JR SportBrief: Without Stefanski, Browns are in trouble

The Browns are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2002, but they won’t have head coach Kevin Stefanski against the Steelers due to COVID-19

January 06, 2021 - 9:49 am
Kevin Stefanski Browns

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The Cleveland Browns (11-5) made the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and finished with their best regular-season record since 1994. 

Unfortunately, they won’t have their head coach, Kevin Stefanski, when they play the Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) in the Wild Card this Sunday. Stefanski and left guard Joel Bitonio are among five members of the organization who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Which means the Browns’ chances of winning this game just got a whole lot worse.

“The Browns might have some building blocks right now, [but] I don’t think I’ll get my full answer as to whether or not Baker Mayfield is the long-term answer – because Kevin Stefanski is not going to be out there coaching him because he had to deal with COVID,” JR SportBrief said on CBS Sports Radio. “He has [Nick] Chubb as an amazing running back; [Kareem] Hunt is an amazing running back. But how long are they going to be amazing running backs? What happens when Odell Beckham Jr. comes back and he is healthy? Did he play his last snap with the team? What’s the situation with Jarvis Landry? This was the opportunity right now for the Browns to say, ‘We’re here and we are building.’ But all the issues have shown up and said, ‘Not so fast.’”

The Browns, of course, aren’t the first team to be impacted by COVID-19 this season. Lions interim head coach Darrell Bevell, for example, missed Detroit’s game against Tampa Bay in Week 16. The Lions lost, 47-7.

“The Lions were abused. The Buccaneers destroyed them,” JR said. “Do I think the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to destroy the Cleveland Browns without their head coach? Do I think the score is going to be 47-7? No, I expect the Browns to go out there and fight. But I think ultimately the Steelers obviously have an advantage. You want to talk about a veteran team, I like the Steelers. I would just really love to see the Browns kick, claw, and bite back against the adversity.”

The Browns have enjoyed a remarkable turnaround in recent years. Cleveland went 4-44 from 2015-17 but are 24-23-1 from 2018-20.

COVID-19, however, could derail their playoff hopes.

“This, unfortunately, is one of the things we’ve gotten by playing a season this year,” JR said. “And unfortunately, this is not a player. This is not Brandon Weeden. This is not Tim Couch. This is not [DeShone] Kizer. This time, it’s COVID. It sucks that we won’t see the Browns, we won’t see if they can progress, and I think unfortunately they might be screwed in this game. But I hope not.”