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The Browns Drive to Break Their Nearly 20-Year Playoff Drought

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Erik Drost
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With one the league's easiest remaining schedules, Baker Mayfield and the Browns push toward the playoffs.

The Cleveland Browns begin the second half of the season Sunday against the Houston Texans. They’re 5-3 and will be playing for a shot at the playoffs for the first time in nearly 20 years. WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto said the team has shown a lot of promise this year.

The difference a year makes
At the halfway point of last season, the Browns were 2-6 and on their way to a 6-10 record. Then-head coach Freddie Kitchens and general manager John Dorsey were fired.

Pluto said quarterback Baker Mayfield also regressed in his second season last year.

"[Mayfield] looked like he forgot how to play," Pluto said.

A performance rebound
Under rookie head coach Kevin Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, Mayfield has 15 touchdowns at the halfway mark, more than double this time last year. He also cut down his interceptions from 12 to seven.

"You want your quarterback to help you win games. You certainly don't want him to lose games," Pluto said.

Pluto says that while Mayfield may not be of the same caliber as other NFL quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, he's showing he can be a player who can win games.

Injury update
The bye week for the Browns brought news that Mayfield was placed on the COVID-19 reserved list after coming in close contact with a staff member who tested positive. He’s expected to play as long as he has several negative tests.

"Nobody was talking about a Super Bowl. What [the Browns] wanted to do was make this a legitimate franchise."
Terry Pluto

The Browns also learned this week that star running back Nick Chubb is expected to play. He's missed four weeks with an ankle sprain. Meanwhile, star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is out the remainder of the year with a torn ACL, which is typically a 9-12 month recovery process.

For Pluto, getting Nick Chubb back is key for the Browns in the second half of the season.

"[Chubb] to me is far more valuable and important to the Browns than Odell Beckham because he is a dynamic runner, and the better your running game and the better your blocking, the less pressure on the quarterback," he said.

The remaining schedule
The Browns play some of the weakest teams in the league in the second half of the season, facing the Houston Texans (2-6), Philadelphia Eagles (3-4-1) and Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7). The Browns also play New York Giants (2-7) and winless New York Jets between tough home games against division rivals Baltimore Ravens (6-2) and Pittsburgh Steelers (8-0).

"When I looked at the schedule, I thought if they were somewhere around 4-4 at the break, that would be really good," Pluto said.

Road to the playoffs
The Browns last made the playoffs in 2002, when they went 9-7 and lost to the Steelers. In 2007 they went 10-6, but just missed the playoffs. They haven't been close since.

The NFL expanded the playoffs from 12 to 14 teams, however the Browns' path is muddied by the fact nine teams are on pace for 10-win seasons.

But Pluto says the postseason is a possibility.

"If they double [their record] and go 10-6, they should make it. I picked them at 8-8; I thought 9-7 would be really nice. But for the most part, they've been very entertaining," he said.

His advice for fans? Enjoy it.

"Nobody said this was going to be a perfect team. Nobody was talking about a Super Bowl. What [the Browns] wanted to do was make this a legitimate franchise."

Stay Connected
Amanda Rabinowitz has been a reporter, host and producer at WKSU since 2007. Her days begin before the sun comes up as the local anchor for NPR’s Morning Edition, which airs on WKSU each weekday from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. In addition to providing local news and weather, she interviews the Plain Dealer’s Terry Pluto for a weekly commentary about Northeast Ohio’s sports scene. Last year, she started a weekly radio segment focusing on Northeast Ohio’s music scene, called Shuffle.
Sean Fitzgerald is a senior journalism major at Kent State University. Sean has been with Black Squirrel Radio, Kent State's student-run radio station since the spring of 2018 as a sports show host and co-host, a web article contributor and now serves as the sports department director for the station. Sean hopes to pursue a career in sports journalism once he finishes school.