Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Breaking Down the Browns Season

Sunday in Tampa, the Browns open up what is sure to be an interesting 2010 NFL season.

The team has improved in some key areas, but unfortunately some holes remain unfilled. After all, there is only so much you can do in one off-season.

In addition to the usual divisional games, this year’s schedule features a potentially brutal stretch starting in Week 3 with Baltimore and ending Week 10 vs. the Jets. It also has some interesting subplots:

  • Jake Delhomme taking on his former team, Carolina, plus facing former division opponents New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Atlanta.
  • Coach Eric Mangini facing two of his former teams in the Jets and New England.
  • Familiar faces in new places, including Braylon Edwards (Jets), Kellen Winslow and Sean Jones (Tampa Bay) and Romeo Crennel (Kansas City).
  • The Browns getting the Steelers in Pittsburgh for Ben Roethlisberger’s first game back from suspension.

The over/under for the Browns victory total this season is 5.5, which shows why the Las Vegas oddsmakers are the dogs bollocks. That’s the perfect number for this team, and you can easily talk yourself into both sides of the over/under.

So how will the team do? Let’s take a look by breaking the schedule down into three parts.

Teams the Browns are as good as:

  • Tampa Bay
  • Carolina
  • Buffalo
  • Kansas City
  • Jacksonville

The Browns should be able to run the ball against all five, as they were all in the bottom half of the league in run defense last season, with Tampa Bay ranking last, KC (31st), Buffalo (30th), Carolina (22nd) and Jacksonville (19th). That’s a good sign for a Browns team that needs to run the ball effectively this year to have a chance to win.

Can the Browns go 5-0 against this group if they play smart, mistake-free football? Of course. Is that at all probable? No. But let’s say they go 3-2 against this group.

Teams that are better than the Browns:

  • New Orleans
  • Atlanta
  • New England
  • NY Jets
  • Miami

It’s hard to see the Browns having much success against this group. New Orleans and New England are clearly better, Atlanta’s offense may be too strong, and the Jets (first) and Miami (fourth) were two of the best rushing teams last season. Not a good sign when you were the 28th ranked rushing defense last year.

But teams can always win one game that they are not expected to win, so let’s give the Browns a 1-4 record against this group.

Teams in the AFC North:

This is where the Browns will make or break their season. Since the NFL split into four-team divisions in 2002, the Browns have gone 13-35 in the division. That includes matching 1-5 records each of the past two seasons.

The Bengals showed last year that you can be a mediocre team (4-6 outside the division) but if you take care of business inside the division (6-0) you can have a winning season. The Browns simply have to play better in the division if they are going to become a team to be taken seriously.

This year may be the perfect opportunity to do just that:

  • Many are picking the Ravens to be some kind of powerhouse this year and we’ll know early on if that’s true, as they face the Jets, Bengals, Pittsburgh and New England in the first six weeks of the season.
  • The Bengals haven’t had consecutive winning seasons in 28 years, and after last year’s fluke division title, there’s not much reason to believe they will break that streak this year.
  • Pittsburgh has an aging defense and will have Dennis Dixon or Charlie Batch at starting quarterback for the first four weeks while Roethlisberger serves his suspension. We’re constantly told that quarterback is the most important position on the field, so why wouldn’t losing your starting quarterback be a problem for the Steelers? And it’s not too hard to imagine Roethlisberger being rusty for his return against the Browns.

The opportunity is there for the Browns to at least split with two of their division opponents this year, giving them a 2-4 record – at worst – in the division.

Add it all up, and the Browns finish with a minimum of six wins, covering the over bet on their season total.

The first step in the journey starts Sunday in Tampa. The Brown and Orange are almost back. Whatever happens this year, you can be sure it won’t be dull.

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