The Cleveland Browns have officially reached the status of „enigma wrapped in a mystery and a riddle.“ As long as they have a quarterback of some notoriety – be it Deshaun Watson or Joe Flacco – the team plays with the confidence of a much more dangerous organization. Kevin Stefanski’s club could be motivated by the doubters or by the cult of football fans who don’t want to talk about them because they belong to a jerk who traded for an alleged malcontent, but whatever it is, the Browns have hit a streak.
They have notched victories against both Baltimore and San Francisco, which no other team in the league can boast, and are 8-2 against quarterbacks with regular starting experience in the NFL. That’s the bottom line.
DeJoe Watco has thrown for 2,422 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 11 picks, with an average completion percentage of around 60 in 9 full games. (Technically 10 starts, but Watson attempted only five passes against Indianapolis before exiting due to injury. Cleveland won that contest in Week 6 with a 39-38 victory.)
Projected over 15 games, Watco is essentially Matthew Stafford with a slightly higher risk-reward ratio. I’m not sure what to make of Amari Cooper’s record-breaking 265-yard performance. He’s not yet 30, but feels as old as Flacco in his wide receiver years. Was it game design? Was Houston due for a stinker? What would you bet that Flacco surpasses a passing distance of 265 yards against the Jets on Thursday?
While I want to say this isn’t sustainable, people are wondering if Flacco could be the next Nick Foles, as if he weren’t the original Nick Foles. If Baltimore was as inconsistent as the Carson Wentz-led Philadelphia team, Flacco won’t likely hold John Harbaugh and this franchise hostage for as long. Regardless of whether the Browns are actual contenders, it wouldn’t be shocking if they beat Jacksonville in the first round and then surprised a big hitter in the divisional round. The Bills, Chiefs, and Dolphins all showed vulnerabilities this year. After the Monday night showcase, everyone is focused on the Ravens, but AFC North games are notoriously strange. (Two of the likely top-seeded team’s three losses came against AFC North opponents.)
The Browns lead the NFL in total offensive yards with over 400. For comparison, four quarterbacks have thrown for more yards than Cleveland has allowed (3,905). They overwhelm their opponents, sack the QBs, and rank in the top 10 against the run. If you can be this stubborn when the quarterback room has combined for 19 touchdowns and 20 interceptions, you should grab the league’s attention.
It’s Cleveland, so football fans are conditioned to expect the other shoe to drop. Some might say that, faced with the villainy of Jimmy Haslem and Watson actively campaigning for them, they are the worst buddy comedy in the world, literally impossible to conceal. If anyone ever wanted to talk about the Browns, we might talk more about them. We’ll be forced to if they continue to win after the calendar turns to January. The elf on the field probably won’t be noticed, but what else is new?