August 26, 2014

Great Expectations: Where is the Browns’ Bandwagon, and How Far Can It Go?

I will admit this up front: I am probably the person most guilty of falling for the best-case-scenario each and every year with the Browns. Every January, I curse and talk about how I’m not going to fall for it again in the fall. Then every April I talk myself into each and every draft pick, and any and all free agents the Browns bring in. And every July and August I read the reports from training camp and talk myself into 9 or 10 wins “if things break just right”. Heaven knows I always try to find something for those first few “Browns Will Win If…” columns before throwing in the towel and going for the jokes by week six.

Well, this year, I’m trying my best to fight all of  that. When the schedule came out, it looked tough largely from top to bottom. Yes, there was some momentum at the end of last season with four straight wins, but those four wins were against teams mostly going the same direction as the Browns. In my heart of hearts, I still can’t talk myself into a best-case-scenario higher than six or seven wins. But, there’s a wrinkle there for me, which I’ll get to in a minute.

I suspect most of our brethren in the national media feel much the same way about the Browns’ prospects this year. After all, taking shots at the Browns and Lions is almost as ritualistic as death and taxes. So, where is this team, really?

We so often hear about teams “needing to learn how to win”. I think there’s something to that, just a bit. And I wonder if the core of this team got some lessons in that over those last four games last season. Yes, they got some help from the schedule makers, but during that stretch they finally looked like they knew what the game plan of Eric Mangini and Company actually was (run the ball, run the ball, run the ball some more, play defense).  The KC game last year was a bit of an anomoly in that respect, but the Pittsburgh, Oakland, and Jacksonville games were all exhibitions in imposing that will on their opponents.

And so, here’s the wrinkle I talked about above: the first two games this year are against bottom-feeding Tampa Bay (road) and Kansas City (home). There is, in my humble estimation, an actual realistic chance the Browns could be sitting at 2-0 heading into a week 3 road game in Baltimore. I’m not here to say that winning two easier games to start the year is a catalyst to a playoff run; teams like Baltimore are still much better than Cleveland.

What I am saying, however, is that another almost universal truth each year in the NFL is that there are a few teams that under-achieve, and a few that over-achieve. So, when you look at the Browns’ schedule, it’s never a lock to predict which teams with Super Bowl expectations will live up to them, and which teams expected to be garbage will rise above, especially after a coaching or front-office overhaul. I’m not expecting the Browns to be fixed in one year by the new brain-trust, but…

Could the Browns be one of those over-achieving teams this year?

Again, I want to reiterate that I’m still saying it’s too early to tell. But, they have some systemic continuity on the field. They’ve made some solid (but not splashy/spectacular) moves in trades and FA. I think they drafted fairly well (though it’s always too early to tell in year one of a draft class). They finally have an organization in which all members seem to have clearly defined roles, and in which everyone seems to be pulling in the same direction for the first time in a long, LONG time.

So, factoring all of that in, when you look at those first two opponents, should the Browns come out of the gate at 2-0 I find myself wondering: how far could this bandwagon go, and how able will we be to temper our enthusiasm?

  • MrCleaveland

    If it wasn’t for false hope, what hope would we have? If it weren’t for unrealistic expectations, what expectations are there? I refuse to let go of my yearly wild optimism until reality beats it out of me. So I’m thinking 9-7 this year, maybe even 10-6. Here we go, Brownies, here we go!

    /will never learn

  • St. McDuck

    I foresee 7-8 wins this year, but no playoffs.
    However, I really like the front office now, which bodes well for the future. The best teams in any league always have a stable front office, which trickles down to the field.
    Win or lose, this coming season is just a stepping stone to better things.

  • Joseph

    I would giggle like a schoolgirl if I go to Baltimore and we’re 2-0 playing them. Would we win against Baltimore? Odds are probably not but it’d be great to see them with a winning record this year as opposed to most years!

    So far the only great memory I have to hold on to while watching Cleveland play in Baltimore is the awesome 33-30 win we had courtesy of Phil “Master of the Stanchion” Dawson. I still bring that up every year to Ravens fans.. sour memory for them.

  • TSR3000

    @3- I am thinking the same thing. I really am hoping we can somehow end up 2-0. After that, anything is possible.

  • Chris

    “but those four wins were against teams mostly going the same direction as the Browns.

    If the Browns beat them all, wouldn’t they by definition be heading in the opposite direction?

  • just_another_matt

    the comment “if things break just right” is maybe the most under-estimated concept in the NFL. The difference between a 6-10 team and a 10-6 team is generally a very, very fine line. Many times, it is a few timely/untimely turnovers, bad calls, freak injuries, etc. You’re absolutely correct to think that this team could be anywhere in that range. There is really no way to think this team is worse than last year….

  • swig

    how far could this bandwagon go
    Game 3?

    BUT I WILL HAPPILY DRINK THE KOOL-AID WITH EVERYONE!!

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  • bobby

    In the WWW section there was a post saying this is the most talented team since 1999. I believe that 100%. I do not think that translates to the best record we’ve had since that time, but I think we are moving in the right direction. If the D gives the browns an identity (one they havent had for 11 years) then I fully expect an 8-8 (or so) season. Playoffs? no. But they have the ship going in the right direction. Now, once we get a few wins under our belt I will be the first one on here saying:

    SUPERBOWL ALL THE WAY!!! AINT NO ONE GONNA BEAT THE BROWNIES!!

