Listen, I'm getting out ahead of this. The Cleveland Browns have to make this playoffs this season. There's no other way to put it. This team has been out there way too much for anything else. There's been cover stories, shit talking, and a whole bunch of expectations surrounding this Browns team from the moment they shocked the world and traded for Odell Beckham Jr. in March.
This playoff declaration might seem extreme, but everyone is talking about this Browns team, and why shouldn't they? They're the IT team of this season, and with all of the interviews and soundbites comes actual expectations for a team that has won a total of eight games in three seasons. The team can say they don't hear any outside noise, but that same noise isn't going away and will only grow as the season wears on.
Odell and Baker are two of the best players in the NFL, but they're also two of the most polarizing. With all of the media spotlight comes chatter that will only pick up if the team struggles at any point this season. The talking heads will be out and things could take a bad turn quickly. That's what the Browns signed up for. This is the shit that real teams deal with.
With the NFL season about to get underway and I can't get it out of my mind that that the Browns can't fuck this up. There's been the lowest of the lows with this team, but missing the playoffs this year would be the ultimate bottom of the barrel, in my opinion. And this is the same team that literally didn't win a game two seasons ago.
Too much has been said and the expectations - whether the actual team wants to acknowledge them or not - have reached a fever pitch that we've reached a level where if you don't make the playoffs, it's one of the biggest L's in NFL history. There's no middle ground here. This Browns team isn't some fairytale feel-good story where even if they come up short but show improvement it's considered a success. Even Baker Mayfield admitted as much when I talked to him a few weeks ago. The Browns skipped that feel-good stage. They're in the playoffs or bust category, and I'm sure they're aware of that.
The table is set for the Browns to succeed this season and long into the future, with Mayfield only entering his second season and Odell under contract until 2023. But the way things work in the NFL, you just never know when a run might end. Look at the 2018 Jacksonville Jaguars. They were on the doorstep of a Super Bowl appearance and now are back to the mid-tier of the NFL, just like that. Yes, I know on paper the Browns have a better team than that Jags team, but the point remains: the NFL is unpredictable and you should never waste your best shot.
That's not to say that we know this is the Browns best shot, but we know it's a damn good one. This roster is loaded. From Baker to Odell to Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward, they surely have the talent to make the playoffs in 2019, which is something the Browns haven't done since 2002. There's no moral victories this year. There's no "happy to be here" moments for this team anymore. Every Browns fan remembers 2007 when they went 10-6 and missed the playoffs. There was real hope for the future and they fell flat. That can't happen again. Either this team is the real deal and actually makes a real run at this or the Browns will never be good. I truly believe that. The time is now.
The Cleveland Browns are finally in the real NFL with real expectations and real stakes. Welcome to the show, Cleveland. Please don't run from it.