Donny Football Hot Takes: #3 – Cleveland wins the AFC…not just the North
By Donny Chedrick
Get your pitchforks ready, Pittsburgh. I know this one is going to make people mad. It wasn’t just the 48-37 win the Browns put on the Steelers in January at Heinz Field. It wasn’t just the next game when Cleveland didn’t “get clapped” by eventual AFC champ, Kansas City, narrowly falling in that game. It’s the whole body of work and the team makeup that makes me so high on the Browns. The offense doesn’t have a notable weakness. The offensive line is among the best in football. The rushing combination of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt possibly the best tandem in the game. Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. provide electricity on the outside. The team has three tight ends and although none of them would qualify as “stars,” I would describe all of them as solid. And yes, despite what many believe, there’s a good quarterback in Cleveland. The key is that Baker Mayfield doesn’t have to do too much. He doesn’t have to run around and always make the big play like Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson or even Josh Allen. Mayfield has a fantastic run game and an elite offensive line at his disposal. A young Ben Roethlisberger had the same combination and that’s what a lot of people credit to his first of two Super Bowls. That’s not meant as a direct comparison between Ben and Baker, but it shows the right ingredients can make a super meal in Cleveland.
I don’t love the defense as much, but it’s a unit that can make plays and win. It wasn’t a group that dominated last year, finishing 21st in points allowed, 17th in yards allowed and 18th in turnovers. It features one of the best pass rushers in football in the form of Myles Garrett, and welcomes in Jadeveon Clowney, who has never lived up the massive hit in college that made him the first overall pick, but he hasn’t been a bust either. What Cleveland’s defense needed to upgrade was the secondary and that got addressed early in free agency when the Browns agreed to terms with John Johnson III. Johnson joins defensive backfield that includes Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams, Ronnie Harrison Jr., and first-round rookie, Greg Newsome II. The exciting, second-round steal, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah joins the middle of the defense with Mack Wilson. With the offense likely being among the best in football in possession time, the defense won’t be asked to play for 40 minutes a game. Sometimes it might even be half of that.
If you made it this far, you’re probably ready to label me as the next Chris Mueller. I know, I know, I’m high on Cleveland this year. All part of the game baby. All part of the game. RIP Michael K. Williams.