The Cleveland Browns are set to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Will Burge explains why taking them lightly is not in their potential opponents’ best interest.They take the field with plain brown jerseys, and unflattering orange helmets. You are not impressed.
They average twenty six points per game, and are tied for the lead in the AFC North and still, you are not impressed.
What exactly is it going to take? Are you going to deny respect until they finally slap someone in the face come playoff time?
If you must, do at your own risk.
The story is well known by now. The season began with a 34-7 beatdown at home against their rivals, and a starting quarterback that was traded less than 48 hours later.
Prognosticators predicted doom and a high first round draft pick next year. Which would be great–but that pick is now in the possession of the Dallas Cowboys.
The question at hand was: why should the Browns even play out their season? Why not just pack it up and have an early vacation?
The Browns answered this by winning nine of their next fourteen games, and developing one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL. The defense, even though it’s ranked 31st in the NFL, has still made big play after big play to bury opponents late in games.
Are these Browns for real?
Every time there is a pivotal game, the doubters come out and Cleveland shuts them up.
These are not the Cleveland Browns the NFL has come to love, and that teams have grown accustomed to considering an automatic bye week on their schedule.
Oh no–these are not the Cleveland Clowns.
In fact, if you still consider them the Clowns, then Browns Stadium must be their funhouse. They have posted a 6-1 record there, and have regained the aura and mystique that the Dog Pound once carried.
They have not yet claimed a playoff spot, but with a win this weekend in Cincinnati they will.
That’s not what the Browns are aiming for though.
Even though you couldn’t coerce the statement out of anyone in the locker room, you know they have their eyes firmly locked on the AFC North crown. It is highly unlikely that the Steelers will drop a game to St. Louis or to Baltimore without Ray Lewis, but the Brownies are gunning for it just the same.
So why should these Browns scare potential playoff opponents?
Try a young defense that is coming on strong late in the season. They are only allowing fifteen and a half points per game during the last four outings, and have five interceptions.
Or maybe you would prefer a ground attack that features a revitalized Jamal Lewis, running for 114 yards per game over his last five contests.
Cleveland’s two most likely playoff opponents are San Diego and Pittsburgh, both of which are extremely winnable games for them.
If you think the Browns are not up to stealing a game in sunny San Diego–think again.
The Browns are sixth in total offense, fifth in pass yards per game, and first in average yards per reception in the AFC. Against San Diego’s eleventh ranked (in AFC) pass defense, this seems to be an immense advantage for Cleveland.
The other scenario is a third showdown in the Browns vs. Steelers rivalry. The last meeting was a 31-28 classic on November 11th. The Steelers prevailed, but only after a mental lapse by Romeo Crennel that deprived the Browns of a timeout. It may have come in handy on their last drive, when Phil Dawson’s game tying field goal fell just yards short. Not to mention just how hard it is to beat any team three times in one year.
Up until this season, Cleveland had one pro bowler since being back in the league. They have two this year, and are poised to get back to playoffs for only the second time in as many seasons.
So when January rolls around and the analysts are predicting winners and arguing game plans, look closely at the opposition’s fans.
Brady Quinn jerseys probably won’t be the only brown you will see in the crowd…