The Cleveland Browns are looking to bounce back in 2017 after a historically poor performance in the 2016 season.
The Worst of Times
Last season, the Browns fielded a handful of different quarterbacks, none of whom were able to cement themselves as a competent starter for the future. That, coupled with a porous secondary and special teams gaffes led to the Browns dropping game after game until at last, they eeked out a victory against San Deigo on Christmas Eve.
The Browns were anything but stagnant in the offseason however: they excelled in the draft while adding draft picks for the future, they kept their team young and cheap, added defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and have already seen positive impacts from a large majority of their drafted players.
Add a developing DeShone Kizer behind all of that and this Browns team is no longer the heaping pile of AFC North roadkill that they once were. They’re a young team, stocked with developing talents–that’s what makes them frisky.
The Young and the Restless
It’s the young talent on this Browns team that is going to shape the 2017 season. Myles Garrett has already made his presence felt on this defensive front, Jabrill Peppers is making plays all over the field and linebacker Joe Schobert looked like he was shot out of a cannon on most plays in the preseason.
While unpolished, DeShone Kizer is throwing from behind arguably one of the best lines in football. If the Browns can establish the run in games with Crowell and don’t ask Kizer to do too much, he shouldn’t be a liability for them.
While “shouldn’t be a liability” is hardly a ringing endorsement, even as unpolished as he is now Kizer looks far better than Robert Griffin III did at this point last year, so even if he keeps making rookie mistakes he’s an upgrade from last season.
Trial by Fire
Opening the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers is hard enough; opening the season against the Steelers with seemingly a quarter of one’s team made up of rookies is even harder.
Not only are these two teams division rivals, there’s the added wrinkle of Joe Haden in a Pittsburgh Steelers uniform and Sammie Coates in a Browns one.
Can the Browns win in Pittsburgh? It’s actually more possible than people think. If they can shut down the Steelers rushing attack by dominating at the line (something that they did a lot of in the preseason), they can force Pittsburgh to beat them through the air.
Then you only have one of the best receiving corps in football to contend with. While they’ll surprise people, the Browns probably aren’t going to get a win in the opening game.
Road Trip: Baltimore and Indianapolis
If this was 2015, back to back road games against the Ravens and the Colts would be a near-mortifying prospect for any team. This year? Not so much.
The Ravens are perhaps the biggest unknown in the AFC. Their defense is expected to be good, but that offense is as big a question mark as there is in the NFL. Nobody knows how well Joe Flacco can play yet, and even if he looks like “old Joe Flacco”, “old Joe Flacco” never exactly struck fear in the hearts of defenses.
The Ravens game is very winnable for the Browns. The edge has to go to the Ravens because of the home field advantage, but no one should be surprised if the Browns pick up their first win of the season in Baltimore.
Depending on how things go in the season opener against the Steelers, the Browns may be favored to beat the Ravens, but for now the Ravens should be given the edge.
The Colts, however, are a very beatable team for the Browns. The Andrew Luck injury continues to hang over the Colts, and even after trading for Jacoby Brissett the Colts still aren’t really secure at the quarterback position.
Add onto that how exceptional this Browns defense has the potential to be and the Browns should have the advantage in this game. They should pick up their first or second win of the season against the Colts in Week 3.
The Browns will open the season at 1-3.
Bengals, Jets, Texans
The success of this Bengals team this season is likely going to revolve around rookie Joe Mixon. If he breaks out and becomes the superstar he has the potential to be, the Bengals will have a high-powered offense that should be able to overcome the Browns defense.
If the Browns can keep up their physicality that they showcased in the preseason, this game should be a toss-up given the Browns home field advantage.
Personally, I think the Browns and Bengals split their two games based off of the afore mentioned home field advantage. It will be a close game, but I give the Browns a home win against the Bengals early.
Speaking of wins, the Jets are looking like the team that’s giving them out this season. They traded away Sheldon Richardson earlier this week, further proving their dedication to the first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. The Jets game should be another home win for the Browns.
