Cleveland Browns

Baker Mayfield can lead the Cleveland Browns to the Playoffs in 2018

Browns fans are still celebrating Thursday night’s win, but it’s time for the players to have higher goals. Baker Mayfield can get this team into the playoffs.

It’s not an exaggeration to say the entire direction of the Cleveland Browns franchise changed Thursday night. The quarterback transition from Tyrod Taylor to Baker Mayfield clearly provided a huge spark for the Browns offense.

That spark could turn into a fire capable of carrying the Browns into the postseason.

When you first think about it, the idea of the Browns making the playoffs this year seems like an overreaction to Thursday night’s magic. After all, this is a franchise that only won a single game in Hue Jackson’s previous two seasons in charge.

Cleveland getting off to an 1-1-1 start represents a massive improvement.

However, when you really think about it, it’s clear the Browns do have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs with Mayfield at the helm. Cleveland could easily finish Week 3 just ½ game behind the Bengals for the lead in the AFC North if Cincinnati loses at Carolina.

In other words, Mayfield is taking over a team that is still squarely in the mix for a postseason berth.

The rookie quarterback also doesn’t have to transform his team into an offensive juggernaut. Mayfield got all of the credit for Thursday night’s comeback victory, but the defense should be getting their share of attention too.

They shut down Sam Darnold and the Jets offense in the second half. Mayfield’s comeback would have been impossible without the defense’s massive second-half effort.

That performance is not an aberration. Many of the Browns’ most talented players are on the defensive side of the ball. High draft picks like Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward have been really good this season. This unit has the ability to grow into a top-10 NFL defense this season.

If they can do that, it will take a lot of pressure off Mayfield to need to outscore opponents.

In other words, Mayfield doesn’t have to play as well as he did Thursday night to get this team into the playoffs. He’s not going to complete 73.9 percent of his passes for an entire season. There will be some highs and lows with the inexperienced quarterback.

It’s also important to note that the Browns do have some offensive weapons who can help out a young quarterback. Jarvis Landry made an outstanding catch last night to get his team to the goal line. Carlos Hyde almost broke the 100-yard barrier on 23 productive carries.

Even Duke Johnson found a meaningful role against the Jets. We’re not talking about an offense on par with the Chiefs, but the Browns have sufficient talent at the skill positions.

Combine that with Todd Haley’s play-calling ability and it’s easy to forecast this offense being league average or better the rest of the way.

Next: NFL betting guide Week 5: Back the Packers and Rams

If you believe the defense can ascend into the top-10 and the offense can stay above the median mark in the NFL then you have a great recipe for a playoff berth in Cleveland. The Browns aren’t a lock to make the postseason, but Mayfield gives them a great chance to make it happen.

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