Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Illustration for article titled NFL Season Previews: Cleveland Browns

The NFL season has officially started, so it's time to fucking finish the impassioned season previews from various writers, bloggers, diehard fans, cooks, TV personalities, and numerous other walks of life whom consider football the only sport worth watching. Clearly, these previews will be running until, oh, the first round of the wild card playoffs based on how quickly they've been coming in. So, for the next few days, expect a lot of these. Actually, let's see how many we can get out in one day. Today: The Cleveland Browns. Your author is Michael Desmond. Michael Desmond is the former editor of the Orange & Brown Report.There is no spectacle so cruel and prolonged as an NFL franchise forced back to reality after a bout of unexpected greatness. The 2007 Chicago Bears will tell you. A stellar defense, some happy scheduling, and the unexpected—if intermittent—competence of Rex Grossman took the Bears all the way to the Super Bowl in 2006. Today the Bears have plunged headlong into irrelevance. Outside of the occasional Devin Hester kick return, the most interesting thing about the team could be Kyle Orton's neck beard. I bring all this up because the Cleveland Browns may be flirting with irrelevance. And not the ho-hum, Detroit Lions, look they're losing again kind of irrelevance reserved for fans of the Millen-led Lions, Arizona Cardinals and (absent a brief outburst of success) Cincinnati Bengals. We're talking about the angry, scorned-media irrelevance that occurs when a hyped-up franchise craps the bed and makes entire broadcast networks look stupid for scheduling a half dozen prime time games for the team. And honestly, if it all goes down, it's not the Browns fault. Cleveland General Manager Phil Savage is a conniving genius who could swindle a first-round pick out of Vladimir Putin, but all the sleight of hand in the world can't fix what the NFL has dropped on his doorstep. And that is, the NFC East. Pity the Browns. They are a promising, up-and-coming team with a lot to like on both lines. Outside of the building calamity at cornerback—where the team is one sprained ankle away from putting the NFL equivalent of Dan Quayle on the field—this club is solid. Derek Anderson may or may not be a statuesque fraud with a rocket arm, but Brady Quinn offers promise as his understudy. Jamal Lewis continues to look great and there's decent talent behind him in the steady Jason Wright and the electric Jerome Harrison. Joe Thomas could be the team's best straight-up, first-round draft pick since Clay Matthews (Ozzie Newsome, Bernie Kosar and Kellen Winslow were all drafted via traded picks). Yes, first-rounder Braylon Edwards is a great wide receiver, but Thomas—a Pro Bowler at left tackle as a rookie—could be transcendent. On defense, the acquisitions of Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams transform an overmatched 3-4 defensive front into a position of strength. Rogers, criticized for laziness in Detroit, has been dominant at the point. This is a welcome sight after years of watching tomato cans like Jason Fisk, Ethan Kelley and Babatunde Oshinowo get plowed under by opposing offensive lines. It also means that the still-youthful linebacking corps (outside of methuselean Willie McGinest) is officially out of excuses. The Browns have poured a ton of resources into this unit over the years and gotten very little in return. Kamerion Wimbley, a first round pick in 2006, is officially on notice. But that secondary. If sophomore corners Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald suffer so much as a paper cut, that secondary could make Joe Flacco look like Joe Montana. And that means one thing: The Cleveland Browns will be forced to play high-risk, high-reward pass defense, getting after the quarterback if they hope to prevent the secondary from looking like Dresden circa 1945. The thing is, this plan could work… if it were 2007. In 2007, the Cleveland Browns lucked out and played perhaps the easiest schedule in pro football. They feasted on freshly collapsed rivals in Baltimore and Cincinnati. They got fat off the largesse of the AFC East, which coughed up Division 1-AA quality opponents like the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins. There were games against Oakland, Arizona, Houston, and I think McNeese State ... To call the Browns 2007 slate a cake walk is an insult to walking cakes everywhere. But if karma is a bitch, the NFL schedule makers are its master. This Browns teams would finish 12-4, win the AFC North and possibly enjoy the fruits of a first round bye in the playoffs with last year's schedule. Instead, they open against the talented, preening, narcissist-fueled spectacle that is the Dallas Cowboys. They have back-to-back October games against the Redskins and the Giants (who absolutely pasted the Browns' starters in pre-season), and a late season tilt with the Iggles. Then there are the Colts, Titans and Jaguars. Even with conference rivals Cincinnati and Baltimore both poised to struggle, there will be few easy outs. Still, it could happen. This Cleveland Browns team, which hasn't enjoyed a sustained run of success since—and I am not making this up—1989, has actually been built for the long haul. Given one more season to spackle over the ugly holes in the secondary and to scrape together a pass rush, this team could actually be as good as people are saying it is.


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