The Cleveland Browns are 10-4 and in pole position for the top wild card spot in the AFC. Yes, the very same Cleveland Browns who were the biggest disappointment of 2019 and generally one of the most cursed franchises in football. On this very site, there have been many times this season where we have doubted the Browns' legitimacy as playoff contenders. As recently as just last week, even.
But with a 20-6 win over the New York Giants on Sunday Night Football, the Browns seem very legit. It was not the win itself that changed things, but rather the way in which they won. Cleveland has one of the best ground games in the NFL, led by the two-headed monster of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Cleveland fans have dubbed them "Chunt" which is a little uncomfortable and I would like to take this moment to suggest we call the two "The Hubb" instead, but I digress. They were stifled by the Giants' defensive line in primetime last night, mustering only 71 yards and a touchdown between the two of them. The onus then fell on Baker Mayfield to win the game. Mayfield has faced more than his fair share of criticism since he was picked No. 1 overall back in 2018, but in recent weeks has shut everyone up and did so again last night.
Mayfield threw for 297 yards and a pair of touchdowns against a pretty good Giants secondary to give Cleveland another win, completing 27 of his 32 passing attempts. Those are excellent numbers and upon review he played even better than they suggest. He made a handful of perfect throws against tight coverage, and even his "mistakes" (like when he passed up a wide-open David Njoku for a very covered Jarvis Landry) worked out because Mayfield put the ball exactly where it needed to go.
This all came against a Giants defense that suffocated Russell Wilson only two weeks prior. It was a downright impressive performance. And the Browns will need that version of Mayfield if they want to make any noise come postseason play.
The Browns' run game is elite but injuries suffered across the offensive line have put a damper on its effectiveness in recent weeks. Ultimately, it'll come down to Mayfield to make winning plays. His recent stretch of games suggests he is more than capable; the former Heisman winner has thrown 10 touchdowns to only one pick in the last four weeks. But whether or not Mayfield is capable has never really been the question. His talent has been obvious since he took over for Tyrod Taylor during his rookie season. It's whether he can actually deliver that has been the big question and main talking point for many sports talk show segments.
Right now, it's all coming together for Mayfield. He's progressing through his reads and avoiding any massive mistakes week-in and week-out. He's been excellent in the play-action game all year, averaging nearly 10 yards per attempt in 2020 on those plays. This is his moment. The Browns have a great team around him and the pieces to succeed. It's on Mayfield to deliver now, and if his play of late is any indication, he's as ready as he'll ever be to do just that.