CLEVELAND — On Sunday, it will have been 616 days since DeShone Kizer's pass bounced off the hands of Corey Coleman in Pittsburgh as the Cleveland Browns clinched just the second 0-16 season in NFL history.
What a difference 20 months makes.
Less than two years removed from compiling a winless season -- which marked the end of a two-year stretch in which Cleveland went a combined 1-31 -- the Browns enter the 2019 season as arguably the NFL's hottest team.
Totaling a 7-8-1 record a season ago -- which marked the franchise's best record since 2007 -- Cleveland was already considered an up and coming team with one of the league's best young quarterbacks at the start of the offseason. And that was before the Browns made a blockbuster trade that possesses the potential to alter the landscape of the NFL.
On Sunday, Cleveland will host the Tennessee Titans for a 1 p.m. ET kickoff, which will double as one of the most highly anticipated season openers in recent memory. Can the Browns live up to the hype as the favorites to win the AFC North, and if so, just how high is this team's ceiling? We'll find out in the weeks and months to come.
Until then, here's our preview for the Cleveland Browns' 2019 season:
Cleveland Browns 2019 Coaching staff
- Head coach - Freddie Kitchens
- Offensive line coach - James Campen
- Wide receivers - Adam Henry
- Tight ends - John Lilly
- Quarterbacks - Ryan Lindley
- Running backs/run game coordinator - Stump Mitchell
- Defensive coordinator - Steve Wilks
- Run game coordinator/linebackers - Al Holcomb
- Defensive line - Tosh Lupoi
- Defensive backs - Dewayne walker
- Pass game coordinator/secondary - Joe Whitt
- Special teams - Mike Priefer
Following his successful stint as the Browns' interim offensive coordinator in the final eight games of the 2018 season, Cleveland hired Freddie Kitchens as its new head coach on Jan. 9, 2019.
Originally hired as the Browns' running backs coach prior to the 2018 season, the 44-year-old Kitchens has enjoyed a rapid rise in the coaching ranks over the course of the past year. Although he had never held the title of "coordinator" prior to last October, the former Alabama quarterback was so impressive in his half-season running the Browns offense that he now finds himself running one of football's most highly touted teams.
Prior to his arrival in Cleveland, Kitchens spent 11 seasons as an assistant coach with the Arizona Cardinals, coaching tight ends (2007-2012), quarterbacks (2013-16) and running backs (2017). He is considered a descendant of Bruce Arians' coaching tree and also possesses experience working under Ken Whisenhunt, Bill Parcells and Nick Saban.
While Kitchens' experience -- or lack thereof -- could be considered a question mark, the Browns hired two former head coaches to be his primary coordinators. The former head coach of Southern Miss (2013-15) Todd Monken arrives in Cleveland after a successful stint as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator, where he helped engineer the NFL's top passing offense in 2018. Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, meanwhile, joins the Browns after serving as the Arizona Cardinals head coach in 2018 and is just two years removed from helping lead the Carolina Panthers to the playoffs as the team's defensive coordinator.
Like many NFL teams, the Browns' coaching staff is littered with former players and young up and comers, perhaps none as important as wide receivers coach Adam Henry, whose time at LSU could prove crucial for a Cleveland roster full of ex-Tigers.
Cleveland Browns 2019 Offensive Depth Chart
- Baker Mayfield
- Drew Stanton
- Garrett Gilbert
- Nick Chubb
- Dontrell Hilliard
- D'Ernest Johnson
- Jarvis Landry
- Rashard Higgins
- Taywan Taylor
- Odell Beckham Jr.
- Damion Ratley
- KhaDarel Hodge
- Greg Robinson
- Kendall Lamm
- Joel Bitonio
- Justin McCray
- JC Tretter
- Austin Corbett
- Eric Kush
- Wyatt Teller
- Chris Hubbard
- David Njoku
- Pharaoh Brown
Tight end 2
- Demetrius Harris
- Rick Seals-Jones
Cleveland Browns 2019 Offense Analysis:
The Browns enter 2019 laying claim to one of the most talented offenses in the entire NFL.
The unit starts with second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield, who completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 3,725 yards and an NFL rookie record 27 touchdowns in 14 games last season. Perhaps most promising for Cleveland is that the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner seemed to especially excel under the direction of Kitchens, whose personal connection to Mayfield has been cited as one of the primary reasons he was promoted to head coach.
Also promising for the Browns: They possess arguably the league's most talented receiving corps. Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Antonio Callaway and tight end David Njoku each return as key contributors from a season ago to a unit that has only been bolstered by Cleveland's blockbuster acquisition of Odell Beckham Jr.
In trading for Beckham, the Browns now pair one of the league's most talented young receivers with of its best young quarterbacks. In five seasons with the New York Giants, the 2014 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year totaled 390 receptions for 5,476 yards and 44 touchdowns en route to earning three Pro Bowl appearances.
The addition of Beckham should only help open lanes for running back Nick Chubb, who rushed for 996 yards and 8 touchdowns as a rookie, despite not taking over as a starter until midway through the 2018 season. The Browns could also receive a boost at the midway point of this season when former Pro Bowl running back Kareem Hunt is expected to return from his eight-game suspension to start the year.
If Cleveland's offense has one Achille's heel, it could be its offensive line, which is shaky at tackle, unsettled at right guard and lacks overall depth. But the Browns don't need their offensive line to be great, but just good enough in order for one of the league's most talented units to live up to the hype.
