Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Delving into the Browns Season

Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium, the Browns open the Pat Shurmur era as they take on Cincinnati in the home opener.

A new quarterback, a new offense, the return of the 4-3 defense, improvement in some areas, holes that remain in others, as Browns fans we all know the drill by now.

In addition to the six division games, this year’s schedule once again features old friends in new places, as the Browns take on:

  • Miami, featuring Brian Daboll’s analog, three channels (plus one UHF channel) offense at home on Sept. 25
  • Former first-round draft pick Kameron Wimbley in Oakland on Oct. 16
  • Former first-round draft pick Braylon Edwards in San Francisco on Oct. 30
  • Former Pro Bowl-caliber fullback Lawrence Vickers in Houston on Nov. 6
  • St. Louis, where Shurmur was offensive coordinator the past two years, at home on Nov. 13

Unfortunately, the Browns visit to Arizona won’t offer the opportunity for the defense to abuse former quarterback Derek Anderson, as DA was asked to leave the desert after last season and is now “mentoring” Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen in Carolina.

The over/under for the Browns victory total this year is 6.5, which shows why the oddsmakers in Las Vegas are the dogs bollocks. It’s easy to talk yourself into both sides of the over/under which looking at the 2011 Browns.

So how will everyone’s favorite team do? We know from past experience the Browns will win a game or two that no one expects them to win (see New England and New Orleans from last year) and lose a game or two that we expect them to win (see Cincinnati and Buffalo from last year).

Let’s break down the schedule into three parts.

Teams the Browns are as good as:

  • Miami
  • Oakland
  • Seattle
  • San Francisco
  • St. Louis
  • Jacksonville
  • Arizona
  • Tennessee

This list is longer than last year and presents nice match-ups for the Browns. Only two of the teams (Miami and San Francisco) were in the Top 10 last year in rush defense, so the Browns should be able to move the ball on the ground against Oakland (29th), Seattle (21st), St. Louis (17th), Jacksonville (22nd), Arizona (30th) and Tennessee (20th).

Plus if you look at the quarterback match-up, the Browns are better than San Francisco, Jacksonville, Seattle and Miami at the position; no worse than Arizona, Oakland and Tennessee; and only St. Louis could make a case for being better with Sam Bradford under center.

None of these teams are offensive powerhouses, either, which means the defense shouldn’t be taxed, forcing the Browns into a shootout.

Can the Browns go 8-0 against this group if they play smart, mistake-free football? Sure. Is that in any way realistic? Nope. But let’s say the Browns will go 4-4 against this group.

Teams that are better than the Browns:

  • Indianapolis
  • Houston

Even with Peyton Manning missing the next few months after undergoing his third operation on his neck, it’s hard to see the Browns beating the Colts on the road. As for Houston, the Texans offense may be too much for the Browns to keep up with.

We’re going to call this group 0-2 for the Browns.

Teams in the AFC North:

Once again, the games within the division are going to be the difference makers for the Browns.

Since the NFL split into four-team divisions in 2002, the Browns have gone 14-40 in the division. That includes matching 1-5 records in each of the past three seasons.

With Pittsburgh and Baltimore still in the division it’s going to be hard for the Browns to make any headway on improving that mark, but they simply have to start getting it done. The Bengals proved two years ago that a mediocre team (4-6 outside the division) can have success by taking care of business within the AFC North (the Bengals were 6-0 that year to emerge as one of the weakest division winners in recent history).

As good as the Steelers and Ravens are expected to be this year, should it really be too much to ask that the Browns win one of the four games they play against those team’s this year?

As for the Bengals, they may be one of the worst teams in the NFL this year with a rookie quarterback (Andy Dalton) throwing to a rookie wide receiver (A.J. Green) that Joe Haden shut down in college. If the Browns can’t take at least one of the two games from the Bengals this year (why not get it out of the way on Sunday?) then we’ll know things went really wrong this year.

Let’s try to stay optimistic and give the Browns a 3-3 record (sweep the Bengals, win one against either Baltimore or Pittsburgh) within the division this year.

Add it all up, and the Browns finish with seven wins, covering the over bet on the season total. We said six wins last year (with an over/under of 5.5) and just missed out; no way that happens two years in a row.

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

(Photo by The Plain Dealer)

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