  • Tim

    I see 5-6 wins with a few bad turnovers, freak injuries, questionable calls, Vickers sweeps on 4th and 1 (jk I don’t think those will ever happen again), etc. costing them a couple games keeping them from a .500 or better record.

    /can’t help but be negative

  • Harv 21

    What is wrong with you people, predicting records before training camp opens, before we’ve even glimpsed a bunch of rookies and unknowns who will get lots of playing time.

    Ok, whatever, here goes. We start 1-1, then go into Baltimore with the Ravens having just had a big match-up with the Bengals, already looking ahead to their next huge game at Pittsburgh, and conditioned to giggle at the site of orange helmets.

    We beat the Ravens easily on this given Sunday. We go crazy, national media takes note, we talk about which games we need to have a wild card. Woof-woof. The next six games we get the snot beat out of us because we are, after all, rebuilding with young players. We perk up at the end. I say 6 -10, but the kind of 6 – 10 that makes us feel hopeful.

  • ben

    @7: I am right there with you, buddy!

    Generally, I think we may have finally reached the status of “average” team if the following 3 things happen:
    1) QB play is tollerable;
    2) Receiver play is tollerable;
    3) Secondary is no longer the worst in the league.

    On paper, all three of those areas have improved. If that’s the case, I don’t think a 7-win season is out of question. Heck, even the Bills made it to 6 last season, and I honestly believe they were a worse team than we were.

  • humboldt

    “I suspect most of our brethren in the national media feel much the same way about the Browns’ prospects this year. After all, taking shots at the Browns and Lions is almost as ritualistic as death and taxes”

    You know what the late Lou Brown would say about those in the national media: “Let’s give ‘em a nice big s–t burger to eat!”

  • doug1121

    Tough schedule and too many holes (WR, LB) for any kind of real hope at a winning record…however, I feel w/ a real, experienced management group in place the franchise may actually be able to extricate itself from the pit of endless despair it currently shares w/ the Lions. That alone would honestly be a huge step, and a necessary one.

    Wins and losses don’t matter to me as much as solid, competitive football each and every week as well as a dearth of off-field drama. I’m looking forward to see what this season brings.

  • Ike

    The Browns won 5 games last year and I personally believe the upgrade at QB (yes, that’s how bad our QBs were last year) is worth a game or two. I see 8-8 if the heavens open up on CB Stadium and everything goes right. But the over/under in Vegas is 5 or 5.5 and I take the over all day long.

    I know I’m a gulliable Browns fan, but I can’t shake the feeling that this team has 7-8 wins in it. Either way, we’ll all know a lot more in a month.

  • BomberDawg

    I’m just happy to see the beginnings of a TEAM that has some personalities, skilled players, and most of all appreciation that they’re members of the orange and brown and playing in one of the best football towns in the country (if not THE best). If we can keep the guys we’ve done a great job of getting, groom McCoy, and then add a few quality heads in the next 2-3 years….and then get them all to drink a heavy dose of the Holmgren kool-aid, I sincerely think we are gonna have a shot.

    F’ LeBron. Go Browns.

  • Daredent

    Season Ticket Holder For Life. Lets Go Browns!

  • Dave

    I’ll say this much: the Browns are being much much smarter about building their team than they have been historically. They’re also being led by a coach that isn’t named Romeo Crennel, which I think helps them considerably.

    They also started building where they needed to, namely with good linesmen. If you start with a great QB and have a lousy line, all you end up with is an injured great QB.

  • bobby

    @ doug- I dont think you can say there are holes in the LB core. Its deep. Its not great, there really arent standouts, but I think the LBs are much stronger then the DL looks (with Rogers and Smith out presumably for 2 games at least). Rubin is a good NT, so once Rogers and Smith are out of suspensions, maybe they will be better then the LBs. Still, this defense as a whole should be a top 10 D. (Yes, a dominant Demarcus Ware-like LB is still something we need, but I dont think that means theres a whole there either.)

  • http://www.60bpm.com/ Robbie

    1) Predictions on team strengths fail every year. KC or TB could end-up winning 10 games next year, and losing to them in weeks 1 and 2, in retrospect, won’t be that bad. Chances of this happening? Not great, but it happens.

    2) In 2007, “things [broke] just right”, well, sort of… but that’s definitely a part of it. A team staying healthy alone can make them a contender.

    3) Ultimately, I think the eternal optimism at the beginning of the NFL season is what makes the game so amazing. It’s like “MY baby is SO wierd” or “MY cat is SO wierd”. It’s not a Cleveland Browns fan thing. It’s an NFL fan thing. Personally, I embrace it…

    …until Charlie Frye is sacked 4 times after throwing an INT and a pooched punt puts you down 0-17 early in the 1st quarter!

    Go Browns!!!!! Super Bowl, baby!!!

  • http://www.nologoneeded.com Z_NoLogoNeeded

    @ Ike
    I completely agree. Don’t discount how much better we will be at quarterback this year. Delhomme is on the down side of his career, but he is going to be 100 times better than what we had last year and he will also provide some much needed leadership. I am always drinking the brown and orange kool-aid this time of year, but I think we have a good chance to go .500

  • paul talbott

    you can already see a plan in place for this year.something i havent seen since we came back.we have got rid of the team cancers and have added several good free agents and the draft doesn’t look bad either. the best thing i have seen was the addition of Gil Haskell to teach us some offense. how daboll ever kept his job is a mystery to me.we should have a great running game, good tight ends and a qb that can actually throw a short pass, two good fullbacks and year under the receivers belt.one of the better offensive lines in the league.that should be worth at least 3 more wins there.