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