CLEVELAND — It’s never easy to shake off a tough loss like the one the Browns experienced on Sunday evening at SoFi Stadium. A gut-wrenching, high-scoring, heart-breaking 47-42 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers that at times mirrored a Big 12 Conference offensive showdown between Texas Tech and Baylor.
That will be the task for Kevin Stefanski’s team this upcoming Sunday at 4:05 p.m. eastern at FirstEnergy Stadium – get back in the win column.
And do it against the only remaining unbeaten team in the NFL, the Arizona Cardinals.
Kliff Kingsbury’s squad is 5-0, the best start for the Cardinals franchise since 1974 and it’s debatable which side of the football they have been more impressive on. Offensively, Kyler Murray is the engine that makes the offense go and is helping the team average 31.4 points per game. Defensively, the unit swarms to the football and is only allowing 19 points per game, fifth-best in the NFL.
Regardless of what any talking head or “expert” tells us, there is no such thing as a “must-win game” in Week 6 of the NFL season. However, the Browns risk falling back to the .500 mark at 3-3 on the season with a second consecutive loss and while they technically could afford to do so in a league full of parity and with eleven more games to play, history would start working against Cleveland.
As former NFL quarterback and current CBS analyst Trent Green shared on-air during the Browns-Chargers game TV broadcast this past Sunday, since 1990, NFL teams starting 4-1 go to the Playoffs 74 percent of the time, while teams starting 3-2 after five games make the postseason less than 50 percent of the time.
It's only a trend and the Browns’ second half of their schedule does lighten up considerably, but falling to 3-3 after a loss to Arizona would likely raise some concerns among a fanbase that was already making plans for Sunday, Feb. 13 in Inglewood, California back at SoFi Stadium.
This week’s match up with the undefeated Cardinals at home is an opportunity on various levels for the Browns to prove they belong among the NFL’s upper-echelon teams. It’s a chance to prove they can battle through a laundry list of injuries. An opportunity to show they can handle adversity and overcome a bad taste in their mouth dished out by Justin Herbert, the Chargers, and the officials.
According to the Westgate Sportsbook in Las Vegas, seven teams currently have better Super Bowl odds than the Browns at 12/1. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams, Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals all have better odds to win it all than Cleveland at this point. The Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers have identical 12/1 odds as the Browns.
Hey, what do Vegas oddsmakers know? (That’s a joke).
This Sunday against the Cardinals is a golden opportunity for Baker Mayfield and his teammates to prove they still belong among the NFL’s elite teams. A win does just that.
A 5-3 record with upcoming winnable games (Broncos, Steelers, Patriots, Lions) provides the Browns a perfect chance to get on a roll similar to a season ago when the team made it back to the NFL Playoffs for the first time since Butch Davis, Kelly Holcomb and the 2002 team, while establishing they are still a force in the AFC.
A 3-3 record with those same “winnable games” adds extra unnecessary pressure to perform well and may flirt with that “must-win” mentality I mentioned earlier in this column.
No, the Browns entire season is not doomed with a loss this Sunday to Arizona. And no, a win should not have anyone booking hotel rooms for the second week of February near Hollywood.
However, this weekend’s match-up gives the Browns a chance to show they belong in that top tier of teams in the league. A win gives fans hope that their football team can compete for a chance to reach a game the franchise has never reached. A loss may have people wondering if this team could actually take a step back from all the progress they made just one season ago.
It's a long season. A Browns victory this Sunday over the unbeaten Cardinals should make that stretch much more enjoyable this fall.
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