Can Deshaun Watson rally Browns to playoffs? Win over Bucs at least keeps door cracked

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The moment has arrived for the Cleveland Browns. All the negative media attention, all the public missteps, all the draft picks and money spent to get to this moment — the moment when Deshaun Watson finally becomes their starting quarterback.

Watson is, fittingly, inheriting a mess when the Browns head to Houston to take on the hapless Texans in his first game since the 2020 NFL season. Even coming off of an overtime win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Browns still find themselves 4-7 needing a miracle to save their playoff chances for the year. In theory, Watson, returning from an 11-game suspension after being accused of sexual assault and misconduct, should be the spark they need to get back on the right track.

Watson will probably need time to ingratiate himself with the rest of the roster, but three first-round draft picks and the largest guaranteed contract in NFL history should come with some expectations of immediate results. Watson won’t be able to help out a Cleveland defense that currently is one of the worst in football this season, but he can provide a clear line of demarcation between himself and what Jacoby Brissett provided. Brissett did what he was supposed to do and was a quality fill-in for the Browns, but they didn’t pay for Watson in both real-life currency and social currency for him to come out and stink.

The Browns do not control their playoff path in the slightest, but there is infrastructure in place for them to potentially ignite and make a push toward the playoffs. If Watson can recapture his form from the 2020 season when he played at an elite level, the Browns can score points in a hurry. Nick Chubb is still on top of his game as arguably the most dominant running back in the league, Amari Cooper has been a stud for the offense this season and head coach Kevin Stefanski is essentially proven as a play-caller. It’s not a perfect offense, but the ingredients are there for the Browns to quickly have an elite unit instead of a good one if Watson delivers.

Even then, making the playoffs is a long shot. The team is 4-7 and has problems that expand far beyond how its quarterback plays. The Browns would need to be near-perfect for the rest of the season after starting off so poorly. They’ve dug themselves into a hole here, they’ll need to be pristine to have a hope of making the playoffs.

Next week is the start of what the next three or four years of Browns football is going to be like. It’s impossible to take the morals out of what Watson has been accused of and settled for, but from a strictly football perspective, he should be the quarterback they’ve been looking for since … forever? Cleveland is close to having one of the great offenses in the NFL and that’s what the measuring stick should be the rest of the season.

Again: The Browns paid heavily in a whole lot of arenas to get Watson on their team. They should have some immediate expectations that this works out in a hurry. Three first-round draft picks, $230 million, a PR disaster — the least Watson can do is play well. It’s just probably too late to save the Browns’ season.

The Browns' playoff chances aren't looking great at 4-7. But they're also about to get back Deshaun Watson, the quarterback they paid a ton of money and social currency to acquire to make a difference. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)
The Browns' playoff chances aren't looking great at 4-7. But they're also about to get back Deshaun Watson, the quarterback they paid a ton of money and social currency to acquire to make a difference. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)