Fans are pinning their hopes on a big season for the Cleveland Browns. The hype has been building since quarterback Baker Mayfield led the team’s turnaround last year. They’ve since added star wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. They open the season Sunday at home against the Tennessee Titans.
WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto said the Browns have won just one season-opening game since they returned to the league in 1999.
"If I were a Browns coach, I would be beating these guys over the head that the Tennessee Titans are a good team. Not a great team, but a good team. And they also play what I call fundamental, ugly football. It's defense. It's running the ball. It's chewing up the clock. They want you to make mistakes. That's the kind of the team that could go on the road in Cleveland, with all the hype and all the expectations, and pull an upset."
And Pluto said head coach Freddie Kitchens knows the team is vulnerable. "He said, 'On paper we have a lot of good individuals.'"
"If it's fantasy ball, it's a good team," Pluto said. "But this is real football where 11 have to work together. For example, the Browns are still looking for a right guard. And not only does he have to block the man in front of him, he really has to work almost like a symphony with the center and the tackle next to him. That's my concern early in the season. The Browns offensive line is unsettled."
The Mayfield factor
Pluto said the key for the Browns is their quarterback, Baker Mayfield.
"Since John Dorsey took over in December 2017, there are only nine guys left. We've had other general managers come in and almost have done the same thing, but the difference was, they didn't have a quarterback. When you have a quarterback then you can make changes and build around them."
And Pluto said Cleveland has improved its defensive line. "That could be a big game-changer for them. If they have hiccups on offense, the defense early in the year might enable them to win some games.
Pluto predicts the team will go 9-7. He says the first half of the season is going to be tough, with five games on the road and against several playoff teams.
"After they play Tennessee, they go to play the Jets in New York. Then they play the Rams, who lost in the Super Bowl. Then they play in Baltimore. They never win there. Then they go to San Francisco on the road. They play Seattle at home and they go to New England and then they play at Denver."
To fans who say the Browns are Super Bowl contenders, Pluto said, "You gotta respect the NFL a little bit here. I think the following year is when you really start talking about going deep in the playoffs and winning 12 games."
"But the Browns have talent. They have not just changed a bunch of faces, they've upgraded their talent but most of all, they finally have a quarterback. And when you have a quarterback, you can talk playoffs."