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Mailbag: Will Kevin Stefanski rest starters in finale if AFC North title isn’t possible?

Q: If the Ravens win and the No. 1 seed isn’t in play for Week 18, will Kevin Stefanski sit some of the starters against the Bengals?

— @ideashift

A: Without a doubt.

A Ravens win over the Dolphis today would lock the Browns into the No. 5 seed as the top wild card. Without the chance to improve seeding, the Browns would surely rest some of their key players during the finale in Cincinnati. Stefanski was asked about this Friday and implied as much, while adding he wants to finish strong regardless.

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The Browns know better than anyone the injury risk accompanied with stepping on the field and would be right to take precautions. With only 53 players on the active roster, the Browns can’t rest every starter, so they’d have to pick and choose and may even ask the key ones if they want to play. But if the Bengals game is “meaningless,” I’d expect to see quarterback Joe Flacco, receivers Amari Cooper (heel) and Elijah Moore (concussion) — if they’re cleared — left guard Joel Bitonio, tight end David Njoku, cornerback Denzel Ward and potentially defensive end Myles Garrett spend the finale on the sideline. Running back Jerome Ford and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah could also join them.


Q:
Why is anyone giving credit to Stefanski for winning with 4 QBs? Can we not acknowledge that Flacco fell in our lap? Can we not acknowledge if we finished the season with Dorian Thompson-Robinson and P.J. Walker where we would be? Do you understand that if Flacco didn’t happen how bad it would be?

— @MrBrown358035

A: I’ll take these one at a time.

Because it’s hard to win with four quarterbacks — it’s only been done in the NFL eight times since 1950. It’s not Stefanski’s fault Deshaun Watson got hurt twice. And if you’re so down on Thompson-Robinson and Walker, shouldn’t Stefanski be recognized for winning with them?

Commentary: The Browns and their fans deserve Joe Flacco … and vice versa

There’s certainly an element of luck involved with Flacco being available in mid-November when Watson was lost for the season. But the Browns had other options and made the right decision by locking in on Flacco.

I agree the Browns wouldn’t have gone 4-1 the last five weeks if Thompson-Robinson and/or Walker had started rather than Flacco. But I believe the Browns would still be in playoff contention. The Browns were .500 in the six games in which Thompson-Robinson and Walker played the majority of the game, so I could see the Browns being 9-7 and in the hunt in your alternate universe.

I certainly agree there wouldn’t be talk of making a Super Bowl run if Flacco hadn’t shown up. But I don’t think the Browns would’ve been embarrassed with the other quarterbacks, and I’m not sure how any of this is Stefanski’s fault.


Q:
How deep can the playoff run be? I mean, for real. Happy New Year!

— @iolYloi

A: I’m more of a one-week-at-a-time guy but I’ll make an exception.

I can’t predict a Super Bowl given all the injuries to key players and the likelihood they’ll have to go on the road for the entire postseason. Having said that, I wouldn’t be stunned if the Browns made it to Las Vegas. How Flacco has transformed the offense isn’t a fluke, the defense has been dominant throughout the season and there’s something special about this team. With so much left to be determined over the next two weekends, I’m leaning toward two playoff wins and a tough loss in the AFC Championship Game. But I reserve the right to change my mind on a weekly basis.

And Happy New Year to you!


Q:
What’s the parade route?

— @dontmisskickoff

A: Down East Ninth Street toward the stadium, I presume.


Q:
How about updates on injuries to our kickers and Moore/Cooper?

— @Walosi24

A: Kicker Dustin Hopkins (left hamstring) hasn’t been officially ruled out for the finale but isn’t going to play. His status for the playoffs, at least the start of them, is also in serious doubt.

Punter Corey Bojorquez (left quadriceps) has a chance to play in the finale, so it seems reasonable to expect him to be ready for the playoffs.

Moore is in the concussion protocol after the scary incident Thursday night. Every concussion is different, so it’s impossible to predict a timeline for a return. Dr. Bennet Omalu, who was the inspiration for the movie “Concussion,” told TMZ Sports he’d recommend Moore retire, or at least be benched for “at least three months.”

