Optimism is running high in Northeast Ohio (despite the extended gloom of a wet spring), and it appears as though it has seeped all the way across the contiguous United States to Los Angeles.
NFL.com's deep and versatile writing staff made bold claims in favor of the Browns in the last few days, naming Cleveland as the most likely team to end its playoff drought in 2019. Shield-backed scribe Dan Hanzus offered the prediction, explaining his rationale:
"There's so much to like about the Browns, on both sides of the ball. The Odell Beckham Jr. trade was a blockbuster for the ages, fortifying an offense that showed great potential last season without him. The defense should be improved with the additions of Olivier Vernon, Sheldon Richardson, Eric Murray and Morgan Burnett. Cleveland has yet to identify a replacement for the traded Jabrill Peppers, and the offensive line is hardly an iron wall, but a Browns team that went 7-8-1 last year looks ready to take the next step. In his overview of the AFC North's projected starters, Gregg Rosenthal wrote that "Cleveland has the best combination of talent and youth in all of football." I agree, and it's why I see meaningful January football finally on the horizon. This is not a dream, Dawg Pound."
This is a far cry from where we found ourselves just two seasons ago, but as is the case with most things in 2019, it can all change very quickly. For these Browns, the offseason has produced nothing but good feeling for a fanbase starved of it.
NFL.com wasn't done there, though. What better way to get through Monday than with a double helping of happy thoughts?
The site's original content group gathered its analysts located in both Southern California and beyond for a virtual instant debate on which 2018 first-round quarterback would win the most games in 2019. The pool: Cleveland's Baker Mayfield, the New York Jets' Sam Darnold, Buffalo's Josh Allen, Miami's Josh Rosen and Baltimore's Lamar Jackson.
First up, former Browns lineman Shaun O'Hara, who won a Super Bowl with the New York Giants during his 11-year career that began in Cleveland in 2000:
_"The winningest quarterback of the group this season will be Cleveland's Baker Mayfield. He has arguably the best offensive line and no doubt possesses the best supporting cast of the bunch. With two of the most productive wideouts in the NFL and a host of talent at the other skill positions, Cleveland's offense will be scary. Plus, the Browns' defense, which gave up 24.5 points per game in 2018, improved in free agency with the additions of DT Sheldon Richardson and DE Olivier Vernon. GM John Dorsey also added five defensive players, including CB Greedy Williams, to the mix via the draft. _
"The Browns have an extremely tough out-of-division schedule, but I think Mayfield can lead this group to 10 wins. Even nine wins could put him at the top of this quarterback class in 2019. Lamar Jackson will be second to Mayfield in wins this season, followed by Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and finally Josh Rosen."
We're still not done! Of the five esteemed writers chosen for this discussion, two chose Mayfield. You math wizards will gladly point out that 40 percent of this panel is carrying the brown-and-orange flag.
The other: NFL.com's Adam Rank, purveyor of football and funny. Here's his take, titled "I'm all in on the Browns playing deep into January":
"Baker Mayfield will lead Cleveland to 12 wins and the Browns are going to the Super Bowl! Or they are going to lose 12 games because, well, it's Cleveland. There really is a lot of volatility with the Browns and it feels like there is no in-between. But talent-wise, I'm all in on them."