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After a reasonably tumultuous offseason, the Cleveland Browns are finally back as they open their regular season this Sunday in Charlotte against the Carolina Panthers. Believe it or not, the Browns are on a bit of a losing streak entering this weekend's matchup. No, it isn't Cleveland losing to Carolina – the last time the two teams played the Browns won 26-20.
Instead, it's much more significant with Cleveland not having won a season opener since the 2004 season. Yes, you read that correctly. It's been 18 years. In that timeframe, the iPhone was introduced. Amazon made life far too convenient for everyone as Jeff Bezos became the wealthiest man in the universe. I graduated from high school and college. All three Spider-Men had their own film series in those 18 years and even shared the screen together last year. George Bush was re-elected, Barack Obama was elected twice, Donald Trump unfortunately won and my relatives that are detached from reality think Joe Biden stole it from Trump afterward.
So much has changed for everyone but one thing has remained constant: the Browns haven't done a whole lot of winning, especially when the regular season begins. But, this year might be the year things finally change for Cleveland.
Through years of varying between ghastly and mediocre, the Browns have accumulated an impressive amount of talent on both sides of the football. So much so that, despite sacrificing their goodwill and morality for Deshaun Watson, the phrase "Super Bowl, Super Browns" doesn't feel like a joke anymore. There's a real chance that the Browns won't be known as the mistake by the lake in the next year or two. That's all well and good but Cleveland should walk before they run and get the monkey off their back in Carolina along the way.
To be fully transparent: the Panthers aren't expected to be very good this year. When the NFL schedule was first announced, Caesars predicted that Carolina will have a 1-10 record following Week 12 of the 2022 campaign and are only favored in one game – their home opener against Cleveland. Historically speaking, the odds aren't in favor of the Browns heading into this matchup. But, despite the fact that the season-opening streak is old enough to vote, there is still reason to be optimistic when it comes to Cleveland's chances on Sunday.
In order to get past the Panthers and the pressure of winning in week 1, the Browns will have to lean heavily on superstar running back Nick Chubb. Photo credit: Nick Cammett/Getty Images
There is of course going to be pressure on Jacoby Brissett to step up in Watson's absence. Even more so considering the Panthers boast one of the better secondaries in the NFL. It's also tough when the pass-catching options on the Browns don't spark much optimism either. So, instead, look for the Browns to lean heavily on superstar running back Nick Chubb to milk as much of the game clock as possible, especially with inclement weather on the radar in Charlotte on Sunday.
A lot of it is also going to weigh heavily on Cleveland's defense as well, which, like Carolina, is more than elite. It starts up front with the star tandem of Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney and then, after them, a more experienced linebacking corps. Supporting that group is a very strong secondary that has more than enough depth to help slow down the few explosive playmakers that the Panthers possess. It's a fairly simple formula for the Browns to succeed and a lot of it hinges on putting the opposing offense under constant pressure and duress.
If they do that, it's going to make things frustrating for Christian McCaffrey, Robbie Anderson and D.J. Moore. It's also going to make things difficult for Baker Mayfield, a guy who Cleveland knows easily crumbles under pressure, as well. Sure, Mayfield is a guy that is notorious for finding an excuse to play with a chip on his shoulder.
In 2018, Mayfield started out 0-for-5 with an interception against the rival Cincinnati Bengals and former coach Hue Jackson, then completed 22 of 23 passes for 297 yards and five touchdowns in a 37-34 victory. Mayfield also did it in 2015 at Oklahoma when he beat Texas Tech, the team that let him transfer two years earlier. The Sooners won that game 63-27, with Mayfield completing 15 of 22 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns.
Mayfield insists he's not looking at Sunday's opener against Cleveland that way even though his time with the Browns ended "abruptly and unexpectedly.''
"It's a great storyline,'' Mayfield said Wednesday. "Obviously, there's history leading up to this week. [But] there are other games in the NFL that guys are playing (against) their former team. It's just the excitement of leading up to Week 1 that is building that anticipation up. It's the familiarity.''
"Any time you're playing guys you know, it makes it just more interesting, more fun,'' Mayfield continued. "You get to smack talk with your buddies that you've been with for a little bit. You know how to poke and prod and get the best out of them.
"I'm looking forward to the opportunity.''
Cleveland has to be more than aware they're going to get a Mayfield that's determined to beat them. Sure, Mayfield may take no credit for the t-shirts his public relations team put on sale last week, especially the one hyping this matchup. But, this is who he's always been as a player and as an entertainer and the Browns can't feed into it and make more out of this game than what it really is.
People will say that Baker Mayfield will know what he's facing in Cleveland's defense but, in all honesty, he doesn't. Garrett and company will probably make life hell for the quarterback all Sunday afternoon and, again, the Browns also know Mayfield falls apart in spectacular fashion when things start to crumble. Unfortunately, that's life for a frontrunning quarterback and things feel like they're set up for Cleveland to get their first season-opening win in 18 years.
But, if they fail, it wouldn't be the first time the Browns lost because of Baker Mayfield.
Featured image credit: Eakin Howard/Getty Images
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at email@example.com. Did you enjoy this edition of Right Down Euclid? You can get it in your inbox two to three times a week by subscribing here. All it takes is either your Facebook account or email address!