Catch Joe Thomas TONIGHT at 6:30 p.m. when he co-hosts "Browns Live" powered by FirstEnergy with Nathan Zegura. The 100 percent fan-focused show, which will stream on all of the Browns social platforms, will feature multiple segments with Coach Kevin Stefanski, interviews with players, film breakdowns and more.
Each game week, Joe will share his insights, memories and more in this weekly column, "Cup of Joe."
As a player, you always want to avoid the pitfalls of being a fan. It's counterproductive to ride that emotional roller coaster and have those highs and lows where you feel better than you should or worse than you should.
I get it, though, because I'm a fan now. It's what makes the sport so fun because it brings out all of these ranges of emotion when you're watching a game or a season and you're paying attention to all the little things that are outside of your control. As a fan, you don't control anything. You're just sitting there and enjoying it. And let me tell you: I enjoy it.
As a player, you can control the outcome of your game Sunday by your own performance, but you can't control what other teams do. And worrying about them is just filling up space in your brain with stuff that isn't going help you win.
That's why it will be so important for the Browns to keep the "1-0 every week" mindset that Kevin Stefanski has instilled so well since he became head coach. The noise about the playoffs is only going to get louder, especially if the Browns keep winning the way they have, but it won't do the players any good if they start thinking about January before they take care of business on the closest Sunday.
Understandably, it's a tricky balance.
There is always hope that you can make the playoffs if you focus on what you need to do, which is the preparation, the practice and the execution on game day. The thing you don't want to cross into is worrying about the performance, the wins, losses of other teams, and trying to figure out where you fit into the playoff race. You just need to know that you're in the playoff race and then stop your mind right there because as soon as you start looking at those playoff boards that CBS, NBC and FOX are going to put up every game and you try to figure out, "OK, who does this team play? How hard is their schedule?" Those are all things that you don't want to concern yourself with.
When I look back at our 2007 season, when we fell just short of making the playoffs, I think we did a pretty good job overall of keeping our focus where it needed to be. The Week 16 loss to Cincinnati, which prevented us from winning the division and forced us to rely on tiebreakers — which we lost — was brutal, but it wasn't a byproduct of poor focus. I think sometimes you just have clunkers. That is just the way the game is.
Every game matters down the stretch. Nothing can be taken for granted, and that loss to the Bengals — a team we'd beaten earlier in the year and were, frankly, much better than — was a prime example of the fine line of "good enough" and "not good enough" when it comes to making the playoffs.
This year's Browns are a young team, and I think it's good, as a team, to kind of reflect on, "Hey, we've got a chance. We're in this. If we take care of our business, we're going to be in the playoffs. And then once you're in the playoffs, anything can happen." But I think not going any further than that is valuable. Giving that feeling of hope that you are in the thick of it, and that taking care of your business is going to get you where you want to go, leads to more focus down the stretch. It leads to better preparation from a team standpoint. And I think if the Browns want to achieve their goals, they're going to need better versions of themselves than they had in the first half of the season.
By most experts' opinions, they've exceeded expectations by going 5-3 for the first half of the season. They've done some good things. But being a young team with a new coach, I would expect out of all the teams in the NFL, this team has the opportunity to improve the most from the first half of the season because when you are the least experienced from an age standpoint and you've got a new coach, you've got the most room to grow and the most to learn that can make a significant difference down the homestretch.
Because of the extra Wild Card spot, hitting the 10-win mark, which would require the Browns to repeat what they did in the first half of the season, should be good enough. But now I'm going to put my fan hat on: Look at where we are right now. We've got five wins, we are halfway to 10 and we're sitting on the outside looking in because of how quality the AFC is, especially the middle class with Oakland and Indianapolis and Miami.
That's why it's important to not only be yourself in the second half, but also be a better version of yourself. And for the Browns, that's started and finished with maintaining their focus exclusively on the next opponent.
Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Houston Texans