Home > NFL > The Cleveland Browns are the team Most Likely to Exceed Pre-Season Expectations

The Cleveland Browns are the team Most Likely to Exceed Pre-Season Expectations

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It was incredibly early in our Roster Roundouts series when we covered the Cleveland Browns.  There I came up with a win prediction for them that I listed at 5-11.  That’s not very good.  The goal of those win predictions is to convey the most likely outcome of the season given the team’s schedule and roster talent (and, of course, their abilities to use it).

But those aren’t hard predictions for the only possible outcome for a season.  In the case of the Browns, I think they are very likely to exceed five wins, but not just at six or seven, but perhaps if they stay healthy, the Browns could win 9 or 10 games.  LeBron who?

5-11 is what might ultimately end up happening to the Browns if their defense performs sub-par.  Their secondary is young, and it very well might play that way.  But there are a number of concerns that I raised back in July, and I believe that the Browns have found a reasonable answer to every criticism in the preseason.  I’ll address those one by one in this space.

Weaknesses at Premium Positons

Premium positions for these purposes would include QB, WR, LT, RT, OLB1, OLB2, CB1, CB2.  The matchup positions, so to speak.  There’s Jake Delhomme at quarterback.  Mohammad Massaquoi is the first WR.  The team could soon use rookie Carlton Mitchell as a deep threat.  He’s buried right now, but Josh Cribbs and Chansi Stukey aren’t exactly competition that cannot be overcome.  The new offense fits Brian Robiske’s skill set quite well.  Either Massaquoi or Mitchell is going to have to become “the guy” in the passing game, but the Browns also have TE Evan Moore to take a lot of pressure off of the young receivers.  Tony Pashos is a marginal right tackle, but joins a line that is very strong otherwise.

The Roundouts article went over the strength of the Browns at corner, but the fascinating thing is that they only kept three corners on their 53-man roster (along with five safeties).  They were the three best: Eric Wright, Sheldon Brown, and NB Joe Haden, but it’s an interesting strategy.  They certainly do not need any more corners to play Rob Ryan’s defense, but if someone misses a game, they would seemingly have to make a roster transaction to cover for their lone injured corner.

The Browns may not have an elite pass rusher at a premium position, but might be able to schematically create some pressure.  You’ve got to like Shaun Rogers coming back healthy at nose tackle, and not suspended from his arrest.  The Browns are currently rostering TWELVE linebackers, so they should find someone who can get after the passer.

Delhomme’s completion percentage to his Wide Receivers

Of course there was cause for concern here, all Browns receivers had low catch rates last year, and Delhomme doesn’t always complete a high percentage of his passes.  In this preseason, he completed 79% of his passes, and took only one sack.  That’s unbelievably efficient, if a bit boring.  Delhomme had 5 completions over 20 yards, but zero over 40 yards.  That’s fine.  Delhomme threw 46% of his passes for first downs, which was third amongst starting QBs in the preseason, trailing just Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.  If you think it’s just a preseason fluke, well, perhaps, but Seneca Wallace (Browns backup) ranked even higher.

For whatever reason, the offense is working.  And it’s working with completions, which is something new for Browns fans.  It’s going to be efficient and move the chains.  And that doesn’t even consider a running game that many thought could be among the best in the league.

Shaun Rogers’ legal issues

As mentioned above, these have been settled, giving the Browns back their best defensive player with absolutely no suspension for his actions.  That’s a blessing.

The Division

It’s tough, but I have the Browns finishing third in the AFC North.  That normally means that they won’t be good enough to make it to the postseason, but this year, you have to beat out the Dolphins, Jets, Texans, and Titans.  If you beat out those teams in record (and tiebreakers), you’ve made it to the postseason.  The Browns do not have a difficult schedule to get there, but because of the division (there’s plenty of hype around the Bengals, who the Browns nearly beat each time) the Browns are given no chance before the season starts.

But the AFC North is so far ahead of the rest of the division that third place could be enough to play in the postseason and second place should be more than enough.  The Browns can make it.  They can make it on an efficient short passing game that puts their powerful RB stable in striking range of the end zone, and on a defense that can hit you from any angle.  In other words, the Cleveland Browns are this years’ New York Jets.  They will make the postseason as the team that has the best chance to exceed our preseason projections for them.

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