Although playing in a division with two rivals that are loaded with playoff talent and have elite front offices, the Browns’ biggest opponent won’t be the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Baltimore Ravens this year.
It will be themselves.
For the first time in a long time, the Browns can come into a season with a loaded roster. Names like Odell Beckham Jr, Baker Mayfield, Sheldon Richardson, Kareem Hunt, Nick Chubb, Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward all have made the Browns one of the most talented and exciting teams to watch in the 2019 season.
This year, the Browns are going to have to finally face up to their past, as they finally have the players to do it. Although the Steelers roster is not as intimidating as years before, the Steelers hold a huge mental edge on the Browns. Since 1999, the Steelers hold a 36-5-1 advantage over the Browns, having not lost at home since 2003. As an extremely well-run franchise, it’s nearly a sure fact that the Steelers will be able to find talent in the draft and continue competing even as Ben Roethlisberger ages and declines. While the Browns have a superior stash of talent, they will have to overcome this psychological disadvantage as they try to beat the team that has dominated them over the last 20 years.
The same can be said for the Baltimore Ravens, who have made Lamar Jackson their starting QB. Although the Lamar Jackson era in Baltimore has not produced any confidence in its sustainability, it led the Ravens to the playoffs in 2018, including a crucial victory over the Browns to clinch the AFC North Title. While the Browns showed flashes that they can dominate Baltimore on both sides of the ball this season, the Ravens have dominated their rivalry with the Browns since 1999, with a record of 30-10 over that timespan. Baltimore’s elite front office, where Ozzie Newsome has passed the torch to Eric DeCosta, who has been groomed by one of the best for this job and will find ways to make the Ravens competitive in the Lamar Jackson era. The Browns have the talent, but overcoming these mental obstacles will be a huge challenge.
The final hurdle for the Browns will be keeping the locker room in check. Baker, Odell, Jarvis and Kareem Hunt are all great football players, but keeping their off the field egos and actions in order will be a tough challenge for Freddie Kitchens in his first year as head coach.