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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)

Tribe bandwagon getting crowded

It took 45 games and almost two months of the season, but the rest of the country has finally figured out what we’ve known here in Cleveland since early in April – the Indians are the dogs bollocks this year.

The Tribe is No. 1 in the latest ESPN.com power rankings, have held the top spot in Real Clear Sports’ ranking for the entire month, are getting love from sites as diverse as The Wall Street Journal and Gaming Today, and have even won over Boston Red Sox announcer Jerry Remy:

“They’ve been no flash in the pan,” Remy said of the Indians. “They’ve done everything. They’re pitching well, they’re hitting well, they’re playing good defense. They’re just playing great baseball right now, and they’ve gained some confidence in themselves where they figure they can win this division.”

We were listening to Mad Dog Radio on Sirius today and Larry Bowa, a studio analyst for the MLB Network, was on and said he’s taken a seat on the Tribe bandwagon.

Life is truly good for the Wahoo Warriors.

***

American Brad Friedel will be part of Fox’s coverage of the Champions League final on Saturday between Manchester United and Barcelona.

The Fox pregame show will include host Curt Menefee along with Friedel and Eric Wynalda. Martin Tyler and Alan Smith will handle the play-by-play of the match.

Friedel, who has spent the past few years with Randy Lerner’s Aston Villa squad, is rumored to be returning to Liverpool, where he played from 1997 to 2000, next season to backup Pepe Reina.

Character still counts

We woke up this morning to the news that Miami wide receiver Brandon Marshall was in the hospital after being stabbed – allegedly by his wife.

This is not the first time Marshall has been in the news for off-field shenanigans:

  • On March 1, 2009, Marshall and his wife, Michi Nogami-Marshall, were both arrested and booked on disorderly conduct charges after two officers saw them kicking and punching each other outside Marshall’s Atlanta condominium. Disorderly conduct charges were later dismissed.
  • The NFL suspended Marshall for three 2008 games under the league’s personal conduct policy, although no specific reason was given. He appealed, and the penalty was reduced to just one game.
  • In May 2009 he was profiled in ESPN’s Outside the Lines about the couple’s abusive relationships. The 911 tapes and police reports documented his checkered past.
  • He was arrested in November 2004 and charged with five misdemeanor counts of trespassing, resisting an officer without violence, refusal to obey an officer, disorderly conduct and assault on an officer. The charges were eventually dropped.
  • In April 2005, he was arrested again in Orange County on a misdemeanor charge of retail or farm theft, but was never prosecuted.
  • He made headlines in January 2007 when Broncos teammate and friend Darrent Williams was killed in a drive-by shooting by gang members in downtown Denver. The shooting took place after an altercation at a nightclub between the gang members and other patrons, including Marshall.

The latest problems for Marshall, who signed a $50 million contract with the Dolphins last year, making him the highest paid wide-receiver in NFL history, remind us that character still counts when teams are looking at players.

When the Broncos were looking to deal Marshall, there were some who wanted the Browns to trade for him. There was also a segment of the fan base that wanted the Browns to draft Dez Bryant last year and some who couldn’t understand why the Browns did not trade for Randy Moss when the Patriots grew tired of his act.

Of course, Bryant is currently busy defending himself against lawsuits claiming he failed to pay $246,000 for jewelry and Moss lasted all of four games before the Vikings released him.

While any of the three would have helped the Browns anemic passing attack, we’re glad they are not on the team. We bag on Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi from time to time because they’re not very good, but we’re confident we won’t wake up one day to a headline saying that they are in some off-field trouble.

It’s good, too, that the Browns are determined to shy away from troubled players.

“Those guys in the league that have had issues, those guys are going to be tough for us to mess around with,” general manager Tom Heckert has said in published reports.

So while it may not be true in other NFL cities, at least in Cleveland character still matters.

***

The bad Fausto Carmona showed up for the Indians on Saturday against Minnesota, giving up six runs, seven hits and four walks in just five innings of work as the Tribe fell, 10-3.

It was the first time this season the Twins scored more than five runs in a game (of course) as they entered the day with the lowest run totals in the majors.

