Is Baker ready to take the next step?
Just three years removed from a winless season, Cleveland not only won 11 games in 2020, but the Browns also made the playoffs for the first time in 18 years.
With its win over hated division rival Pittsburgh in the divisional round, Cleveland won its first playoff game since 1994.
Needless to say, the Browns had a successful season in 2020.
At 11-5, the never soft-spoken Baker Mayfield guided the Browns to their first winning season since a 10-6 mark in 2007.
But can Mayfield continue the surge and lead the Browns to a division title and beyond?
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Tough Test out of the Gate
Talk about wasting no time in seeing just how good of a team you have. The Browns will find out just how far they have come since last season by squaring off against the Kansas City Chiefs in the season opener.
On the plus side here, Kansas City has a revamped offensive line and may take a little time to make adjustments. So facing the odds on favorite in the AFC — +500 odds to win the Super Bowl according to Betonline.ag — in week 1 could benefit the Browns. But then again, is there ever a good time to face Patrick Mahomes and that high-powered offense?
Still, Mayfield and the Browns should come out fired up and ready to go from the start — something that did not happen in last season’s opener in Baltimore (L, 38-6).
Rest of the Schedule
One of the highlights after the NFL Week 1 showdown comes in NFL Week 6 against Arizona. Baker vs. Kyler could provide for one of the most exciting quarterback matchups of the season. And in the Browns favor, unlike in NFL Week 1 against Mahomes, this game is in the Dawg Pound.
In NFL Week 10, Cleveland takes to the road against New England which could be a pivotal game for the Browns.
And in preparation for its final two regular-season games — at Pittsburgh and vs. Cincinnati, Cleveland travels to Lambeau Field to battle Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
There’s been plenty of times where teams have played each other in back-to-back games/week with final regular-season games and first playoff games. But has it ever happened in the regular season? If not, it will this season.
Cleveland and Baltimore will square off in Week 12 in Baltimore for a Sunday Night Showdown. The Browns have their Bye in NFL Week 13 and then will face the Ravens again in NFL Week 14.
These two games could go a long way in deciding who wins the AFC North and play a hand in playoff seeding.
According to Bovada — another one of the top sportsbooks at onlinebettingsports.com — the Ravens and Browns are the top two favorites to win the North. Bovada has the Ravens listed as a slight favorite with +115 odds, while the Browns are listed at +150.
Mayfield will have plenty of offensive weapons to choose from once again this season. In addition to a legit 1-2 punch in the backfield with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, Mayfield has Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry Rashard Higgins and rookie Anthony Schwartz as his receiving core.
Austin Hooper, David Njoku and Harrison Bryant make for quality targets from the tight end position as well.
Also on Bovada, you can bet on the order of finish in the division. Picking the Ravens and Browns to finish 1st and 2nd, in either order, pays at odds of -150. Exact order with the Ravens first and Browns second has odds of +210, and odds are a little better by reversing the teams at +240.
Adding in Pittsburgh to finish third and Cincinnati to finish fourth odds are +245 with the Ravens winning and up to +280 with the Browns winning the division ahead of the Ravens.
Non-divisional road games in Kansas City, New England and Green Bay may be the reason the Browns do not claim their first division title since 1989. But the resurgence under Mayfield will continue and Cleveland will earn back-to-back playoff berths for the first time since five straight appearances in 1985-89.
Final 2021-22 Regular Season Record: 13-4, 2nd in AFC North