Why Week 1 is a Must-Win Game for the Cleveland Browns

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The Cleveland Browns finished last year with an 0-16 record, have lost 17-straight games and are 1-31 over the past two years.

Somehow, as we head into this weekend’s season opener, local optimism has never been higher.

This shouldn’t be the case whatsoever, but that’s where we find ourselves as the Browns prep for their Week 1 bout against their “rivals,” the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’ll be Cleveland’s first chance to try and bring an end to the constant losing this franchise has made its trademark over the past two decades.

Said game is also as close to a must-win as you could get in Week 1.

Granted, very rarely is the first contest of a 16-game season considered a make-or-break affair. At the same time, the Browns have put a lot of time and effort towards convincing us they’re no longer the laughingstock of the NFL. To follow all of this up with the typical Week 1 face-plant we’re used to seeing from them could bring a swift end to all this hype.

Within a week of being hired back in December, new GM John Dorsey claimed his goal for 2018 was to win the AFC North. Wideout Jarvis Landry told SI not only that the Browns have the potential to win a Super Bowl, he also told opposing teams they’ll “be lucky if we don’t score 40 on you.” Linebacker Christian Kirksey joined in on the optimism, predicting Cleveland will make the playoffs this year.

Sure, no team is going to come into a season saying, “we’re pretty crappy, but it’d be neat if we notched a win or two.” At the same time, these are extremely bold proclamations to make for a team which is almost two-years removed from its last win.

Despite this, fans have bought in on the hype. They’re calling local sports radio shows to explain how a postseason berth is possible. They’re laying down enough money in Vegas that there are more bets on the Browns to win the division than for the other three AFC North teams combined.

It didn’t seem possible after last year’s death march, but the city of Cleveland is excited about football again, in part because of how confident the players are.

Keep this in mind and then picture what’ll happen if the Browns come out this Sunday and get waxed by a team they’ve been trying to sell as their rival yet again.

Make no mistake, such a result would bring a brutal end to the confidence this team has worked so hard to build. Fans who came running back to the Browns despite being given endless reasons to find something else to do with their Sunday afternoon will be asking themselves “we waited all summer for this?”

Simply put, being fed tons of talk about turnarounds and playoffs only to see the Browns get embarrassed again could be a big blow to such an important season.

Suddenly, the doubt people have been trying to tune out will return with a vengeance. National pundits will be quick to use the offseason playoff talk as new punchlines to work with. We’re even sure to hear “same ol’ Browns” thrown out there.

These are all things Cleveland has tried to convince us should no longer be in the equation.

On top of this, expect demands for Hue Jackson‘s firing to come from all angles.

The embattled coach is already on thin ice, and for good reason. If he opens another season with another loss despite all the upgrades the team has made, he’ll be facing tons of blame with no more excuses left to help him deflect it. Players trying badly to get this franchise back on track will find themselves being asked to defend the job of their head coach one week into the season.

It sounds extreme, but this is what you get when you try this hard to claim such a moribund franchise is now on the cusp of making a monumental turnaround. You can’t convince these beaten down fans things are changing for the better if the first attempt to prove this ends in another colossal failure.

Would starting the year 0-1 make this season a lost cause? Of course not. The Browns have started all but one season since 1999 with this record, so said outcome is practically automatic by now.

Still, Cleveland somehow has fans dreaming of playoffs nine months after going 0-16. It’s an incredible state of affairs, one which will be snuffed out if we’re served another serving of the usual come Sunday.

Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Subscribe to his podcast, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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