But that didn’t matter as the Twins slapped around Carmona and then Chad Durbin (two innings of work, four runs, why is he still on the team?) to hand the Tribe its second consecutive loss.

But all is not lost as Carlos Carrasco will get the start on Sunday in an attempt to give the Indians a split of not only the series, but the six-game road trip. And that’s OK – when you are in first place all that matters is the teams behind you don’t make up ground.

The Tribe split with Kansas City and if they can earn a split with the Twins that’s six division games out of the way without letting the Royals and Twins gain anything.

And that’s not bad at all.

***

Maxi Rodriguez tallied a hat-trick, Dirk Kuyt and Joe Cole each added a goal, and Liverpool closed the gap on fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur with a 5-0 win on Saturday against Birmingham.

”Maxi is a very intelligent footballer. He’s not a direct replacement for Andy but he’s got more goals than him in that one performance,” Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish said in published reports. ”Maxi has not played for a few weeks and came on and did a fantastic job for us.

”Joe also got his reward because he has trained well and he came on and got a goal. It won’t do Joe or Maxi any harm and the joy the players got from Maxi scoring his hat-trick and Joe scoring his goal reflects how close a group they are and that is great for the club.

”They are all playing for each other and the players are going to play better if they are confident and if they are happy going to work they will get better results.”

While the Spurs do have a game in hand, only three points separate the two teams. And Tottenham Hotspur still have to face Chelsea (2nd in the table) and Manchester City (4th) before the next-to-last game of the season against Liverpool against Anfield on May 15.

If the Reds can keep it close until then – they face Newcastle United (9th in the table) and Fulham (13th) – the game with Spurs should be the dogs bollocks.

Packers truly are NFL royalty

Green Bay brought it home on Sunday in Super Bowl XLV, filling us with a sense of relief and making sure the jerks didn’t win this time.

Along the way to their NFL-record 13th title – more than doubling the take of the self-proclaimed model franchise from Pittsburgh – the Packers exposed the Steelers weaknesses and, for once, Pittsburgh wasn’t able to weasel its way out.

One of the best parts was listening to whiny Steeler fans today on Sirius NFL Radio. The best one may have been the hoople head who called in to say that, since the Steelers turned the ball over three times, the Packers should have put up at least 45 points. Since they didn’t, that means Green Bay really isn’t a very good team.

And Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy showed he’s the dogs bollocks by having the Packers measured for Super Bowl rings the night before the game. Somewhere, over a plate of nachos, Rex Ryan approved.

The Packers put to rest the lie that the Steelers are some kind of NFL royalty; the truth is they are just another franchise.

After winning four Super Bowls in the pre-free agency, steroid-fueled 1970s, the Steelers have picked up just two additional titles in the past 32 years. In that same time period, the 49ers have won five, the Cowboys, Redskins, Giants and Patriots three each, the Raiders, Broncos and Packers two each.

The Steelers are just another team, nothing more.

In fact, since the Browns grew tired in the late ’50s of monopolizing title game appearances, the Packers have won more titles – seven – in the past 50 years than any NFL team. If any team deserves to be treated as NFL royalty, it’s the Packers.

And there is good news for Browns fans in the win, as the Packers proved a West Coast offense can win a title (for those who still doubted). And while we’re not delusional enough to think Colt McCoy is anywhere near Aaron Rogers, it’s not like Jordy Nelson and James Jones – who combined for 14 of Rogers’ 24 completions – are exactly All Pros at the wide receiver position.

Now it’s up to Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert to give coach Pat Shurmur the pieces so the Browns can continue their seemingly never-ending rebuilding process.

***

We know we shouldn’t, but after Liverpool’s 1-0 win Sunday against Chelsea, we’re starting to believe in the magic of King Kenny.

***

Honestly, we don’t know what all the fuss is over Christina Aguilera have a minor slip while singing the national anthem.

To read some of the comments or listen to the hoople heads on talk radio, you’d think she had burned the flag at midfield.

Don’t we have more important things to worry about right now?

Browns vs. Saints – Week 7

The 1-5 Browns head to New Orleans trying to make it to the bye week without any more major injuries hitting the team.