The Texans are actually a similar team to the Browns this season. They have a great defense, but there are huge questions on offense. DeShone Kizer has a higher ceiling than Tom Savage, but the Texans have the better WR 1 in DeAndre Hopkins.
The Texans have to have the edge in this game and should beat the Browns barring a collapse of some kind.
That would put the Browns at 3-3 after the first six weeks of NFL action.
Titans and Vikings
Just looking at the Browns schedule, this looks like it should be back to back losses for the Browns. The Titans are looking like playoff favorites in the AFC and in Mariota can stay healthy they have the talent to easily beat this Browns team. Add the Titans home field advantage to that and the Titans get the win.
The only way I can see the Browns beating the Titans is if their offense suddenly has an awakening and they beat Tennesse in a shootout game.
The Vikings are a different story. Their defense is looking like it will still be one of the best in the NFL and the offense is just consistent enough to win games. The London factor makes this game a bit more of a wild one to predict, but as far as preseason predictions the Vikings have to be given the win in this game.
Back to back losses for the Browns will put them at 3-5.
Getting Catty: Lions, Jaguars and Bengals
The Browns will be coming off of their bye week as they head to Detroit to take on the Lions. The Lions are another team full of question marks; they succeeded largely based off of the success of Matthew Stafford last year. Like the Bengals, if the Lions can get good play out of their young running back (Ameer Abdullah) then they should experience some pretty solid offensive success.
With that said, the Lions are a very beatable team. They won most of their toss up games last season to sneak into the playoffs, but it’s very unlikely they’ll have that kind of luck in back to back seasons. It’s possible for the Browns to get this win coming out of the bye week, and while the Lions should be favored to win in this game I’m personally going to give this game to the Browns.
Cleveland’s defense has the talent to shut down this Detriot offense and the Lions pass rush can’t content with the Browns offensive line. The Browns will be the underdogs, but I personally think they’re going to get the win.
As for the Jaguars, the Browns have what it takes to beat them, especially at home. The Jaguars have arguably the worst quarterback in the league, so their success on offense is going to be predicated entirely on the success of rookie runner Leonard Fournette.
Jaguars coach Doug Marrone has made several offseason comments about wanting to run the ball as often as possible this season, so the Browns success in this game is going to come off of their run defense. They have the pieces to beat the Jaguars, especially if that young front seven keep getting better as the season progresses.
With that said, I think the Browns will lose against either the Jaguars or the Lions. If they beat the Lions, I think they may drop the game against the Jaguars and if they lose against the Lions I think they’ll bounce back against the Jaguars at home.
I said earlier that I think the Browns and Bengals will split their games based off of home field advantage, and I hold to that now. The Browns will probably lose to the Bengals in Cincinnati the second time they play.
After a stretch of 1-2, the Browns will be 4-7 heading into the final five games of the season.
The Final Five
The Browns end their season with games against the Chargers in Los Angeles (loss), against the Packers at home (loss), against the Ravens at home (50/50), at the Bears (50/50) and end the season on the road against Pittsburgh (50/50).
First things first, the Steelers are 50/50 for one reason and one reason only: they might not have their starters in. Similar to last season, the Steelers may have cemented a playoff spot and may be playing their second stringers.
As for my projection of back to back losses against the Chargers and Packers, I don’t see the Chargers losing to the Browns in back to back seasons.
Add onto that the fact that they may be fighting for a Wild Card spot and the Chargers should take care of business when the Browns come to town.
As for the final three games against the Ravens, Bears and Steelers, I think the Browns will win two out of three. They can beat the Ravens at home, but it’s more likely that they’ll beat the Bears on the road and a playoff-facing Steelers.
Where does that leave the Browns?
After a 2-3 stretch in the final five games, I’m projecting the Browns to finish the season at 6-10.
The Browns have a lot of the pieces in the right place, but they’re still a young, inexperienced team. They’ll definitely improve from the 1-15 season of last year, but I don’t think they’ll pass the .500 mark this season.