This year, the Cleveland Browns were the NFL’s offseason darlings. Everyone fell in love with their story after a strong end to last season. Greatness was predicted for their young quarterback, Baker Mayfield.
The San Francisco 49ers know this.
Last year, the 49ers were the team everyone wanted to talk about. With young quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, acquired in a mid-season trade from the New England Patriots, San Francisco won five in a row to end the season. The NFL scheduled them for as many prime-time games as possible in 2018. The offseason hype machine turned Garoppolo into a mix of Joe Namath, John Elway and Superman. Then Garoppolo tore his ACL early in the season and the 49ers went 4-12.
After everyone focused on the Browns and forgot about the 49ers, San Francisco looks like the team we expected last season. The 49ers are 3-0 and face the Browns 2-2 on Monday night, a game that can be streamed live on the Yahoo Sports app.
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There’s still some skepticism about the 49ers, but that may start to change if they look good on the Monday night stage.
The 49ers are the last undefeated team in the NFC
It’s not like the 49ers have played their toughest slate yet. They beat the interception-prone Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1. In Week 2, they beat the Cincinnati Bengals 0-4. In Week 3, they drew Mason Rudolph making his first career start for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and needed a late touchdown to escape with a home win. The Steelers are 1-3 and their only win is against the Bengals.
So this 3-0 start comes with qualifying. It was another much-needed quick start for the 49ers and coach Kyle Shanahan, who was 10-22 in his first two seasons.
Garoppolo looks good, but not exactly great as he is coming back from ACL surgery. The 49ers handled the ball very well, ranking second in the NFL in rushing yards. The defense stepped forward and allowed the third-fewest yards per game in the NFL.
It’s only three games, but the 49ers find themselves in first place in the NFC West. This is the last undefeated team in the NFC. Questions or not, that’s a good start.
The Browns bounced back in Week 4
Like the 49ers last season, the Browns entered the season with high expectations and stumbled. They were eliminated at home by the Tennessee Titans to start the season. After a victory against a terrible New York Jets team, the Browns fell on a Sunday night against the Los Angeles Rams. Ahead of their third prime-time appearance in five weeks, the Browns got back on track with a 40-25 win over the Baltimore Ravens.
This week feels like a turning point in Cleveland’s season. Mayfield struggled for three weeks but bounced back in Week 4. Can he keep this momentum going? Are the Browns’ play-calling issues resolved? Can Cleveland continue to play as the AFC North favorite?
It’s an interesting test against the 3-0 49ers. San Francisco can legitimize their debut against a talented Browns team. The Browns’ slow start this season would be a distant memory if they went 3-2 after a road win against the NFC’s last undefeated team.
Whoever wins is likely to be in a familiar place, attracting lots of attention and hype.
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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Do you have any advice? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab
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