The Opposition

New Orleans: 4-2
Offensive rank: 7th overall/4th passing/17th rushing
Defensive rank: 12th overall/12th passing/18th rushing
All-time record: Browns lead 11-4, with a 7-2 mark in New Orleans
The line: Browns +13

What to Watch For

Clearly how Colt McCoy does in his second game as quarterback. He’s had another full week of practice to work with the first team, study film, digest the playbook and try to build on some of the good things he did last week in Pittsburgh.

While Pittsburgh’s defense is more physical, New Orleans presents just as much of a challenge as they like to bring pressure on the quarterback in a variety of ways. If you were going to pick two teams for a rookie quarterback to learn from, the two that McCoy is facing would probably be at or near the top of the list.

How much the Browns can accomplish on offense may depend on how many healthy bodies they can assemble for the game. Mohamed Massaquoi is out and who knows what lingering effect Josh Cribbs will feel this week.

Peyton Hillis’ leg looked better last week, but you never know. If he aggravates the injury the running game falls to Mike Bell and James Davis, which is not an attractive prospect right now.

After putting right tackle Tony Pashos on IR this week, the Browns will also be without John St. Clair (is that a loss?) so the right side of the line could be Floyd Womack and right tackle and either rookie Shaun Lauvao or Billy Yates at right guard.

So, a rebuilt/inexperienced right side of the line in a dome? Sounds like fun.

Defensively, the Browns are going to have their hands full. Drew Brees is the dogs bollocks and wicked accurate. When the blitz comes – and you know it will – if the Browns can’t get to him he’s going to spread the ball around and really pick the team apart. There’s going to be a ton of pressure on the secondary – even more so than in the past few weeks – to hold up under the pressure and make some plays.

The injury bug is striking the defense as well with Robaire Smith going on IR this week, leaving an already thin defensive front hurting.

The Best Browns vs. New Orleans game I’ve Seen

For a team that the Browns have owned through the years, there really isn’t one game that stands out above the others. We’ll have to go with the 2002 game where Kevin Johnson’s two touchdowns – one receiving and one rushing – helped keep the Browns in playoff contention. Here’s The Plain Dealer’s story from that game. Can’t find any video this week.

The Prediction

This team really needs to get to the bye week to re-energize, re-group and get some of these lingering injuries to heal. The Browns have been competitive every week this season and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue today.

Look for the Browns to keep the game close into the second half but for the Saints to pull away. The Browns are just too inexperienced at key spots and too banged up at others this week to realistically expect them to pull out a win on the road against one of the best teams in the NFL.

We’ll take the Saints and the points.

Record on the year: 1-4-1

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.

This Isn’t the Big Ten

With Saturday’s cut down of NFL rosters to 53 players came the news that the Ravens finally cut ties with former Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith.

That news was predictably followed by the cries of the hoople heads who want the Browns to sign Smith.

The big question in that scenario is why would the Browns do something like that?

Smith was exposed in the 2007 National Championship game against Florida as not being an NFL-caliber quarterback. The Gators defense, loaded with NFL talent and speed, overwhelmed Smith and the Buckeyes that night.

Since then he’s done nothing in Baltimore to change that fact. He played in 14 games for the Ravens, starting two of them. In three years he completed only 53 percent of his passes in a league where the top quarterbacks best 60 percent, for three TDs and one interception.

The NFL is a quarterback starved league, with half of the teams barely able to find one decent quarterback. Derek Anderson has a starting job in Arizona. Todd Collins – who played at Michigan so long ago they may have been wearing leather helmets – earned a roster spot in Chicago. Dennis Dixon is going to be starting Week 1 for Pittsburgh.

The jobs are there if you can play; it seems obvious that is not the case with Smith. He’s really no different than Pat White, who was cut by the Dolphins.

The Browns need players who can compete on the NFL level. It doesn’t matter where they went to school, they just need players who can be the dogs bollocks on game days. Thankfully, Mike Holmgren, Tom Heckert and Eric Mangini realize this. They aren’t going to sign someone who can’t help the team on the field.

And for those who think that Smith just “needs a chance” to prove himself, ask yourself this question: If Smith had played at any other college than Ohio State, would you still think he’d be a good fit for the Browns?

If you’re being honest, then the answer is clearly no.

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