How the New Look Cleveland Browns Stack Up in the AFC North

New Look Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns have been one of the stories of the off-season. The team, a perennial bottomfeeder since returning to the NFL in 1999, has made major moves to upgrade both the organization and the roster. Talent wise, this may be the best roster Cleveland has had in 20 years.

Yet Cleveland still plays in the AFC North. This division, if nothing else, is one of the most physical divisions in football. The Pittsburgh Steelers remain a Super Bowl contender and the Baltimore Ravens possess one of the nastiest defenses in football. The Cincinnati Bengals may have fallen off a bit but maintain an experienced core.

The Browns have finished last in the AFC North for the past seven seasons. The team finished third in the division in 2010 with a 5-11 record under then head coach Eric Mangini. The Bengals claimed the last place honors with a 4-12 record in what was possibly the team’s worst season under head coach Marvin Lewis.

How the New Look Cleveland Browns Stack Up in the AFC North

The Matchups

So where does this new look Browns teams fit in the AFC North? It’s safe to say the Browns will not be catching the Steelers in 2018. Pittsburgh remains one of the better teams in the entire NFL behind an electric offense. I would consider it an impressive display of improvement if the Browns beat the Steelers even once in 2018.

The Ravens will be an intriguing test for the Browns in 2018. The Ravens defense is one of the best in the NFL but their offense leaves something to be desired. A strong and balanced running game led the way to Baltimore’s 9-7 finish in 2017. That plays right into the hands of a young Cleveland defense that was actually quite strong against the run in 2017 despite the team’s 0-16 finish. An upgraded (and healthy) Browns defense should be even stronger against the run in 2018. The Ravens did nicely improve the weapons for Joe Flacco to utilize in the passing game, but the Browns overhauled their defensive secondary. A season split is not nearly as farfetched now as it would have seemed at the end of 2017.

Lastly, the in-state rival Bengals. The Bengals are the one team in the division the Browns are better than on paper. The matchups in 2018 will revolve around the battles in the trenches. The Bengals defensive line is the team’s strongest positional unit and could wreak havoc on the Browns if Cleveland’s newly added offensive line pieces are not established and playing well. Of course, the Browns and Bengals do not face off until Week 12 in 2018. The Browns should have plenty of time to have everything in order beforehand and barring major injuries should expect to sweep the Bengals in 2018.

The Final Standings

The Steelers and Ravens should remain the top teams in the AFC North in 2018 but that does not leave the Browns stuffed deep down in the division’s cellar. While a 3-3 divisional finish is certainly possible for Cleveland in 2018 the team still has to play 10 other opponents. Considering the number of young players and new additions that will see significant time in Cleveland, it’s easy to see the Browns getting off to a slow start before finishing strong. The key will be maintaining a level of patience as the pieces come together. Panic moves after a few early season losses could send Cleveland into another disastrous spiral of losing.
All things considered, the Browns should expect to finish third in the AFC North. Anything higher is a surprising success while finishing last again would be a tremendous disappointment following such a productive off-season. Cleveland still is not one of the top dogs in the AFC, but they should start to show some bite in 2018.

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