Welcome to “This Is Totally Your Year,” our overly optimistic preview of the 2014-15 NFL season for all 32 teams. We’ve broken down why every team — yes, even your team (and yes, even your team, Rams fans) — will win it all this year. We’ll also give some reasons for pessimism and even estimate an actual season prediction. Next up: The Cleveland Browns.
Hope is a dangerous currency to trade in, but when you’re used to dealing with despair, it’s a risk worth taking. Browns fans have plenty of reason to be hopeful this season — and what’s the worst that can happen if they’re wrong? Another losing season? Fine. At least LeBron’s back.
And yeah, losing Josh Gordon hurts. It hurts a lot. It hurts more than anything else that could have happened this offseason. But there are other things to like about the Browns this year. I’m serious.
Their defense is sneaky good.
It may not have gotten the press, or the results, of top defenses like Seattle and Arizona last year, but anyone who had to slot the Browns into their starting defense slot in fantasy at the end of the year knows this is a sleeper D. The defensive line is stacked — Jabaal Sheard (who may or may not have been the antagonist in my story about getting into a fight on the Pitt campus many years ago), Barkevious Mingo and Paul Kreuger, in particular, are excellent — and the secondary is anchored by a top-five cornerback in Joe Haden. And remember how the Arizona defense was a top unit last year? Karlos Dansby, Cardinals linebacker, is now a Brown. Nice.
And let’s be honest — is anyone on Cleveland’s schedule really going to burn the Browns offensively? The AFC North is teetering on the edge of excellence and garbage (does anyone personify that balance more than Andy Dalton?) The only teams they’ll really have to worry about are the Saints and Colts. Otherwise, as long as they can put up a few points, they should be able to beat the Buccaneers, Panthers and other middle-ground teams.
Their quarterback situation is actually pretty enviable.
There are three scenarios for how the Browns’ QB situation will play out:
1. Brian Hoyer sucks, is replaced by Johnny Manziel who also sucks/goes through growing pains — season ruined.
2. Hoyer plays well, leads team to playoffs — is eventually flipped for more assets.
3. Hoyer sucks, Manziel takes over, leads team to better record/playoffs and Hoyer is flipped for assets.
So, um, two out of three ain’t bad? Hoyer showed flashes of competence, if not actual goodness, last season. And Manziel is electrifying, theoretically. Manziel has the capacity to break out in Colin Kaepernick-ian fashion, taking over for an otherwise uninspiring game-manager and scoring with his feet as much as his arm — and if he does, his defense should be able to do the rest.
Josh Gordon. Josh Gordon is amazing. Josh Gordon doesn’t even need the full 16 games to be the game’s best receiver. Josh Gordon can take a three-yard slant to the house by himself. Josh Gordon could probably take a direct snap to the house by himself. Josh Gordon is everything.
Well then. Guess not. Um, Jordan Cameron?
Okay, well, the front office and coaching staff appear competent, at least.
As first-year coaches go, Mike Pettine seems to have a good handle on things. He hasn’t let Manziel-mania overwhelm the team, and his history in the AFC North and as a defensive coordinator should help him fit right in. New GM Ray Farmer played the draft masterfully, picking up solid contributing pieces like Justin Gilbert, Christian Kirksey and Terrance West while trading down to pick up Manziel. For a franchise that is used to ineptitude and terrible draft gambles, these guys are a welcome change.
Reason for pessimism: They’re the Browns, ya know? They’re kind of supposed to be bad. Plus, Josh Gordon.
Actual season prediction: 7-9, third in the AFC North. They’re getting better, but they’re not there yet.