Cleveland Sports Weekly: Are the Browns a playoff team?



Jim Piascik

Are the Cleveland Browns a playoff team?

More than likely, they are not. Over halfway through the season, the Browns are below .500 with a 4-5 record and an offense that ranks 26th in the NFL with only 19.1 points a game.

But why be pessimistic? Right now, the Browns sit one game back of the New York Jets for the final playoff spot in the AFC. Becuase the Browns do not have their bye week until this Sunday, Cleveland is technically in 10th place in the AFC, but that is not the bigger point.

The Browns are only one game out of the playoffs with the season half over. Who saw that coming after how this season started?

Following an 0-2 start and the trade of running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts, the Browns appeared ready to throw away the 2013 season in order to put themselves in the best position to draft a potential franchise quarterback.

Since then, the Browns have gone 4-3 to lift themselves back into the fringes of contention. This happened despite Brian Hoyer’s season-ending ACL tear and Brandon Weeden’s questionable play. Weeden is 0-4 under center this year, but current starting quarterback Jason Campbell has offered some hope for the rest of 2013.

Campbell has not been overly impressive in his three games (two starts), but the veteran’s five touchdowns and zero interceptions point to a quarterback who understands how to manage the game and not cost his team.

The Browns have won without Richardson despite underwhelming results from his replacement, Willis McGahee, who has a mere 262 yards on 100 carries this year with one touchdown.

The Richardson trade also coincided with the return of wide receiver Josh Gordon from his two-game suspension to start the season. Gordon showed his skill level in the past seven games — hauling in 35 receptions for 626 yards and three touchdowns — and combined with tight end Jordan Cameron to give whoever the Browns put at quarterback multiple options that scare opposing defenses.

Cleveland’s improved offense under Campbell, combined with a defense that ranks 13th in points allowed per game, might be good enough to get to .500 at the season’s end. That does not seem like much of an accomplishment until you consider the Browns have not finished a season at or above .500 since 2007.

But with the Browns on the fringes of contention, why not head into the bye week with some hope? If Campbell at quarterback can raise the true talent level of the Browns even slightly, then they are an average team. In the small sample size that is the NFL season, average teams can often win a game or two more than fans expect.

The Browns should gain two wins against the downtrodden Pittsburgh Steelers, one against the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars, losses to the Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots on the road, and a split between the Chicago Bears and the New York Jets. That scenario leaves the Browns at a solid 8-8.

But this is sports, where the likely results often do not matter. The Browns have already beaten the Bengals this year; what if it happens again? What if the Browns shock the world by marching into Foxboro and steal one against the first-place Patriots?

No one can predict what will happen in the rest of the NFL season. But with the Browns only one game back of the playoffs, now is the time to enjoy the ride of a team flirting with playoff contention.

The Browns do not fit the conventional mold of a playoff contender with a talented quarterback at the helm, but Campbell and the Browns have the chance to crash the party.

Jim Piascik is a sports columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]