Notes: Elijah Moore home and ‘doing better’ after spending night in hospital following concussion

“He was having a seizure,” Omalu said. “A seizure is a manifestation of brain damage, brain injury. That is permanent damage.”

As for Cooper, the short week got him as he tried to recover from the heel injury suffered early in his record-setting performance last week against the Texans. Stefanski said the rest before the finale should help him, and I’d expect him to play if the Browns are still alive in the AFC North race.


Q:
When viewing the games on television, I rarely see any interaction between Jim Schwartz and Kevin Stefanski. Is this by design? Do you know if they have a good working relationship? Do you think Coach Schwartz will be here next year? A trifecta!!

— @LeonardMullin10

A: Just as with the narrative that Stefanski doesn’t show emotion, we need to be careful about the conclusions we draw from limited views given to us by TV. I haven’t specifically noticed many interactions but also don’t spend a ton of time staring at the sideline. I think it’s safe to say Stefanski trusts Schwartz with the defense while knowing they communicate over the headset.

I have no reason to believe they don’t have a good working relationship. They’ve both been extremely positive toward each other in their public comments.

As for next season, I expect them to run it back. The only reason that would change is if Schwartz gets a head coaching job, but at this stage of his career and after health problems, he might be content to remain a coordinator.


Q:
How bad does Andrew Berry regret the Donovan Peoples-Jones trade now that Moore might be out for the season?

— @DeanSchleicher

A: I doubt Berry would admit any regret, and could point to Peoples-Jones’ lack of production to justify the trade, but Peoples-Jones is certainly an upgrade over David Bell off the bench. An argument can also be made he’s better than rookie Cedric Tillman.

Tillman has had good moments, displaying his size, strength and powerful hands. But he’s cost Flacco a couple of interceptions, and Flacco yelled at him Thursday after a fourth-down incompletion into the end zone.

Peoples-Jones was always reliable but has only 11 catches for 130 yards this season between the Browns and Lions.


Q:
Happy New Year, Scott! What should be some New Year’s Resolutions for this Browns team? If you want to include player resolutions, then feel free to go for it.

— @MrEd315

A: Let’s try to keep this streamlined.

Always remember to invest in a backup quarterback.

Extend the contracts of the coach and general manager who led two playoff trips in four years.

Do the fans a solid and don’t raise ticket prices.

Dustin Hopkins … don’t chase after kickoff returners.

Joe Flacco … keep flinging it.

Wyatt Teller … stop saying “yeah, no” to start every answer.

Myles Garrett … save money and stop criticizing the officials publicly.


Q:
Is there any chance DTR comes back if we make a playoff run?

— @diamondjbmm

A: I was told yes. He must miss four games on injured reserve, so that knocks him out for at least two playoff games. If the Browns make a run, we’ll see if he’s got a chance to return.


Q:
Since 1999, there have been only five other seasons where a Browns QB threw for 300 yards in three games: Derek Anderson in 2007, Brandon Weeden in 2012, Josh McCown in 2015 and Baker Mayfield in 2018, 2019. McCown’s was the only instance of doing this in three consecutive games, so Flacco has already exceeded that with No. 4 vs. the Jets.

— Howard E. Katz

A: I appreciate the knowledge.

Q: So many Browns have been injured that there is no position-appropriate uniform number for new QB Jeff Driskel to assume. Every digit 0-19 is taken. The numerals assigned to our new kickers drew attention to the matter.

— Mark Leonard

A: Again, not a question, but certainly interesting.

I was going to say No. 14 is available but remembered it’s retired for fellow Northwestern alum Otto Graham.

The Browns didn’t announce a number for Driskel in the news release of his signing and the team’s website has a blank. My guess is he’ll take a number from someone on an injured list — Jakeem Grant Sr.’s No. 9 or Michael Woods II’s No. 12. Practice squad receiver Jaelon Darden has No. 16, so that’s another option, because Darden could take a number in the 80s.

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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