When the 1-13 Jets play the Browns on Sunday in their home finale, they should look across the field at their opponent and see hope for themselves.
The Browns were 0-16 in 2017. Yet they enter Sunday’s game with a 10-4 record, are a virtual guarantee to make the playoffs and still have an outside chance to win the AFC North.
That’s a lot of progress in a little time for a Cleveland franchise that — much like the perception the Jets are tagged with (10 years removed from their last playoff appearance) — was considered a black hole.
Is there a Jets fan on the planet who wouldn’t sign up for being in the position the Browns are currently in two seasons from now?
“That says a couple things,’’ former Jets general manager and current ESPN analyst Mike Tannenbaum told The Post this week when asked about the resurgent Browns. “One is that maybe they were a little bit closer than people perceived. Some of those games the Browns were in [in 2017] were one-possession games, so close.
“And now, they’ve made a couple good decisions and the quarterback [Baker Mayfield] got better. They brought [head coach Kevin] Stefanski in, [offensive line coach] Bill Callahan in and have a better offensive line. A combination of all those things and you can turn things around quickly, because our sport is built inherently for teams to be in the middle, 8-8.’’
The Jets, 9-point underdogs to beat the Browns, are two more losses from finishing 1-15 for the second time in their history, and the rebuild appears daunting with a new coaching staff needed, uncertainty at quarterback and a roster that’s simply not good enough.
Tannenbaum, though, does not believe the Jets are light years away.
“If you just start with the last two months — they played the Patriots at MetLife very close, that game was a really competitive, a one-score game to the end,’’ Tannenbaum said. “Look at the Raiders game [a 31-28 loss in the final seconds]. Obviously, they had a reasonably good chance to win that game. And, they just beat a good Rams team on the road.
“So, the cupboard is not bare by any stretch.’’
Nor was that of the Browns, who have flourished under the leadership of Stefanski, a head coach who seems to have pushed all the right buttons.
Stefanski was in Minnesota running the Vikings offense while the Browns were toiling at 0-16.
Asked how daunting a task rebuilding from 0-16 appeared, Stefanski, in his first year in Cleveland having inherited a team that went 6-10 last year, said, “It’s hard for me to go there because I wasn’t here then. But I can tell you everything we’ve done since I got here, and all that was taking it one day at a time and building this thing meticulously in terms of scheme and personnel.
“Then with Andrew Berry coming aboard and taking the reins [as general manager], what he’s done is bring in the right people,’’ Stefanski continued. “We brought in good football players and we brought in good people, hired a coaching staff I felt really strongly about.’’
Stefanski, too, has proven to be the right person for the job. Interestingly, he was considered an “offensive’’ head coach, much the way Adam Gase was when he was hired by the Jets before last season.
The difference, though, Stefanski has stamped himself as the CEO of the entire team, not just the offense — unlike Gase, who hasn’t had a lot to do with the Jets defense.
“I just tried to be myself,’’ Stefanski said. “But I’m the head coach of the team, so I think the players understand I’m not the offensive head coach, I’m the head coach. I also feel strongly about the coaching staff we put together here.
“Andrew put a plan together in the offseason and identified guys that he wanted to go after via trade, free agency, the draft. He addressed a bunch of areas we thought were important. I know everyone looks to the offensive line, and that’s fair to do. We went out and got a guy in free agency [Jack Conklin], drafted one [Jedrick Wills] and brought in coach Callahan, who I think is the best in the business.’’
Gase, who’s tried to build two programs with little success with the Dolphins and Jets, admired the Browns’ build from afar. Of course, on Sunday he’ll get an up-close look.
“They’ve done a good job as far as building that thing from front on back and got the right kind of guys up front, whether it’s the O-line or D-line,’’ Gase said. “They obviously have an elite pass rusher [Myles Garrett], and they’ve got an O-line that’s doing a really good job creating holes and creating a really good running game [led by Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt].
“They’ve surrounded the quarterback with a lot of skill players that help him keep excelling and getting better and better. Coming into this year, a lot of people were wondering how well [Mayfield] was going to play. He’s played really well this year and they’ve won a lot of games.’’
If you’re thinking this is exactly what’s been missing with the Gase Jets — strong offensive line and skill players surrounding quarterback Sam Darnold — you’re not alone.
Asked if he sees the job the Browns have done rebuilding themselves into a contender in such a short period of time as a sign of hope for a franchise like the Jets, Stefanski said, “It’s really hard for me to go there. We keep our blinders on and focus on what we’ve got in front of us.’’
What Stefanski did comment on was what his team has in front of it Sunday, and he seemed to echo Tannenbaum’s cupboard-not-bare sentiment with regard to the Jets.
The Browns first-year coach stood before his team Wednesday morning and told them, “Just put on the tape’’ of the Jets’ win over the Rams last week.
“I know they won the game last week; you can see the result,’’ he said. “But I also wanted them to look at how they won. That was a physical group out there, taking the ball away, attacking blocks, running the ball, getting explosive. I think the tape was jumping out at the guys.’’
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