Cleveland Browns 2019 Defensive Depth Chart
- Myles Garrett
- Chad Thomas
- Olivier Vernon
- Chris Smith
- Genard Avery
- Larry Ogunjobi
- Devaroe Lawrence
- Sheldon Richardson
- Daniel Ekuale
- Christian Kirksey
- Mack Wilson
- Malik Jefferson
- Joe Schobert
- Sione Takitaki
- Adarius Taylor
- Genard Avery
- Denzel Ward
- T.J. Carrie
- Terrance Mitchell
- Greedy Williams
- Tavierre Thomas
- Damarious Randall
- Eric Murray
- Sheldrick Redwine
- Morgan Burnett
- Jermaine Whitehead
Cleveland Browns 2019 Defense Analysis:
While it's the Browns' offense that has received the bulk of the headlines this offseason, it was the team's defense that general manager John Dorsey seemed to focus most of his attention on.
Between defensive end Olivier Vernon, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, linebacker Adarius Taylor and safety Morgan Burnett, the Browns either signed or traded for four new starters this offseason. The team also spent five of its seven draft picks on the defensive players, including second-round cornerback Greedy Williams and fifth-round linebacker Mack Wilson, who each figure to receive significant playing time in their rookie seasons.
Like its offensive counterpart, Cleveland's defense is talented, especially on the defensive line, which is anchored by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Myles Garrett. The linebacking corps, however, currently lacks a true playmaker, the secondary could be shaky and at the very least, the unit's overall depth is currently unproven.
In a best-case scenario for the Browns defense, Garrett, Vernon and cornerback Denzel Ward will build on their Pro Bowl years, while Williams and Wilson emerge as additional difference-makers. Like the team's offensive line, Cleveland's defense just needs to be good enough -- although the pieces are certainly in place for it to be more than that.
Cleveland Browns 2019 Special Teams Depth Chart
- Jamie Gillan
- Austin Seibert
- Jamie Gillan
- Dontrell Hilliard
- D'Ernest Johnson
- Dontrell Hilliard
- D'Ernest Johnson
- Charley Hughlett
Cleveland Browns 2019 Special Teams Analysis:
Between fifth-round pick Austin Seibert and Jamie "The Scottish Hammer" Gillan, the Browns will be relying on a pair of unproven rookies at both kicker and punter to start the 2019 season. Backup running back Dontrell Hilliard and D'Ernest Johnson will each contribute to the team's run game, although Antonio Callaway will likely become the team's primary return man once he returns from his four-game suspension to start the season.
Depending on the game situation, Beckham and Landry also provide value as potential punt returners.
Cleveland Browns 2019 Schedule
- Sep. 8 vs. Tennessee Titans (1 p.m. ET) CBS
- Sep. 16 at New York Jets (8:15 p.m. ET) ESPN
- Sep. 22 vs. Los Angeles Rams (8:20 p.m. ET) NBC
- Sep. 29 at Baltimore Ravens (1 p.m. ET) CBS
- Oct. 7 at San Francisco 49ers (8:15 p.m. ET) ESPN
- Oct. 13 vs. Seattle Seahawks (1 p.m. ET) FOX
- Oct. 27 at New England Patriots (4:25 p.m. ET) CBS
- Nov. 3 at Denver Broncos (4:25 p.m. ET) CBS
- Nov. 10 vs. Buffalo Bills (1 p.m. ET) CBS
- Nov. 14 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (8:20 p.m. ET) FOX/NFL Network/Amazon
- Nov. 24 vs. Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. ET) CBS
- Dec. 1 at Pittsburgh Steelers (4:25 p.m. ET) CBS
- Dec. 8 vs. Cincinnati Bengals (1 p.m. ET) CBS
- Dec. 15 at Arizona Cardinals (4:05 p.m. ET) CBS
- Dec. 22 vs. Baltimore Ravens (1 p.m. ET) CBS
- Dec 29 at Cincinnati Bengals (1 p.m. ET) CBS
Cleveland Browns 2019 Schedule Analysis
Considering the newfound notoriety, perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise it won't take long for the Browns to find themselves in the national spotlight.
After hosting the Titans on Sunday in what could be its first Week 1 win since 2004, Cleveland will take on the New York Jets in a Week 2 matchup on Monday Night Football. A week after that, the Browns will host the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams on Sunday Night football two weeks before another Monday Night Football matchup at the San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 7.
By the time it enters its bye week following an Oct. 13 matchup vs. the Seahawks, Cleveland will have played six games -- three of which will be on the road and three of which will be nationally televised. After returning from their bye, the Browns will head to Foxborough to face the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots with another road game against the Denver Broncos only a week away.
After that, the Browns' schedule should get a little bit easier with the Baltimore Ravens being the only playoff team from 2018 Cleveland is scheduled to face after the Oct. 27. The key for Cleveland this season will be keeping itself in position to take advantage of the back end of its schedule which includes five combined games against the Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals -- and then doing just that.
Cleveland Browns 2019 Season Prediction
Record: 11-5, AFC North champions
Season ends: Loss in AFC Divisional Playoff Round
I'm buying the hype.
While more than two decades' worth of dysfunction has typically been blamed for the Browns' on-field struggles since returning the NFL in 1999, the biggest thing that Cleveland lacked has been general talent.
In Mayfield, the Browns finally have a franchise quarterback, who has been surrounded with blue-chip talent in the form of Beckham, Landry, Chubb and Hunt. Admittedly, I think the teams' defense has more question marks than its getting credit for, but overall, players like Garrett and Ward should help mask the majority of the unit's shortcomings.
For all the skepticism I've seen about the Browns -- that they'll succumb to the expectations or that this is a franchise less than two years removed from going 0-16 -- very few of the concerns seem to actually have anything to do with football. Based on talent alone, Cleveland should be good enough to win its division and even a home playoff game.
I'm predicting the Browns will do just that.