The Cleveland Browns carried a lot of hype through the preseason under Freddie Kitchens. The result of players talking was an even larger amount of pressure that was simply too heavy to withstand. Offensive regression and the evergreen toxic coaching-front office relationship led to a parting of ways with Kitchens. 

Cleveland committed to new coach Kevin Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry. Change is common in Cleveland. Will they do something uncommon, by recent standards, and return to the playoffs? CBS Sports makes three bold Browns predictions for the upcoming season.

1.Baker Mayfield bounces back in Year 1 under Kevin Stefanski

It is remarkable how poorly Cleveland used their quarterback in 2019. They increased their usage of 11 personnel, which was a faulted plan. They decreased the amount of motion and play-action used in their offense. As a rookie, Mayfield was most effective when he was moved out of the pocket, specifically through play-action. 

The expectation is that Cleveland’s offense will run through the ground game. The success of the running backs will draw in opposing defenses, which will allow Mayfield to attack them over the top with star wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. The idea of using more 12 and 21 personnel should be well-received in the quarterback room. Stefanski uses a lot of play-action, which should lead the former No. 1 overall selection to find his rhythm. In Year One, Mayfield completed 63.8-percent of his passes for 3,725 yards, 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. The goal is to achieve something similar in 2020. 

2. Nick Chubb leads the league in rushing

Chubb finished 57 yards short of leading the league in rushing last season. Tennessee’s Derrick Henry paced the field with 1,540 rushing yards. The Browns will lean heavily on their run game behind a revamped offensive line unit that features Jedrick Wills, Joel Bitonio, J.C. Tretter, Wyatt Teller and Jack Conklin from left to right. 

Stefanski’s wide zone scheme creates big play opportunities for running backs that possess elite vision and burst. Both traits are used to describe Chubb. Although strength and conditioning might have been an issue for some players during the quarantine, it appears to be unwise to count the Georgia product among them. He was clocked running the fastest 40-yard dash time in his life. The presence of Kareem Hunt should not be a deterrent either. There are more than enough carries to go around and keep each fresh. Dalvin Cook had 250 carries in 14 games for Minnesota last season. Three other Vikings running backs combined for 172 carries. Hunt was also able to diversify his skill set catching 37 passes in eight games.

3. Cleveland returns to the playoffs for the first time since 2002

If bold predictions No. 1 and No. 2 are accomplished, then the ultimate should be accomplished. The AFC North franchise returned to the NFL in the form of an expansion team in 1999. They have made one lone playoff appearance since. The result was a wild-card loss to the rival Steelers in 2002. The Dawg Pound would happily put that black eye on their record behind them. 

It will be difficult making it through the division though. Baltimore and Pittsburgh are considered to be two of the best teams within the AFC. Meanwhile, the Bengals have an improved roster and should be more competitive. Cincinnati knocked off Cleveland in the regular season finale. The NFL Playoffs were expanded to seven teams per conference, which certainly does not hurt the team’s chances. 


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