The 2021 season will not end with the trip to the playoffs that many expected as a very frustrated and disappointed Browns team has lost three in a row and sits at 7-9.
This was a game that, a couple of weeks ago, could have been a winner-take-all for the AFC North title, but the Bengals won the division with a huge win over the Kansas City Chiefs last week. This game no longer has the stakes or the faces we expected as we know that both Browns QB Baker Mayfield (shoulder) and Bengals QB Joe Burrow (knee, rest) will not be playing in this game. It is quite likely a lot of notable Bengals and potentially some Browns will not be on the field at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday.
That all being said, there is still much to play for and much for the Browns to try to accomplish as they look to end the season with a win and the season sweep of the Bengals. Let's take a look at the key things to focus on in this week's Winning Mix.
1. Opportunity to Make a Statement
This is a game the Browns are absolutely playing to win, and the stakes are high for many individual players, even if the playoffs are not on the line for the team. For younger players like Anthony Schwartz, Tommy Togiai, Demetric Felton, James Hudson III and A.J. Green, this is chance to show they are absolutely a part of the Browns' future and deserve bigger roles in 2022. For young players who played majors roles this season, such as Donovan Peoples-Jones, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Grant Delpit, this is the opportunity to put an exclamation point on their breakout 2021 seasons. For a pending free agent such as M.J. Stewart, who has been brilliant down the stretch, this is one more chance to make the case they could be valuable to the Browns in 2022 and beyond. For Case Keenum, this is the chance to go 2-0 as a starter this season and remind those watching how valuable he is.
In the NFL, there is turnover on the roster every single season, and for players that are not "made men," their resume is their tape. There is nothing more important to those Browns to put their best possible resume on full display by doing their jobs, executing consistently and contributing to a season-ending win by the Browns.
2. Clean Game on Offense
It is the season finale, and, of late, giveaways have plagued the Browns offense. When the Browns take care of the football, like they did in Keenum's other start this season, they typically win. On that Thursday night, Keenum and the Browns protected the football, the defense generated a takeaway and the Browns won that game. In a game being started by both team's backup quarterbacks, the offense that protects the football will put its team in a much better position to win this game. It would also be a great conclusion to a disappointing season for the offensive side of the ball to have a clean performance that leads to multiple touchdowns and a Browns win.
3. Pay Homage to Doug Dieken
This Sunday will mark the final broadcast of Browns legend Doug Dieken. Diek was an Iron Man on the field and the played the left tackle position with a combination of technique, will, Raw Power and pure Diek panache. He transitioned from the field to broadcast booth, and his illustrious career has now spanned 50 of the Browns' 75 years. No one on Earth has seen more Browns games in person than Dieken, who is as much a Cleveland Browns institution and the perfect ambassador for the organization as anyone who have ever lived. It has been an absolute honor and privilege to be a part of the broadcast team with Diek and Jim Donovan over the past eight seasons. The greatest highlight of my career was joining the two legends in the booth to call our preseason game against the Falcons earlier this year. Diek is larger than life, but it his generosity of spirit and heart that make him one of the most special people I have ever gotten to know.
There would be no better way to honor Diek than to send him off on his final broadcast call with a huge win at home, so let's make it happen.