New England, riding a 12 game winning streak that extended over to the previous season, was at the end of a fast closing championship window. Cleveland, a 2-4 squad with a young but talented core, was still looking to climb out of the depths of an 0-16 season in 2017.
Fast forward two seasons and you see a pair of rosters that have been rebuilt to best utilize their existing talent; and find themselves in a similar spot. Both teams sit at 5-4 and are hopeful contenders for a playoff spot. Let’s take a look at those who have been along for the ride.
The following 20 players from the last meeting with Cleveland are still on the Patriots’ active roster:
IOL Ted Karras, DL Lawrence Guy, LB Jamie Collins, LB Kyle Van Noy, LB Dont’a Hightower, S Devin McCourty, P Jake Bailey, WR Jakobi Meyers, ST Matthew Slater, CB J.C. Jackson, ST Justin Bethel, RB Brandon Bolden, LS Joe Cardona, LB Ja’Whaun Bentley, WR Gunner Olszewski, DL Deatrich Wise Jr., QB Jarrett Stidham, CB Joejuan Williams, RB Damien Harris, IOL Shaq Mason
Offense: Ted Karras is the lone returning offensive starter from New England’s last matchup with Cleveland. Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, Sony Michel, Marshall Newhouse, Marcus Cannon, and Joe Thuney have all since moved on. Some former reserve players like Jakobi Meyers and Damien Harris have gone on to become starters. Shaq Mason was inactive in the last matchup with an ankle injury.
Defense: New England’s last matchup with Cleveland was the height of the “Boogeymen” era for the Patriots. Funny enough, they’ve all since left the active roster only to return and occupy the second level of New England’s defense. Other returning starters include Lawrence Guy and Devin McCourty, who have been joined by a number of talented players like Matt Judon, J.C. Jackson, Christian Barmore, Kyle Dugger, and Adrian Phillips.
Special Teams: Joe Cardona, Jake Bailey, Matthew Slater, and Justin Bethel will all return to New England’s specialist group from 2019’s game against the Browns. Joining them will be Nick Folk, who replaced Mike Nugent just three days after the last meeting between these two teams.
Coaching staff: Despite Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Steve Belichick, Ivan Fears, Nick Caley, and Jerod Mayo are still kicking from the 2019 coaching staff, but other than them, things look different.
Carmen Bricillo has taken over for legendary offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. Demarcus Covington has replaced current University of Illinois head coach Bret Bielema as defensive line coach. Mick Lombardi is now the full time wide receivers coach, and current New York Giants head coach Joe Judge was replaced by Cameron Achord as special teams coach.
The following 15 players from the last meeting are still on the Browns’ active roster:
P Jamie Gillan, RB D’Ernest Johnson, LB Sione Takitaki, CB Greedy Williams, LB Mack Wilson, QB Baker Mayfield, IOL Wyatt Teller, CB Denzel Ward, DL Myles Garrett, WR Rashard Higgins, LS Charlie Hughlett, IOL Joel Bitonio, WR Jarvis Landry, IOL JC Tretter, RB Nick Chubb
Offense: Baker Mayfield will return to the helm, quarterbacking a talented Browns offense. Nick Chubb, Jarvis Landry, Joel Bitonio, and JC Tretter will all return beside him to make up a formidable group. Wyatt Teller and David Njoku are former backups that will play a much larger role while Austin Hooper has since been added to be Mayfield’s go-to red zone target.
Defense: Myles Garrett is back. That’s all that really matters.
Cleveland has added to their one man wrecking crew with the likes of John Johnson, Jadeveon Clowney, Greg Newsome, and Ronnie Harrison over the past two seasons. #1 cornerback Denzel Ward and starting linebacker Mack Hollins will also return alongside Garrett.
Special Teams: After a few decades of looking for a competent kicker, Cleveland seems to have found one in Chase McLaughlin. He will replace Austin Seibert and play alongside the returning Jamie Gillan and Charlie Hughlett.
Coaching staff: Another week, another team with an entirely new coaching staff from the last time they saw New England. This time it’s the Cleveland Browns, who have made swapping out coaching staffs a habit. The spark notes version is as follows: Kevin Stefanski replaced Freddie Kitchens as head coach. Alex Van Pelt replaced Todd Monkey as offensive coordinator. Bill Callahan replaced Steve Wilks as defensive coordinator. Former Patriots wide receiver coach Chad O’Shea is also a Brown now, serving as their passing game coordinator.