The reason Baker Mayfield and the Browns are playoff bound in 2019
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The Browns’ strong play in 2018 provides hope for the upcoming season

Baker Mayfield, Browns

This past season the Cleveland Browns finally proved to everyone that they’re a force to be reckoned with. They completed the season with a record of 7-8-1, finishing third in the AFC North division. This newfound success was a breath of fresh air for the team.

The previous three seasons they had combined for four wins and 44 losses. The very fact they almost doubled that win amount is a huge testament to their improvement.

Ironically enough, the previous season was plagued with a regime change. Eight games into the regular season the team let go of their head coach in Hue Jackson. The coaching change brought promise. Gregg Williams was promoted as interim. The team ended the season with a solid 5-3 record.

A huge reason why they were able to make the jump after Jackson left was the emergence of rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield. On the year he threw for 3,725 yards with 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. His completion percentage sat at an adequate 63.8 percent, and his quarterback rating was a solid 55.7.

Their defense, though sitting at league average, still was fairly decent. The defense has many talented young pieces. Their linebacking core, headlined by Jamie Collins and Joe Schobert, had a combined 207 tackles, seven sacks, two interceptions, and 16 tackles for loss. Defensive backs Denzel Ward and Damarious Randall combined for seven interceptions and 20 pass deflections. Defensive end Myles Garrett had 13.5 sacks.

Even though they have a lot of work to do, the Browns have a promising future. Mayfield clearly has the talent to be a top quarterback in the league. The Browns have a projected $72 million in cap room this upcoming season. This will allow them to sign a few game-changing pieces on both sides of the ball. Another offseason and another draft should bring them even close to a playoff appearance.

The Browns surprised many by deciding to promote their offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens to head coach. He had spent the last eight games of the regular season in that position. He doesn’t have head coaching experience that many of the candidates who had interviewed had. The team wanted to bring someone in that already had a rapport with the roster.

Though Mayfield thrived in his offense, it remains to be seen how great of a leader and overall coach Kitchens is. The Browns haven’t had offensive success like this in a long time. He’s under a lot of pressure to get them to at least .500 this upcoming season.

The Browns did pick up Kareem Hunt. Hunt was released by the Kansas City Chiefs last season after a video surfaced of him assaulting a woman. His offensive talents are clearly high-level, however, the team has to be wary about his off-field problems. He should be available for a large chunk of games this season. He’ll be a huge offensive playmaker when he’s on the field.

Otherwise, Jarvis Landry is their only real offensive weapon. He had 81 receptions and 976 yards with four touchdowns for the team last season. This offseason they’ll have to add depth to their wide receiving core.

The added depth through free agency and the draft will allow the Browns to reach a playoff contending level. It wouldn’t be surprising in the slightest if the team made at least wild-card spot.