There is a big difference between expectations and predictions. I’ve been very consistent with my Browns expectations since last season ended, and I’m not willing to change them now.
Based on the roster that was in place and the opportunities that this front office has had with their first off-season, I believe it’s reasonable to expect this Browns team to win eight games this season. Eight wins seems like an outside possibility, and I hope I’m wrong, but that wouldn’t be my prediction right now. Regardless, that will be my baseline for criticism this season. I want to see if the Browns look and feel like an eight-win team. I want to see if the Browns seem like they’re on an upward trajectory. I want to see how this team competes and carries itself as they either hit, surpass or fall short of my eight win expectations.
I’m taking a realistic approach to what I think a reasonable NFL fan can expect from a team at the Browns’ current development level. As Browns teams go, this one has been on a path since Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert arrived. They were old and bad when Heckert arrived. Then they were young and bad for a while, but many Browns fans and media members have assumed that they were even worse than they should have been due to coaching. Now, with a new front office and coaching staff in place and another year of experience on a roster that didn’t need a complete overhaul, this Browns team is still young, but they should be markedly better.
Again, I’m not predicting eight wins. There are too many questions that the Browns need to answer. Will Buster Skrine be a capable second corner? If he’s not, the front office will have a lot of explaining to do. Will Brandon Weeden make progress? If not, is it coaching? Should the front office have seen the writing on the wall? Will Trent Richardson make progress and also remain healthy? If not, were his backups capable and ready? My point is that we all knew and know the questions — including Rob Chudzinski, Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi — and the job of the team is to take the inherited team and improve them by answering those questions. If they did so successfully, it could be an eight win season.
Of course, we still have to watch the team and judge with our own eyes. If the Browns don’t win eight games it doesn’t necessarily mean that Banner, Lombardi and Chudzinski have failed. There are always going to be things that happen like injuries that make the task of meeting expectations impossible. There’s a chance that this team could win five games again and still pass muster with our eyes. I talked about this a couple weeks ago when comparing Brandon Weeden with Andrew Luck. If you just look at stats from their rookie seasons, you might be able to find a way to convince yourself that Brandon Weeden and Andrew Luck aren’t all that different. Anyone who actually watched both of them play knows this is false.
That’s why eight wins is not the only way for 2013 to be a successful season for the Browns. If for whatever reason Brian Hoyer has to play quarterback for a large portion of the season, it’s probably unreasonable to crush a front office for not being able to win with their third string quarterback. Then again if Brian Hoyer is playing and the defense is playing a good amount of dominant football and they’re still losing close games, that does mean something more than just a big fat L on the schedule.
So, we’ll see. I know I’ve written a lot of these types of things before, but as we head into another Browns season wondering what this team can be, it’s important to reset the baseline for criticism. I expect a season of competent football with moments that should make us think we’re watching a playoff team and other moments that show us how far they have to go.
More specifically, these are things I’m expecting. It’s time for the Browns to start winning a bit more in the division and beat the more marginal teams on their schedule in more decisive fashion. It’s time for the Browns to avoid starting the season with five game losing streaks. It’s time for the Browns to give the fans more satisfying victories than, say, 7-6 over the Chargers at home. It’s time to have a team that doesn’t cause us to look at the draft in search of a savior, but rather as an off-season event to improve depth and reliability.
I think it’s possible. I think it’s reasonable. It is what I expect out of this year’s Browns.
(Image via Candice Vlcek/WFNY)