Welcome to “Pretty Much Screwed,” our definitive guide to the upcoming NFL season. This team-by-team preview details why your favorite franchise might have to start looking forward to next year — but highlights at least one reason for you to be hopeful. Today: The Cleveland Browns.
Most successful franchise in the history of the NFL? Cleveland Browns, without a doubt. I get into many disputes over this with Steelers fans and 49ers fans and Packers fans, and one guy who lives under a bridge and likes the Bills. But the problem with these people is that they think the NFL was invented in 1966. It wasn’t.
Ken Burns’ The Cleveland Browns.
Yes, the Browns once were mighty, back when Mitch Miller topped the charts and Biff Tannen was forcing George McFly to do his homework. Actually it began in 1946 when the new franchise won the first of four straight All American Football Conference titles. How good was the AAFC? Not very — but the Browns dominated it, and proved how good they were when they joined the NFL in 1950, and promptly won that championship. From 1950 to 1964 they won 11 conference championships and four NFL titles — and appeared in nine straight NFL title games. Think of that as being in nine consecutive Super Bowls, because that was the equivalent then. QB Otto Graham and RB Jim Brown were two of the biggest names — plus Paul Brown, the head coach for whom the team was named.
The Browns also gave us Bill Walsh (three Super Bowl wins) and Bill Belichick (also three), and, sadly, Art Modell, who pulled the rock from the side of the hill that started the whole thing tumbling down.
No need to go into the move to Baltimore and the resulting tumult. Suffice it to say that the Browns appeared in the playoffs just once in the ’90s, and again in 2002, and haven’t been back since. Their fall from grace is one of the most dramatic in the history of pro sports, and each new season brings to mind the line from the Randy Newman song about the time the Cuyahoga River actually caught fire: “Burn on, big river, burn on.”
Your starting quarterback was trapped under a giant American flag.
Brandon Weeden was a rookie in 2012, and in his regular season debut against the Eagles he threw for 118 yards, tossed four interceptions and was sacked twice — three times if you count this (see main photo above). He played in 15 games and finished with a passer rating of 72.6 — the Browns going 5-11. So Weeden has a full season of experience, but can he get better? If not, is Jason Campbell a viable alternative? Also, Brian Hoyer? We are skeptical.
Reason Weeden Might Not Suck
In their 27-19 preseason win over the Rams last week, Weeden had consecutive scoring drives on his only two possessions. So there’s that.
Your new head coach was second choice after Chip Kelly turned it down.
Rob Chudzinski is a great name for a Cleveland coach, and he’s been there before — he was the offensive coordinator for the Browns in 2007, when they won 10 (!) games. Last season he was OCing for the Carolina Panthers, and after Kelly said no thanks and ended up in Philadelphia, the Chud Era began in Cleveland. Backing up Chud will be Norv Turner, who will be the new offensive coordinator. Excuse them if Browns fans’ nipples are not exploding with delight. But hey, it could all work out.
Trent Richardson may break by mid-season.
The Browns’ main running back averaged 3.6 yards per carry last season, as everyone played 10 in the box with one center fielder. Perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but look for something similar this year. To further boost your spirits, Browns fans, Richardson once said that Rolando McClain was his idol. McClain recently retired from the NFL after his third arrest.
Our favorite Cleveland Browns photo, probably ever.
Kevin Costner is involved.
“Draft Day” is a real movie that’s happening, and it will star Kevin Costner as the GM of the Cleveland Browns, who “is tasked with rebuilding an underachieving team through the NFL Draft.” This will be swell if it turns out to be football’s “Field of Dreams”, but not so terrific if it’s football’s “The Postman.” Ivan Reitman (“Ghostbusters”) is directing, so let’s not lose hope.
Real quotes: “We’re trying to make it authentic and Cleveland has a real story,” said Costner.
“That’s part of what works for our storyline, that Cleveland has struggled a bit in the past and they’re rebuilding their team right now,” added [Jennifer] Garner, whose character manages the team’s salary cap.
Barkevious Mingo and Desmond Bryant are great, but …
First-round DE pick Mingo is should be impactful, and DL Bryant and linebacker Quentin Groves will need to have big seasons. Because the defense will be on the field a lot.
(UPDATE) Just moments ago, they did a very Browns thing.
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) August 16, 2013
Actual season prediction: 7-9, third place AFC North.