• Jeff Rich

Let's Swap the Cleveland Browns for the Washington Football Team

Here’s the plan. I’ve contemplated a million ways to tinker with things in the NFL, but I landed on having the Washington Football Team and the Cleveland Browns trade places conference-wise. This would put the Browns in the NFC East and the artists formerly known as the Redskins in the AFC North.

Have I created a solution for a problem that does not actually exist? I’d concede on paper, this isn’t something that’s necessary. However, the occasional change tends to make things more interesting. Things are changing quickly in Washington, probably for the better. Things have been slow to change for the Browns, even if you want to argue the present is better and the future looks bright.

Both the Browns and the Football Team could use a fresh start. Understandably, Cleveland has had a couple of decades to get out of the starting blocks, but it still almost seems as if the stars are never going to align for them in a division with Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Washington seems to be twiddling their thumbs waiting for updates to install before their reboot is complete.

It’s been a bit torturous on Browns fans that we must bask in the incompetence of Art Modell for a quarter of every season. The Bengals exist because Artie fired Paul Brown—the team’s fucking namesake—and the innovative coach put a knock off version of the Browns in the same state. The Ravens exist because Art was a poor businessman when it came to keeping his own house in order, with the TV deals he is universally credited for notwithstanding.

The Bengals have been in the same division as the Browns for the entirety of their coexistence. Most intrastate rivals are separated by conference or at least they’re in different divisions, and no one tries to sell the others as anything special. As for me, I could do without the Battle of Ohio. How often does the game ever mean anything other than jockeying for position in the upcoming draft? Cincinnati isn’t even the real problem here, though I’d really love for the few prime time opportunities the Browns get not to be wasted on a game with the Bengals.

Seeing the Ravens twice a year hurts anyone the grew up on the 1946-1995 Browns. We’re long past the expansion excuses at this point, and the juxtaposition of success between the “old” Browns and the current rendition throws gas on the fire, but we don’t need this matchup twice every year. The NFL did this to Houston too, aligning the Texans with the old Oilers in the AFC South. In both cities, fans are told to “move on” from their teams that left them in the 90s, but the past is still being shoved down our throats.

I had considered less disruptive ways to reshape the AFC North with another easy trade, in the interest of creating balance in the AFC. It’s obviously different after Tom Brady’s departure from the Patriots and the AFC East, but New England spent the better part of two decades without a legitimate challenger in the division. Geographically, moving Baltimore to the AFC East with Buffalo coming to the AFC North made a ton of sense.

Hypothetically, the Ravens would still see the Steelers just about every year, but only once in the regular season and not at all in some years. On the flipside, the home-and-homes for Cleveland and Pittsburgh with the Bills would be epic. It kills me that the Browns have been replaced by their former selves as Pittsburgh’s chief rival, but it’s a fact that they have. In the end, I find it best not to split up those evil entities.

As for Washington, you know I don’t follow them as closely, but beyond not having an actual identity other than the district they play near, do they maintain any identity with their division rivals? I used to view every NFC East game as a rivalry, with no matchups that overwhelmingly stand out as the most heated. With the universal hate for the Cowboys, Dallas’s division opponents likely all classify them as a rival. With the universal hate for the Eagles, Philly’s division opponents all likely crave their pound of flesh in those games. New York is New York, even though they play in Jersey, so you always want to beat them. Then you get down to Washington, and it just pales in comparison with the other division games.

Things were popular in the 80s, when Redskins merch was the official outfit of the gangs that wore red, and Cowboys apparel was worn by that gang’s rivals in blue. They also had Joe Gibbs and won Super Bowls, but Joe is more into stock cars more than generic stock design football teams these days. In 2020, you need to do better than an endorsement from the Bloods.

So, you give the Football Team a fresh start, hopefully with an actual name, in the AFC North. Assuming they would inherit the Browns upcoming schedule template, they would get a little break for the former division mates in the NFC East. In turn, the Browns wouldn’t see Pittsburgh, Baltimore, or Cincinnati again until 2023. So, what would the upcoming seasons entail?

In 2021, the NFC East Browns would play their home-and-homes with Dallas, Philadelphia, and the Giants. They’d cross-over with the AFC West, hosting the Chiefs and Chargers, while traveling to Denver and Las Vegas to play the Broncos and Raiders. They’d play the entire NFC South and have variable matchups against teams in the NFC West and North, depending on common finishes in the division standings (based on Washington’s 2020 finish).

I think the NFC East creates great exposure for the Browns and probably means more prime time games than just the throwaway Thursday Night game with Cincinnati that the league and the networks shove down our throats every fall. Conversely, the AFC North is a step back for Washington in terms of notoriety, but definitely a new beginning. A natural rivalry with Baltimore would be fun, replacing the Eagles and Giants with the Steelers and Bengals seems like a wash, and seeing new geographic rivals like Buffalo and New England on a more regular basis would surely generate some buzz.

Outside of their new division, the Browns would re-gain some old rivals from the early days of the “original” Cleveland Browns. We make jokes about the Browns annual pre-season game with Detroit, and the fact that meaningless game has a trophy connected to it, but seeing the likes of the Lions, Packers, and Bears more often in games that count would enhance the Browns fan experience for me.

I wouldn’t miss Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Cincinnati games against the Browns, and I doubt there would be much of a tear shed from those other AFC North fan bases. I’m personally not a fan of change for the sake of change, but a subtle change with a purpose could have a big impact on the league.

None of this would ever happen, but it’s fun to imagine a different world than the one we live in, on occasion.

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