Losing on the road to the Atlanta Falcons does not bode well for the Cleveland Browns in the latter part of Deshaun Watson’s 11-game suspension.
Even if star pass-rusher Myles Garrett was not able to play, Cleveland had the more talented roster vs. the Dirty Birds, but came up short in Atlanta, 23-20. Marcus Mariota did not play particularly well in the victory, as Jacoby Brissett played well enough to win. However, an inability to stop the run late and questionable decisions made in the red zone led to Cleveland’s undoing.
Although 2-2 is not a bad mark through the first four games, it only gets harder for the Browns…
Cleveland Browns fall to Atlanta Falcons during Deshaun Watson suspension
Looking ahead at the Browns’ next seven games before Watson can return vs. his former team in the Houston Texans on Dec. 4., they are going to need to go at least 4-3 now to stay in the playoff hunt. While it remains to be seen how good the AFC North is top to bottom, it was projected as a division worthy of getting two teams into the AFC playoffs at the start of the year for most people.
Here is what Cleveland has on the schedule between now and when Watson can start for them.
- Week 5: vs. Los Angeles Chargers (Sunday, Oct. 9)
- Week 6: vs. New England Patriots (Sunday, Oct. 16)
- Week 7: at Baltimore Ravens (Sunday, Oct. 23)
- Week 8: vs. Cincinnati Bengals (Monday, Oct. 31)
- Week 9: Bye
- Week 10: at Miami Dolphins (Sunday, Nov. 13)
- Week 11: at Buffalo Bills (Sunday, Nov. 20)
- Week 12: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Sunday, Nov. 27)
Is that a murderer’s row of opponents? We shall see. However, of the Browns’ first four opponents (at Carolina Panthers, vs. New York Jets, vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, at Falcons), are any of them really playoff teams? Maybe one of them if they get hot and massively overachieve. The Steelers were a year ago. The NFC South is awful, so maybe Atlanta or Carolina. And the Jets are forever the Jets…
So of the seven games between now and Watson’s return date, Cleveland is probably not winning at Baltimore or at Buffalo. A win on the road at either place without Watson would come as quite a shock. As far as the easiest game they have, it might be at home vs. New England in two weeks. Then again, Bill Belichick hates Cleveland more than anything in the world. He will get up for this.
Are the Browns going 0-7 over this stretch? No, but for as awesome as 4-3 would be, 2-5 is very much in play. The Browns are playing four playoff teams from a year ago. None of them have the feels of last-place teams at this juncture. What is most troubling is they have lost to two teams many people would have projected as fourth-place finishers in Gang Green and the Dirty Birds.
And depending on how you feel about Tua Tagovailoa or Mac Jones, Cleveland will be at a quarterbacking deficit in every game between now and Watson’s return. Again, the roster is talented enough to win more games than sustain losses over this stretch, but rolling with Brissett does limit them. He played decently vs. Atlanta and still lost. What does that say about the team?
As far as Atlanta is concerned, give the Falcons credit. They are 2-2, but could be 4-0. Conversely, they could also be 0-4. But what is most important to understand is that these boys play hard for Arthur Smith on offense and Dean Pees on defense. Atlanta is at a talent deficiency compared to most teams, but there is no quit in the 2022 Falcons. They have heart, which Cleveland must find.
New York and Atlanta may not be as bad as advertised, but Cleveland might be worse than both…