Patriots

Browns better than Patriots in 2020? Former NFL player makes bold claim

Browns better than Patriots in 2020? Former NFL player makes bold claim

The New England Patriots have spent much of the last 20 years at the summit of the NFL -- the most successful franchise of this century. Over that same time, the Cleveland Browns have been one of the league's worst teams, with only a single postseason appearance since 2000.

Could these teams begin to switch places in 2020?

Last season was supposed to be the Browns' return to the spotlight, and the playoffs. Expectations were high for quarterback Baker Mayfield, star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and an up-and-coming defense. Instead, Cleveland got off to a horrible start in 2019, losing six of their first eight games, including a Week 7 loss to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. 

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Despite all that unfolded in Cleveland last season, many experts are still high on the Browns' chances in 2020. In fact, one of them is even willing to predict the Patriots will be worse than the Browns.

“When you look at those two teams and the difference in the trajectory of what we feel they’ll be, I believe that the Browns will be a better football team than the New England Patriots this year," ESPN NFL analyst Ryan Clark said on the "Get Up" morning show earlier this week. 

"I believe that the Browns young quarterback (Baker Mayfield) will play better than the young quarterback in New England. And when you put all of these things together, that leaves Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots on the outside of the playoff picture and (Browns coach) Kevin Stefanski and the Cleveland Browns in.”

Oddsmakers don't agree with Clark. 

The Browns are underdogs to reach the playoffs with +137 odds at the DraftKings Sportsbook, while the Patriots are expected to make the postseason at -177 odds.

It's also hard to trust the Browns until they show the mental toughness required to play football into January. Bad penalties, turnovers, poor coaching and other avoidable mistakes have plagued the Browns for many years, and last season was no different.

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Another factor working against the Browns is their division. The AFC North is not a joke.

The reigning division champion Baltimore Ravens went 14-2 last year and should again be a top Super Bowl contender. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been a playoff team for much of the last two decades, and they'll be aided by the healthy return of veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who missed most of 2019 due to injury. The Cincinnati Bengals are the worst team in the division, but selecting Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow with the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft has renewed hope in Cincy.

It's not inconceivable for the Browns to be better than the Patriots in 2020. The Patriots will have plenty of challenges, too, most notably adjusting to a new starting quarterback. New England's schedule also is among the toughest in the league, and the defense lost several key players in free agency.

Still, it's hard to bet against a Belichick team, especially when the other team in the conversation is the Browns. The smart money in this debate is with the Patriots.

Jerod Mayo was 'shocked' by Dont'a Hightower, Patrick Chung opt-outs

Jerod Mayo was 'shocked' by Dont'a Hightower, Patrick Chung opt-outs

When he heard the news that Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung were opting out of the 2020 season, Jerod Mayo had the same reaction most people did. 

"I was shocked, disappointed -- a bunch of emotions went through my head initially," said Mayo, who played alongside and is friends with both men.

"Then I took a step back and looked at each situation. These are personal decisions. Obviously, Hightower took a step back and examined his personal situation and so did Chung and I totally respect the decision. I know coach (Bill Belichick) already talked about it.”

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Speaking on a video conference call Friday morning, the Patriots inside linebackers coach said the leadership and play of both players will be missed but added that, “From a football standpoint, you just gotta treat it like an injury.”

“We’ve always had that 'next man up' mentality and that’s how we’re approaching it going forward,” said Mayo. “With that said, even though those guys have opted out, those guys will still continue to mentor some of the younger guys. Guys who haven’t played as much ball.

"And I can totally appreciate it. Hightower is one of the smartest football players I’ve ever been around and so is Chung. Those guys are not here with us this year on the field but they are still around.”

Mayo saluted the work the organization has done in getting the facility prepared for dealing with football during a pandemic. 

“The staff has done a fantastic job,” he said. “One thing I’ve always respected about this organization is they don’t just try to solve these complex problems in-house, they go out and ask other people what they’re doing. 

“When I walk around the building, I feel safe and I think the players do, as well,” Mayo continued. “I think they’ve done a fantastic job. Our operations people deserve a shout-out.

"This is such a fluid situation. Things change, whether it’s the CDC changing guidelines or any of that stuff. It changes so much and those guys have done a great job around the building so guys feel safe and coaches feel safe.”

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Jarrett Stidham not backing down with Cam Newton around: 'I'm definitely ready'

Jarrett Stidham not backing down with Cam Newton around: 'I'm definitely ready'

For the better part of three months this offseason, there was no evidence to suggest that Jarrett Stidham wouldn't be The Next Guy in New England. 

The initial wave of free agency came and went. The draft came and went. Still, the 2019 fourth-round selection out of Auburn looked like the choice to replace Tom Brady. Bill Belichick hadn't brought in anyone else outside of Brian Hoyer and two undrafted rookies.

Sure, it was a lot to ask of a Day 3 draft choice who had taken zero snaps of consequence as a rookie. But it looked like the Patriots believed he could be their starter.

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Then on June 29, news broke that the Patriots signed Cam Newton. Stidham was in Texas, visiting family, when he heard.

"Tom (Brady) deciding to go to Tampa, signing Cam and everything . . . it's just kind of a wild offseason," Stidham said. "But I would say my routine hasn't changed at all. My work ethic has kind of been the same throughout everything that's going on.

"I've just really tried to focus on being a good teammate and working as hard as I possibly can to really improve this offseason. It's been a wild ride this offseason, but happy to be back in the building with everybody and kind of get rolling here."

And happy to compete, he explained. 

Even with one of the most gifted quarterbacks in modern NFL history now present in the Patriots meetings, Stidham told reporters Friday he still feels as though that job -- the one that looked like his from the end of March through the end of June -- is up for grabs.

He didn't hesitate when asked if he believed he still had a chance to be named the starter with a good performance this summer.

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"Absolutely," he said. "I think I'm definitely ready. I think I've put a lot of work in this offseason to really improve. Mentally, physically and really in a lot of different areas. But at the end of the day, I'm extremely excited to compete with Cam and Hoy as we go forward in training camp and get into the season and things like that.

"I'm really looking forward to the competition. I love competing in whatever it is so I'm really looking forward to it."

And then there was this answer, to a question about his relationship with Brady, where Stidham -- purposefully or not -- shed some light on the fact that he still likes his odds of being The Next Guy.

"I don't really look at it as replacing Tom Brady," he said. "I just want to be myself and I want to be a leader for this team and be the best teammate that I can be for this team. I don't really look at it that way."

Stidham even went so far as to say that he was "excited" when the Patriots signed Newton. Though the rest of the world saw the acquisition as an impediment to Stidham's promotion, he says he took a different approach. 

"What a great opportunity to compete with another great player," Stidham said. "To compete with Hoy and Cam. I was actually really, really excited for the opportunity ahead."

Maybe that's lip service. Maybe that's a young player trying to convince himself there's a real competition ahead. 

But at times on Friday's WebEx press conference, Stidham sounded like he believed he had a real crack to be the No. 1. Even with a superstar 6-foot-5, 245-pound former MVP who wears No. 1 now counting himself among Stidham's teammates.