As the Cincinnati Bengals prepare for Super Bowl LVI, the Cleveland Browns face tough questions that need answers. The first question is obviously, “Why not us?” Especially when they defeated the Bengals twice this season, the second time with a roster of backups. The Browns were expected to get within arm’s reach of the Super Bowl. Now, a division rival that was never a rival before, is in the exact position that Cleveland had hoped to be in.
Tough Questions Cleveland Browns Must Answer as Cincinnati Bengals Face Super Bowl LVI
Whether it was countless injuries, COVID-19, deeper issues or just plain bad luck for Cleveland, Cincinnati’s unexpected run to the big one leaves the Browns grappling big questions ahead of next season.
Are They Secure at Quarterback?
The security of Baker Mayfield as the franchise quarterback has been a question for too long. Joe Burrow’s performance in leading his team to the Super Bowl by beating Patrick Mahomes – who earlier defeated Josh Allen – brings the question back to the forefront. General manager Andrew Berry, who had seemingly made the right moves, expects Mayfield to remain the team’s quarterback. Just a year ago, everyone felt confident they finally had it set at the position.
Mayfield played the best of his career in the last six games of 2020. But can he sustain that over an entire season? Will pre-injury Mayfield appear again? The Browns will either believe this or consider an upgrade. The latter will be difficult, as it seems unlikely Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers would consider Cleveland as a new home.
Are the Browns and Bengals Even Similar Anymore?
Holding Cincinnati up as the standard is odd as the Browns defeated them twice this season. In all honesty, those games made it obvious that in terms of talent outside the quarterback position, they are quite similar.
Cleveland is better at running back, but Joe Mixon is a monster. The Browns pass rushers are better, but Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson are a threat. When healthy, Cleveland’s offensive line is significantly better than Cincinnati’s, who oftentimes leave Burrow at the mercy of opponents. However, Burrow and his other weapons are able to overcome that problem for the most part.
When it comes to the secondary, the Browns have great cornerbacks in Greg Newsome II and Denzel Ward. But the Bengals have highly regarded safeties like Jessie Bates. Offensively, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd make up one of the league’s best receiver trios. This is where the Browns must improve, and they have their chance through free agency and the Draft.
The biggest frustration stems from the fact that Cincinnati and Cleveland are almost balanced in talent levels. The Bengals took advantage of the opportunities they were gifted. The Browns did not do that in 2020 when Mahomes left their divisional game injured, nor did they in 2021 because they were overcome with injuries.
Can They Get a Decent Kicker?
Cleveland’s kickers, both past and present, have been painfully bad. Time after time, they have missed securing crucial points. Cincinnati is extremely fortunate to have drafted Evan McPherson in the 2021 Draft, making him the only kicker to have been drafted that year. With an 84.8 percentage and becoming the first kicker ever to go 11-of-11 in the playoffs, it really paid off for the Bengals. Cleveland having a weapon at kicker is advantageous – they must figure it out now.
Seeing the weakest-projected team in their division make the Super Bowl hurts Browns fans. But the Browns should learn from this and come back stronger next season.