Can the Browns Be Competitive Again in AFC North?

Can the Browns Be Competitive Again in AFC North?
Fact Checked by Pat McLoone

The 2022 season for the Cleveland Browns was always going to be a strange one. With Deshaun Watson slated to serve an 11-game suspension, it felt like the season was going to be a bit of a wasted year.

The Browns were competitive with Jacoby Brissett under center but lost four games in the first seven weeks by a combined nine points.

When Watson returned to the field, the Browns were a bit better. They won three of their last six games, with two of those losses being on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The bigger issue was that Watson didn’t perform like a quarterback who was paid $250 million guaranteed. Watson finished the year with a passer rating of 79.1, which is far below expectations. However, it’s fair to give him some slack, considering that his last start came in 2020.

Sports betting in Ohio will be a factor next season, since the state launched legal wagering on Jan. 1. With that in mind, now that the Browns will have Watson back for the entire 2023 season, what do they need to do to get back on track and be competitive in the AFC North?

How Do Sportsbooks Rate Browns?

The Browns Super Bowl odds are currently 35-1, according to FanDuel Ohio Sportsbook. That is tied with the Green Bay Packers for 14th-best in the NFL. 

Tipico Ohio Sportsbook has even longer odds. Tipico has the Browns at +4000, tied for 16th with the Las Vegas Raiders, New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints.

What is the most notable is that the Bengals (+900 at both books) and the Ravens (+1600 at FanDuel, +2000 at Tipico) both have significantly higher odds to win the Super Bowl. As we head into the offseason, oddsmakers believe that those two teams are significantly better than the Browns right now.

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Can Browns Catch Up? How?

So, how do the Browns – the team found the most popular in the state - catch the Bengals and the Ravens in the division?

They must restock their overall talent, especially on defense. But due to the Watson trade, the Browns do not own a first-round pick. The Browns own just two picks inside the top 110 selections, with their first pick coming in at No. 41. They are also over the cap by $13 million as of this posting and have several key contributors, such as Ethan Pocic, Jadeveon Clowney and Kareem Hunt, expected to hit free agency. 

Cleveland obviously will be able to create some cap space with restructures and releases, but the areas of improvement are mostly on defense. The Browns must get better on the defensive line, specifically at defensive tackle. They had one of the worst interior defensive line rooms in the league last season; stopping the run was a huge problem. 

The Browns also need to find a viable pass rusher opposite of Myles Garrett as the Clowney addition never quite worked out as well as hoped. The Browns could continue to experiment with veteran EDGE rushers, such as Justin Houston, Melvin Ingram or Robert Quinn. But a younger, long-term option would be preferred if they can find such a player in the draft. 

Cleveland also could use more help at receiver as they just didn’t get enough help outside of Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones. A slot receiver who can bring some toughness to their offense shouldn’t be hard to find. They also need to add more depth at linebacker after losing multiple players to injury to that position last season. The roster isn’t in bad shape by any means, but there are several spots that need much improved depth. 

The good news is that the Browns aren’t that far away from being competitive in the AFC North. If Watson can get back to playing the way that he did in 2018 and 2019, the Browns could be legitimate Super Bowl contenders as soon as next season. But this is a roster that still needs to improve a lot on the edges to compete with the top teams in the division and in the conference.

Look for GM Andrew Berry and his staff to be aggressive this offseason, adding talent as he tries to increase the Browns playoff chances after missing in back-to-back seasons.



Marcus Mosher covers the NFL, NFL Draft and NFL news for The managing editor of The Raiders Wire, Marcus is also a contributor to The Athletic DFW, Pro Football Weekly and FanSided, and previously wrote for FanRag Sports. He hosts Locked On Cowboys Podcast.

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