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In Cleveland, hope dies last

Archive for the category “Sports Illustrated”

More Pondering on Preseason Predictions

As we near the start of the 2010 NFL season, the national media is starting to roll out predictions, with two of the biggest, Sports Illustrated and ESPN, predictably picking the Browns to finish last again in the AFC North.

It’s probably not an unreasonable prediction, and it’s certainly a safe one as the Browns have pretty much owned the division’s basement since returning in 1999. Plus, Las Vegas has put the over/under on Browns wins at 5.5 this season, which is just enticing enough that you could talk yourself into going either way on that one.

Sports Illustrated takes a pretty straight-forward approach with the Browns, highlighting the offensive line as the team’s strength:

It probably takes all of one finger to count the positions on the Cleveland depth chart that inspire true envy around the league: That would be offensive line. After years of floundering around in free agency and in the draft, wasting dollars and picks, the Browns have built a pretty good wall up front on offense, which is led by All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas. Entering his fourth NFL season, Thomas is close to becoming the standard by which offensive left tackles are measured these days.

But the Browns also have a talented young center in Alex Mack and a valuable veteran left guard in Eric Steinbach, putting them light years ahead of some of the lines Cleveland has run out there since returning to the league in 1999. While the Browns quarterbacking was truly horrendous last season, the team’s rushing game really kicked into high gear in the season’s final month, running for 900 yards during the course of Cleveland’s season-ending four-game winning streak. Running back Jerome Harrison’s heroics notwithstanding, the Browns offensive line paved the way for that eye-popping production.

It’s nice that SI at least acknowledges the improvement in the passing game:

(Jake) Delhomme has looked sharp this preseason, but it’s hard to forget he did throw 18 interceptions in his 11 games in Carolina last season, and that’s one more than (Brady) Quinn and (Derek) Anderson combined for all year. Mere competency will go a long way in Cleveland, and if Delhomme can afford to rely upon the Browns strong running game and not put his defense into a hole, progress will inevitably be made through the air.

SI takes the bait and predicts a 6-10 finish for the Browns.

ESPN has pretty much the same conclusion, but they brought up one important point:

Cleveland was the only AFC North team all three entities agreed on. From everything I’ve seen, the Browns are too short on talent to be a contender. I think the Browns are scrappy and have potential to play smart football, especially if Jake Delhomme has a bounce-back season at quarterback. But I’d be surprised if Cleveland wins more than a game or two in the AFC North this season. If you can’t win in the division, you probably won’t have a successful season.

The Bengals proved last year that you can be a mediocre team (4-6 outside the division) and still make the playoffs if you can play well inside your division (6-0 last year).

Playing within the division has absolutely killed the Browns over the years. Since 2002, the team is 13-35 vs. Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati, and has never been better than 3-3 in the division.

Until the Browns can reverse that trend, it’s going to be hard to see them accomplishing much on the field, no matter how much they seem to be improved.

Why So Angry?

We were was listening to Chris Russo’s Sirius radio show this afternoon and he went off on a rant about a subject – the upcoming World Cup – that hit all the usual cliches and was filled with ignorant statements.

The thing we don’t get is, why? Why is soccer, and the possibility that someone might actually want to watch a match and enjoy it, so threatening to so many people, primarily members of old media?

We first noticed this in the run up to the 2006 World Cup. We stumbled across Greg Brinda on WKNR – this was pre-satellite radio – and he was on a tirade about how he “wasn’t going to watch the World Cup just because it’s on TV. No one cares about it.”

As with most of the things that came out of his mouth during his radio career, Brinda was wrong. TV ratings in the U.S. for the tournament were strong, with the final being watched by 16.9 million viewers – which was more people than watched that year’s NBA Finals and on par with the World Series and the NCAA men’s basketball championship.

We kind of understand Brinda’s fear of the World Cup as he is trapped in a 1950s view of America, where baseball and horse racing are the dominant sports in the country and kids gather on sandlots to play pick-up baseball games. There’s not room in his tiny world for anything else.

Fast forward to today. We’re once again on the eve of the World Cup and Russo decided to unload his insecurities about the tournament. He hit all the usual, tired points:

The games are boring because there is little or no scoring.

But somehow, we’re supposed to be orgasmic over a 1-0 baseball game where one team only gets three men on base and none of them ever advance past second base? May want to rethink that one.

The team that scores first almost always wins.

That’s one we don’t understand. Sure, scoring can be at a premium, but that assumes that a team trailing doesn’t generate any scoring opportunities.

There are never any “bottom of the 9th” comebacks or “late drives” to win a game.

If you say so. But you are so, so wrong.

Too many teams make the knockout stage of the World Cup – 16 out of 32.

In the NHL and the NBA, 16 out of 30 teams make the playoffs and I don’t hear anyone complaining.

The final game is decided by penalty shots and that’s not fair.

You mean like an NFL playoff game being decided in overtime when only one team gets the ball?

Americans don’t watch the tournament. ESPN can hype it all they want.

We’ve already blown that myth out of the water, but here are two additional points on that nonsense:

Sports Illustrated‘s Grant Wahl was on the phone and he rightly pointed out that Russo should expand his definition of “Americans.” With the number of Spanish-speaking Americans on the rise, Americans do watch. Maybe not in Russo’s WASPy Greenwich, Conn., neighborhood, but in plenty of other places.

The second point is the nonsense of the argument “just because it’s on TV I don’t have to watch it.” Well no kidding. That’s true of any sport and there are far more sports we don’t watch and have no interest in than we do. Such as:

  • Golf
  • Tennis
  • Bowling
  • NHL
  • MSL
  • Auto racing

But do we care if anyone watches those sports? Of course not. Why would we or anyone else? But for some reason, soccer threatens the old school media in this country.

Look, if you don’t want to watch it’s not a big deal. We can’t get too preachy because we’ve only been a fan since the 2006 World Cup. With all the hype surrounding the U.S. team that year we decided to give the tournament a shot. The U.S.-Italy game was the first time we’ve ever watched a match in its entirety and we were hooked. Now, four years later, we can’t wait for the tournament to start. It sure beats watching the Indians lose again.

But if you’ve never been a fan, why not give it a shot? You never know what you might see.

The Curious Case of Dez Bryant

With the NFL draft only 10 days away and the Browns holding the seventh selection in the first round with numerous holes to fill on defense, the brain trust is poised to select a defensive player – such as Eric Berry, Joe Haden or Earl Thomas.

Or are they?

The speculation wheel has now landed on the Browns taking Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant in the first round. Of course, this being Cleveland and the Browns, it’s never that simple. Bryant’s suspension last season for lying to the NCAA about a meeting he had with Deion Sanders has raised concerns among some about the dreaded “character issues.”

After the purging last year of Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow and, eventually, Jamal Lewis, it would seem unlikely that the Browns would be interested in taking a chance on Bryant.

Sports Illustrated‘s Peter King had this to say in his Monday Morning Quarterback column: “I think, for those Browns fans who yearn for a franchise receiver and ask, ‘Why don’t we trade down a bit in the round and get Dez Bryant?” here’s your answer: Eric Mangini’s spent a lot of energy trying to get his locker room right, and though Bryant appears to be on the right track and could well be a terrific NFL citizen for the next 10 years, they don’t sell insurance for this kind of thing, and the Browns would rather take guys without question marks on their resumes.”

Sounds plausible, although King does come up with this nightmare scenario involving potential Browns moves on draft day: “Unless something strange happens, it’s hard to envision anything standing in the way of Sam Bradford to the Rams with the top pick on April 22. The only strange thing I see is Cleveland paying a ransom to move up to pick Bradford – like the seventh and 38th picks this year, and the Browns’ first-rounder next year, plus something else.”

Maybe it’s best if we just move on.

On the flip side, Mel Kiper has proclaimed Bryant the pick, saying “I’ve talked to people around the league about Dez Bryant, and I can tell you the notion that there are concerns about Bryant’s character is blown out of proportion. Here the Browns get the best WR in the draft, a threat they really need, and a player that, in a football environment, is a workhorse and a producer.”

With Kiper’s track record that makes it seem more likely the Browns won’t take Bryant.

While Bryant’s talent would seem to fill a need for the Browns – the team’s wide receivers are the weakest part of the team thanks to Eric Mangini’s over-rating of Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie in last year’s draft – you have to wonder. Plus, much like quarterbacks from the Big 12, you have to question if the numbers put up by the wide receivers are inflated because defenses are, to be polite, limited in their abilities.

Character matters, just like how a player performs on their Pro Day, at the combine and on the field. It’s another piece of the puzzle and another tool to help guide a team in the right direction on draft day. Even though it appears likely that the punishment did not fit the crime, I don’t see the Browns picking someone with any kind of questions about them, especially at No. 7.

Of course, Bryant will probably fall in the draft and land in Pittsburgh and torment the Browns for the next 10 years. But that’s a discussion for another day.

For a compelling argument on why the Browns should consider Bryant, check out Cleveland Frowns’ Dez Bryant’s Bad Rap.

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