With the NFL regular season having kicked off on Thursday night with a stellar contest between Dallas and Tampa Bay, fans around the league are putting on their preverbal face paint in anticipation of Week One. For the Cleveland Browns, the season opener is a chance at redemption as they travel to Kanas City to take on a Chiefs team that ended their season in 2020 during the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
Odell’s Return To Action
There are several areas in which Browns fans should pay special attention in Kanas City. First off, the returning Odell Beckham should see time at wide receiver. Kevin Stefanski has played this close to the vest, however, as Beckham’s status for Sunday will be officially announced 90 or so minutes before kickoff. Despite the questionable designation, Beckham has been gearing up all offseason for an early-season return, including being a full participant in late-week practices leading up to the game in Kansas City. It would be somewhat of a surprise at this point if Beckham does not suit up. Cleveland’s biggest issue offensively versus Kanas City in the playoffs was the lacking of a game-breaking vertical threat like Beckham. Look for Cleveland to feature the wideout early and often if he does indeed play.
Cleveland’s Defensive Muscle
Another major storyline for the Browns headed into Sunday is the performance of the new-look defense. While first-year Brown Jadeveon Clowney is also questionable with a non-COVID relayed illness, defensive coordinator Joe Woods said he expects the former first overall draft selection to line up opposite Myles Garrett in Kansas City. John Johnson, Troy Hill, Anthony Walker, and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah will also play prominent roles for Cleveland defensively in Kansas City and beyond. With Kanas City presenting a massive challenge to any team defensively, Cleveland fans should not be concerned if the Browns struggle to contain Patrick Mahomes and company on Sunday with so many new faces figuring out their roles.
Continuity is King
A third aspect of Sunday’s game to watch out for is the progression of Baker Mayfield in year two of Kevin Stefanski’s offensive system. This is the longest that Mayfield has been able to work with an NFL coach since being drafted by the Browns, which means there are some aspects of his game that was hopefully able to fine-tune during the offseason under the influence of Stefanski. Cleveland kept its entire coaching staff from last year, which will not only benefit Mayfield, but the entire team as well. Continuity has escaped the Browns for the last two decades. Cleveland finally had success worth building on in the 2020 season.
Injuries at Kicker
One final area to pay special attention to is the kicking game for Cleveland. Despite Chase McLaughlin winning the job out of training camp due to an injury to Cody Parkey, McLaughlin made an appearance on the final injury report heading into Sunday. The kicker is questionable with a right hamstring injury. This could force the Browns to turn to Chris Naggar who was signed to the practice squad. Kicking was an area of concern for Cleveland heading into the year and now those issues could be magnified.