Tim Benz: Steelers fans downplaying Browns hype could be in for surprise | TribLIVE.com
Tim Benz, Columnist

Tim Benz: Steelers fans downplaying Browns hype could be in for surprise

Tim Benz
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AP
Cleveland Browns’ Odell Beckham poses with his jersey along with Baker Mayfield, right, Myles Garrett, left, and Jarvis Landry during a news conference Monday, April 1, 2019, in Berea, Ohio.

Doubters of the Cleveland Browns got a little more ammunition this week.

As we mentioned in “First Call” on Thursday, ESPN reported that Baker Mayfield chewed out his wide receivers over the weekend. The excitable Browns quarterback reportedly was upset that his pass-catchers weren’t running back to help him while he was scrambling.

That brought a fresh round of, “See! It’s never going to work in Cleveland! Baker is too much of a hot head. Those volatile receivers aren’t going to stand for this. They don’t know how to win there anyway.”

We’ve heard a lot of that in Pittsburgh since the Browns offseason hype started churning.

Well, if you consider it hype.

I don’t. I think the Browns will be improved.

If you at least agree with that statement — that they will show some sort of marked improvement — that means playoff contention and, possibly, a wild-card berth.

I think the Browns will achieve that. Maybe even win the AFC North title. Those are real possibilities.

Super Bowl predictions? Projections of 13-3? Visions of tangling with Tom Brady in Foxborough in the AFC Championship Game?

That’s hype.

Suggesting a team that went 7-8-1 last year with a rookie quarterback and an interim coach could improve to 9-7 or 10-6?

That’s not hype. In fact, that may be conservative.

Especially when that 7-8-1 club had the wrong coach and quarterback in place to start 2018. Then that club added Pro Bowlers Odell Beckham Jr. and Olivier Vernon. Another one, Kareem Hunt, will join the roster after the eighth game. It’ll also feature Greedy Williams, a cornerback many considered to be the most athletic player at his position in the draft.

But many in the Steelers fan base, and local media, are trying to convince anyone who will listen that the Browns are frauds.

Imagine the dawn coming up on a day where the Steelers upgraded in that manner at receiver, front seven, running back and corner, then Pittsburghers insisting that the team would somehow get worse.

That would never happen.

A lot of arguments are being thrown around to support that idea.

• The Browns don’t know how to win. They’re still the Browns.

• They are just a collection of names that won’t mesh.

• Freddie Kitchens is still in his first full year.

• They lack quality in the secondary and the offensive line. I mean, they may start Morgan Burnett and Chris Hubbard for cryin’ ‘aht lahd!

A lot of that is either true or may prove to be true. That’s why they’ll still end up losing six or seven games.

However, their talent is improved enough that they won’t lose 10 or 11, as fans in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Baltimore have been able to count on for a few decades now.

I went to a lot of summer picnics over the past two years. At none of them did I hear people predicting seven- or eight-win seasons for the Steelers, primarily because individual talents such as Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, Joe Haden and T.J. Watt were in Black and Gold.

But for Cleveland, many of us seem to be presuming Beckham, Hunt, Williams and Vernon can’t possibly be as good.

In Pittsburgh, we saw a first-round quarterback win a Super Bowl in his second year.

But Mayfield can’t at least get to a wild-card game?

“Yeah, but the Browns played an easy schedule last year!”

Well, that’s true. But let’s not mention it was nearly identical to Pittsburgh’s, right?

“Yeah, but the Steelers ‘were just a few plays away’ from making the playoffs.”

Yup. Fact: Of the seven games the Steelers didn’t win, six of them were within one possession at game’s end.

Also, fact: That happened to the Browns five times. I just don’t hear that referenced around our three rivers very often.

Even though many of us locally have spun a yarn that we miss the glory days of the Browns-Steelers rivalry, we seem slow coming to grips with the notion that the Browns are good enough to make it worthwhile again in 2019.

In that regard, I’ll admit three things:

1. I’ve always hated the Browns.

2. I always will.

3. I think they’re good enough this year to make that hatred matter again.

So, look out Steelers fans. At least part of the Browns’ hype is legitimate.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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