The Cleveland Browns haven’t had a winning season since George W. Bush was in office, and they haven’t won the AFC North since the division was created in 2002. The last division title for the Browns was in 1989 when they were still members of the AFC Central.
But it’s looking like the beginning of a new era in Cleveland.
Optimism for the team is so sky high that even fans of other AFC North teams can’t help but admit that the Browns look formidable. In SB Nation’s FanPulse poll of fans of the four teams in the division, more than half picked the Browns as the favorite to win the division in 2019.
It seems like the only person trying to pump the brakes is Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens.
The Browns aren’t the only FanPulse surprise favorite. The Colts and Eagles also didn’t win their divisions but are seen as frontrunners. The Patriots are an overwhelming favorite in the AFC East, but somehow got less than 80 percent of the vote despite an entire decade on top. The Vikings got just three percent of the vote in the NFC North a little over a year after a trip to the NFC Championship.
But still, the biggest story of the offseason has been the rise of the Browns, who are so much fun that fans in Cleveland are scaring their neighbors.
For the most part, fans agreed with the oddsmakers. Here are the full FanPulse voting results for the favorite of each division.
The Browns doubled up the Steelers in the AFC North
The Browns finished the 2018 season with five wins in their last seven games, but really launched expectations through the roof by trading for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in March. While Cleveland enjoyed that exciting start to the offseason, Pittsburgh lost Le’Veon Bell in free agency and traded Antonio Brown to the Raiders. The more curious result is the Ravens getting just 13 percent of the vote after winning the division title in 2018. Losing some important defensive players and securing a first-place schedule makes Baltimore a prime candidate for a disappointing year in 2019. Nobody believes much in the Bengals, who are starting fresh at head coach with Zac Taylor but will probably have a similar looking roster.
The Patriots are big favorites in the AFC East, but didn’t get 100 percent of the vote
If anything, it’s surprising that the Patriots got only 77 percent of the vote. They’re the defending Super Bowl champions and have won the AFC East 10 consecutive seasons, and 15 out of the last 16. The silver lining for the Bills and Jets is that they have Josh Allen and Sam Darnold, respectively. If the two young passers make strides in their second NFL seasons, they could finally make up ground on the Patriots — especially if Father Time finally slows down Tom Brady at age 42. Meanwhile, the Dolphins aren’t making much of an effort at actually winning in 2019.
The Colts are heavily favored in the competitive AFC South
Indianapolis looks like a force to be reckoned with after winning nine of its last 10 games of the regular season and rolling into the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The Colts didn’t spend much of their copious cap space, but they still added Justin Houston in free agency and has an extra second-round draft pick to continue adding pieces. All that has AFC South fans convinced Indianapolis will dethrone the Texans, who still have the dangerous combination of Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins. There’s even less optimism for the Titans, who had a winning record in 2018, and the Jaguars, who replaced Blake Bortles with Nick Foles.
No team got a higher percentage of the vote than the Chiefs in the AFC West
The Chargers were good at everything in 2018, but it’s hard to pick against the Chiefs after Patrick Mahomes’ MVP season. In his first year as a starter, Mahomes joined Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as one of only three quarterbacks to ever reach 50 touchdown passes in a season. The Chiefs will hope that adding Tyrann Mathieu, Bashaud Breeland, Alex Okafor, and Emmanuel Ogbah will help offset the losses of Eric Berry, Justin Houston, and Dee Ford. But those changes haven’t dissuaded AFC West fans from thinking the team will repeat as champions. The Broncos don’t look much better off with Joe Flacco at quarterback, and the Raiders still have a lot of overhauling to do before they’re looked at as a contender.
The Bears were an easy choice to repeat as NFC North champions
The Bears didn’t need to do much this offseason after a 12-4 season last year. The team is loaded with defensive talent like Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson, Kyle Fuller, and Akiem Hicks. If Mitchell Trubisky continues his ascension, there’s little reason to believe Chicago won’t be a tough team to beat again in 2019. That was enough to dominate the vote over the Vikings — who still managed to finish 8-7-1 even if the splash signing of Kirk Cousins didn’t work out as planned — and the Packers, who still have Aaron Rodgers. There doesn’t seem to be much optimism that Matt Patricia will drag the Lions out of the cellar in year two.
Fans expect the Eagles to bounce back and take the NFC East title from the Cowboys
The Eagles are the third team to get picked to win their division in 2019 despite coming up short in 2018. Philadelphia added Malik Jackson and DeSean Jackson this offseason, but the question is whether that’s enough to make up ground on the Cowboys, who have a young offensive trio of Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Amari Cooper. Dallas added Robert Quinn via a trade with the Dolphins and signed Randall Cobb to replace Cole Beasley. Still, NFC East fans are picking the Eagles to reclaim the crown in a two-team race. The Giants traded away Odell Beckham Jr. and Olivier Vernon, while Washington plans to head into the season with Case Keenum at quarterback.
The Saints are favored to become the first ever to threepeat in the NFC South
The NFC South is a famously topsy-turvy division, but the Saints became the second team to ever win it in back-to-back years by defending the title in 2018. Now they can try to become the first to ever win it three straight seasons. It seems like the only thing that could slow them down is Drew Brees hitting a wall after turning 40 in January. The rest of the division has plenty of offensive firepower, although Cam Newton is recovering from shoulder surgery and both the Falcons and Buccaneers have serious catching up to do on defense.
It’ll take a lot to dethrone the Rams in the NFC West
Super Bowl 53 didn’t go as planned for the Rams, but they still have Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, and Aaron Donald. It’s not surprising that NFC West fans expect Los Angeles to repeat, even if a Super Bowl hangover has torn down many other contenders. The 49ers and Cardinals had just seven wins combined in 2018, although the return of Jimmy Garoppolo and the No. 1 pick in the draft could give both teams a jolt. The real team to watch is the Seahawks. They rolled into the postseason last year with a 10-6 record. Despite a quiet offseason for Seattle, a little offensive line help could be all it takes to close the gap.