski at the helm and improved play from Deshaun Watson, the Browns are undoubtedly positioned to be a competent and potentially successful team over the next decade. The challenge lies not in their capacity but in the competitive landscape of their division.

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Thumbnail photo via Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

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