Lucky Seven

I’m sure readers of our blog get sick of postings about the Cleveland Browns.  I ask for forgiveness.  The Browns have been so wretched for so long that I just can’t help myself.  And when the Browns reach 7 wins, as they did today with a lucky victory over Atlanta on the road, I feel that I need to acknowledge the occasion.

The Browns’ success this year demonstrates the wisdom of the NFL statistical gurus who take a team’s record into account and try to design schedules that will result in every team ending up 8-8.  Teams that stank last year play considerably easier schedules than the tough teams that made the playoffs.  That’s the sole reason the Browns have reached 7 wins this year.  Still, hitting 7 wins feels good — if only because the Browns have been terrible and gotten the benefit of the cupcake schedule in past years and still laid egg after colossal egg.

I don’t think the Browns are one of the best teams in the NFL by a long shot, but their defense is improving and they have some weapons on offense with the return of Josh Gordon, the development of their two young running backs, and the fact that they finally have some reliable possession receivers.  If Jordan Cameron gets healthy, the Browns could pose a challenge to opposing defenses — if they had a quarterback who didn’t make stupid decisions.  Unfortunately, Brian Hoyer is regressing in that category, and his bonehead plays today produced three interceptions that almost gave the game away.

It was lucky for the Browns that they overcame three bad interceptions and won — but the main thing is they won.  They remain in the hunt for a playoff spot, and it’s the latest in the season that they’ve been in contention for a long, long time.  It feels good to write that.

How Bad Will The Browns Be?

NFL training camps are underway.  Up north, Cleveland Browns fans are flocking to watch the team go through drills.  The Browns are setting attendance records and don’t even have room to admit everyone who shows up to watch practices.

Is this because the Browns are expected to contend for the Super Bowl this year?  Hardly.  Most pundits expect that the Browns will be one of the worst teams in the league this season.  But the Browns’ faithful are just that — full of faith — and they are hoping that some high-profile draft picks turn the team around.

Last year the Browns were awful.  They finished 4-12 and lost every game they played against the other teams in the AFC North.  The Browns’ “three-and-out” offense was so putrid it was unwatchable.  Their running game was laughable, quarterback Colt McCoy had a dismal year, and the Browns probably had the NFL’s worst receiving corps. The defense was better than the offense (which truly is damning with faint praise) but still gave up lots of yards on the ground.  Neither the offense nor the defense had a true NFL-caliber playmaker — someone who would command the attention of opposing coaches and make them change their standard approach to the game.

This year, the Browns hope they got some offensive playmakers by using their high draft choices to select running back Trent Richardson, quarterback Brandon Weedon, and receiver Josh Gordon.  In the NFL, one or two true playmakers can take a moribund offense, energize the returning players, and turn it into a powerhouse.  If Richardson runs the ball effectively and add a few breakaways, and Weedon throws with more zip and accuracy than McCoy managed, the Browns could be significantly improved.  Whether there is enough improvement to convert an abysmal offense into one that is even decent remains to be seen.

Defensively, the Browns already are struggling with injuries to key players — Phil Taylor and Chris Gocong among them —  and it’s not clear that the Browns will be any better against the run this year than last.  The real hope for the defense is that the offense will move the ball, allow the defense to get off the field, score some points, and put some pressure on the opposing offense.  If that happens, the defense may be in position to force some turnovers.  The defense clearly won’t be one of the most feared units in the league, but it could keep the team in games with a bit of help from the offense.

I’m not expecting anything much from the Browns this year, but I don’t think they will be as bad as many experts are forecasting.  I’ll watch their games and hope for improvement, secure in the knowledge that things really couldn’t be much worse than last year.