It has been a summer of change in Cleveland. First, the Browns fired head coach Rob Chudzinski after just one season. Just a few months later, team President Joe Banner and GM Mike Lombardi followed him out the door. Team owner Jimmy Haslam escaped federal fraud charges by agreeing to pay a $90 million settlement. The team drafted the most polarizing player available in Johnny Manziel. And, oh yeah, some guy named LeBron returned to his hometown.
On the field, the Browns appear to be rounding into a team that some thing could be a sleeper contender for the playoffs. But will a quarterback controversy and Josh Gordon’s potential suspension prevent first year head coach Mike Pettine from getting them there?
Hope. It’s something that has been missing in Cleveland for, say, the last 50 years. There are young pieces all over this team – Manziel, Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron, and Ben Tate on offense and Joe Haden, Barkevious Mingo, and Justin Gilbert on defense that could be dynamic if they all become the players most think they can be.
Overall, the defense has some really good pieces. They ranked 9th in yards allowed last year and should improve after addng Karlos Dansby the middle of the defense and Donte Whitner in the secondary. For a team that lost 5 games by one score last season, small changes like this could have a big impact.
The running game continues to be a problem. Cleveland had just 4 rushing touchdowns last season, by far the lowest total in the league. They haven’t had a 100-yard rusher since Week 9 of 2012. The team tried to change that by signing Ben Tate this offseason. Tate has shown flashes of being a solid starter at times in his career, but has also shown an inability to stay healthy.
In addition to the running game, Josh Gordon’s possible suspension hangs over this team. The tide appears to be turning that Gordon might be able to negotiate a suspension that will permit him to play part of this season. Nonetheless, his absence would mean Miles Austin becomes the #1 WR, which is not a good thing.
The last Browns head coach to last longer than 4 seasons with the team was Bill Belichick.
The Part Where We Talk About Johnny Manziel Because We Have To
Manziel Mania is the single biggest training camp story the league whether you like it or not. The team wants to start Brian Hoyer, but the pressure might be too much. The problem with staring Manziel in Week 1 is that there’s no turning back to Hoyer. With a defense that seems playoff-ready, early struggles by Manziel could fracture the team. My hunch? Manziel starts Week 5 at Tennessee.
What Does Vegas Think?
Vegas has the Browns’ over/under set at 6.5 wins.
9-7. The early schedule is rough (Steelers, Saints, Ravens in first 3 weeks), but lets up after that. If Cleveland can steal at least one win, it could build momentum going into the bye week. Manziel ends up starting a shines and the defense plays as advertised. The Browns are more competitive for a playoff spot than they have been in five years.
4-12. Manziel starts and it is a disaster out of the gate. They go 0-3 heading into the bye week and the offense clearly struggles without Gordon. The defense is okay, but they lose every game 24-7. Scrutiny intensifies towards Manziel’s off-the-field activities and the team enters the season with another high draft pick.
Alex: I feel the same about the Browns as I do the Bills. Love the defense, but am skeptical of the offense. Whether it’s Johnny Football or Hoyer taking snaps, the running game will still be an issue and playing without Josh Gordon will make it tough to score points. I say 6-10 on Cleveland this year.
Jamie: The Browns were a better team last year than their record showed. Although a large part of their season may be determined based on how long Josh Gordon is, or isn’t, suspended, I’m willing to go 6-10 on this team. I realize that doesn’t sound bold, but considering all the moving pieces in Cleveland, that would be a good season.