This year, the Cleveland Browns were the NFL’s offseason darlings. Everyone fell in love with their story after a strong finish to last season. Greatness was predicted for their young quarterback, Baker Mayfield.
The San Francisco 49ers know all about that.
Last year, the 49ers were the team everyone wanted to talk about. With young quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, acquired in a midseason trade with 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 it could 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 shifted focus to the Browns and forgot about the 49ers, San Francisco has looked like the team we expected last season. The 49ers are 3-0 and face the 2-2 Browns on Monday night, a game that can be live-streamed on the Yahoo Sports app.
There is still some skepticism about the 49ers, but that can start to turn around if they look good on the Monday night stage.
49ers are NFC’s last undefeated team
It’s not like the 49ers have played the toughest slate yet. They beat interception-prone Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1. In Week 2 they blasted the 0-4 Cincinnati Bengals. 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 over the Bengals.
So this 3-0 start comes with qualifiers. It was still a much-needed fast start for the 49ers and coach Kyle Shanahan, who was 10-22 in his first two seasons.
Garoppolo has looked fine, though not exactly great as he comes back from ACL surgery. The 49ers have run the ball very well, ranking second in the NFL in rushing yards. The defense has taken steps froward and has allowed the third-fewest yards per game in the NFL.
It’s just three games, but the 49ers find themselves in first place in the NFC West. They’re the last undefeated team in the NFC. Questions or not, that’s a fine start.
Browns bounced back in Week 4
Like the 49ers last season, the Browns came into the season with great expectations and stumbled out of the gate. They were blown out at home by the Tennessee Titans to start the season. After a win against a terrible New York Jets team, the Browns fell on a Sunday night against the Los Angeles Rams. Before their third prime-time appearance in five weeks, the Browns got back on track with a 40-25 victory 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 that going? Are the Browns’ play-calling issues ironed out? Can Cleveland continue to play like the favorite in the AFC North?
It’s an interesting test against the 3-0 49ers. San Francisco can legitimize its start against a talented Browns team. The Browns’ slow start this season would be a distant memory if they’re 3-2 coming off a road win against the NFC’s last undefeated team.
Whoever wins is likely to be in a familiar place, getting plenty of attention and hype.
– – – – – – –
More from Yahoo Sports: