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32 Teams in 32 Days: Cleveland Browns

What to expect:

These aren’t your great grandpa’s Cleveland Browns. A lot has changed since the franchise’s undefeated season in 1948.  So much so that the Browns of the past technically play in Baltimore now (sorry I brought that up loyal Brownies). The expansion team that brought football back to Cleveland in 1999 only has two winning seasons to their name, as well as only one disappointing playoff loss. With the second longest active playoff drought 3 years short of the Buffalo Bills, there isn’t a lot of optimism leading up to the 2017 NFL season. It shouldn’t be too hard to improve upon last year’s win-loss record, however, as the team only managed to capture one victory. Looking at what the team has done this offseason, it just might be possible for the Browns to trend upward in the standings and in relevancy (baby steps).

Offseason Moves:

Image from dawgsbynature.com Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

All the attention will be focused on the quarterback situation in Cleveland, and rightfully so. To be successful in this league, you need a franchise signal caller you can trust to get the job done. While a combination of Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler, and DeShone Kizer will only achieve average at best production, the Browns have done a quality job at surrounding their quarterbacks with reinforcements. The offensive line was ranked 2nd in the league by Pro Football Focus after the free agent additions of Kevin Zeitler (Bengals) and J.C. Tretter (Packers). To offset the loss of WR Terrelle Pryor to the Redskins, the team brought in WR Kenny Britt from the Rams. The offensive will be complemented by underrated running back Isaiah Crowell to round out the growing unit. Defensively, similar building blocks are being put into place, such as 2017 #1 overall pick Myles Garrett, to create a football team with real upside. Let’s find out if there’s enough upside here to make a difference on Sundays…

Schedule walk through:

Week 1: Vs. Steelers

The Browns open up the season at home against a team that has their number. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a Ohio native, has a 10-2 record on the road facing Cleveland. That gives him more wins than any other Browns quarterback in FirstEnergy Stadium since its opening!

Loss 30-14 Record: 0-1

Week 2: At Ravens

This game should be more “doable” as the Ravens do not have an overpowering offense like the Steelers. Home field advantage will play a significant role, especially for Baltimore’s defense. Cleveland needs to come out of the gates hot if they want to make it interesting. None of their quarterbacks will be ready to take charge, however, resulting in another loss.

Loss 24-10 Record: 0-2

Week 3: At Colts

I’m hesitant to give the Browns another loss here, as Colts’ QB Andrew Luck remains a question mark as we approach the season. He’s expected to return at full health before week 1, but shoulder surgery is nothing to scoff at. I’ll give the home team the benefit of the doubt, but if Luck is inactive, Cleveland mustn’t waste a winning opportunity.

Loss 27-17 Record: 0-3

Week 4: Vs. Cincinnati

I expect the Browns to split the season series with the Bengals, but their win won’t come in the first matchup. Andy Dalton and company will want a bounce back win after facing the Packers in Green Bay the previous week. The losing streak might extend to 4 games, but the young roster will gain enough experience to get their first win in week 5.

Loss 31-20 Record: 0-4

Week 5: Vs. Jets

Image from nypost.com

There won’t be many people watching this one. Neither team is projected to accomplish much, mostly because they each lack at the quarterback position. Josh McCown will be returning to face his former team, but who knows if he will be playing or not. Someone has to leave this game with a win, so lets give the Browns some love.

Win 23-21 Record: 1-4

Week 6: At Texans

Cleveland can’t waste any time celebrating as they travel to Houston to face a top 5 defense. Scoring will be slim, and I foresee quarterback changes for both teams, if they haven’t been done already. This could also be a breakout game for Myles Garrett. It won’t be enough, however, as the Browns enter another dreadful losing streak.

Loss 15-14 Record: 1-5

Week 7: Vs. Titans

It seems like it was only yesterday that the Browns and Titans were battling to be the worst team in the league. Now Tennessee has a franchise QB in Marcus Mariota to show for their recent struggles. Unfortunately, Cleveland has not fared as well with their top draft picks, proving why this game ends up in a blowout.

Loss 35-13 Record: 1-6

Week 8: Vs. Vikings

Entering the BYE week on a high note should be a reachable goal for the Browns’ organization. The game is at home, and against a Vikings team that ran out of steam the last half of the 2016 season. Since week 8 is right on the half way mark, Cleveland might need a little luck for an early Minnesota meltdown. The Browns never get lucky, so there goes any momentum…

Loss 28-24 Record: 1-7

Week 9: BYE

On the bright side, they won’t be losing this week right??? (Watch out for OT)

Week 10: At Lions

If anyone is capable of two 4-game losing streaks, it’s the Browns. A road game to Detroit won’t do them any favors, as Matthew Stafford will want to puff up his stat sheet in a pass heavy offense. A 1-8 record could lead to firings, demotions, and everything in between. It will all be for the best as Cleveland enters a stretch of winnable games.

Loss 34-23 Record: 1-8

Week 11: Vs. Jaguars

Image from orlandosentinel.com

As a Browns fan, you have to look forward to the matchups with other bad teams. The Jaguars supposedly look “great” on paper, but how did that work out last year? Blake Bortles’ days in Jacksonville could be numbered at this point, and the Browns shouldn’t be afraid to take advantage of a team in distress.

Win 20-17 Record: 2-8

Week 12: At Bengals

Speaking of teams in distress, the Bengals are coming off back-to-back losses against the Titans and Broncos in this scenario. After being bruised up by Denver’s defense, Cincinnati will take this “break” of a matchup for granted. Fresh off a win, the Browns ride the good vibes to another victory.

Win 24-21 Record: 3-8

Week 13: At Chargers

If you recall, the Browns got their only win last year against this Chargers team. I’m sure San Diego (now Los Angeles) still feels embarrassed to hold the title of “the team that lost to Cleveland in 2016”. Now that this matchup is being played on the west coast, the Chargers can avenge their humiliation and settle the score against the Browns.

Loss 27-21 Record: 3-9

Week 14: Vs. Packers

It would be awesome to watch Aaron Rodgers lose to the Browns. The NFL would end as we know it! In two games against Cleveland, Rodgers has thrown 6 touchdowns and zero interceptions. When added together, the results of both contests show a 62-16 score in favor of Green Bay. That sounds about right.

Loss 62-16 Record: 3-10

Week 15: Vs. Ravens

Just like Cincinnati did in week 12, Baltimore underestimates Cleveland thinking they can sweep the series. The Ravens are following a heartbreaking loss against the Steelers, and the Browns want to earn their pride back. Just to mess with Baltimore, Cleveland takes this game into overtime.

Win 26-20 OT Record: 4-10

Week 16: At Bears

Image from chicagotribune.com

There is no doubt in my mind that the Browns can win this game. Both franchises should be eliminated from the playoffs, with not much left to play for. With all that in mind, Mitch Trubisky will be the starting quarterback for the Bears by week 16. The Browns were the only team to pick over him in the 2017 NFL Draft. This gives the Bears something left to play for, and a feel good win.

Loss 21-10 Record: 4-11

Week 17: At Steelers  

Any other week and the Browns most likely lose this game. Being week 17, the Steelers rest all of their starters with a first round bye in the playoffs secured. Technically, the Steelers did this last year, but only with their offensive stars. Now that they bench the rest of their starters, Cleveland is handed a bizarre win in “hostile” territory.

Win 18-16 Record: 5-11

Final Record: 5-11

Player Predictions: *Projected healthy for a 16 game season

RB Isaiah Crowell: 220 carries, 1100 rushing yards, 8 TD’s

WR Kenny Britt: 90 receptions, 1200 receiving yards, 5 TD’s

DE Myles Garrett: 50 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble

LB Christian Kirksey: 125 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 INT’s

Surprise Star:

Image from dawgpounddaily.com Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

TE David Njoku: 50 receptions, 675 receiving yards, 3 TD’s

The Verdict:

Rome certainly won’t be built in a day, but I predict a crooked number will be in the Browns’ win column at season’s end. Call me crazy, but they might even finish 3-3 in the AFC North! The quarterback position was omitted in the player predictions above because even I don’t know how that rollercoaster will pan out. This creates an obvious ceiling for the team’s goals, but the floor isn’t as dirty as it once was. A 1-15 record should be avoidable, if only because of the misfortune of other teams on the schedule. Giving Cleveland 5 wins in 2017 is bold, but it’s not like the Browns have the worst record every year right? If they did, Andrew Luck and Jameis Winston would be quite a QB combo in those orange uniforms. Cheers to a better losing season!

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