By Will Stevenson
Last year’s record: 3-13, last in AFC North
Scoring offense: 17.4 ppg, 30th in NFL
Scoring defense: 27.0 ppg, 29th in NFL
AFC North 2016 Prediction: 7-9, last in AFC North
Upside: Robert Griffin III, Hue Jackson, no Johnny Manziel, Josh Gordon’s reinstatement, Corey Coleman (WR, 15th overall pick in 2016 draft) and the Cavaliers won the championship.
Downside: It’s still Cleveland. Kelly Holcomb and Dennis Northcutt aren’t walking through the door.
In 2015, the Cleveland Browns started the way any Browns season would start: Maintain high hopes during training camp until the season starts and then we all realize that these are our dad’s Browns. From bad quarterback play, an average running game and lack of explosiveness and consistency from the wide receiver corps to a defense that was on the bottom end in scoring defense, 2015 lined up to be another version of the same mind-numbing notion: “The Browns are still the Browns.”
Here we are at the end of July and there is one thing that keeps fans coming back to the Browns, and that one thing is hope. With the quarterback names that range from Tim Couch to Connor Shaw (25 starting quarterbacks since 1999), having a playmaker under center is something this team and this city have solely missed in the past decades. During this past offseason, the Browns selected former Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson as their new head coach, and he completely changed the look of the coaching staff in Cleveland. With a new look comes a new mindset (or as the famous saying goes “out with the old and in with the new”.) With the signing of Robert Griffin III and the drafting of Southern California’s Cody Kessler in the 3rd round, the Browns decided to do something most losing teams don’t do: Draft the wide receiver (former Baylor wide receiver Cory Coleman with the 15th overall pick), trade down from the top of the draft to get volume with 2nd and 3rd round selections. With every new coach in the NFL, they are usually hitched to the quarterback of the team, whether it’s through the draft, free agency, or the quarterback that is already slotted as a starter at the time. Without the knowledge of Josh Gordon’s reinstatement at the time, giving Griffin or Kessler a young playmaker on the edge is something that was sorely needed.
It’s Time to Prove
With the signing of Robert Griffin III this offseason, it is time for RG3 to prove if he can be a force in this league again. He also must prove that he can complete the passes needed and run and offense that was near the tail-end of the league last year. Griffin was never known to be a pocket quarterback, and with his litany of injuries, being a mobile quarterback wasn’t in the best interest for his Derrick Rose-type knees. Being armed with talents such as Duke Johnson in the backfield, RG3 will have a running back that didn’t excel with his vision as a rookie, but was still able to catch 60 plus balls last season, which is definitely a safe option for a quarterback that could run out of options if the receivers are covered downfield.
Josh Gordon is back!!
There is a theme to this Cleveland Browns offense in 2016 and it revolves around the three former Baylor Bears that they are on the roster this season: The aforementioned RG3, draft pick Corey Coleman and the most infamous member of the trio, Josh Gordon. His career has been mixed: His talent on the field is nothing to overlook but his off the field choices have kept him in the dog pound (no pun intended). With the recent reinstatement of Gordon and his subsequent 4-game suspension that will have him back on the field in time for Week 5, it is now time for Gordon to re-feast on NFL secondary’s. All Browns fans want is for Josh Gordon to pass his drug tests and stay out of trouble. That is, it.
On defense, Joe Haden is paid like a shutdown corner, but it is hard to continue that trend when you are coupled with a defense that doesn’t get to the quarterback and you’re in a division that gives you high-octane offenses to stop six times a year. The 2016 season must be filled with consistency: A consistent pass rush, consistent pass coverage, and putting opposing quarterbacks and their offenses in hostile situations that would lead to turnovers and points off those turnovers.
In a division that features the Cincinnati Bengals, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, there isn’t much room for patience and growth in the AFC North. With a new coaching staff, new quarterback, new receivers and young draftees on the defensive end, The Browns must take advantage of this offseason to gel as a unit on offense, defense and special teams. With one primetime game on the schedule, the Browns will stay out of the spotlight most of this season. There is, however, that game on the road in Washington in which Robert Griffin III will face his old team that benched him and replaced him with a guy who is now making almost more than RG3 has games played and money made combined. The other NFC East opponents (Dallas, Philadelphia and the New York Giants) should be ripe for the Browns’ picking this season.
Below is the Browns schedule plus an optimistic prediction.
|2016 REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE|
|1||Sun, Sep 11||1:00 PM CBS||Win|
|2||Sun, Sep 18||1:00 PM CBS||Loss|
|3||Sun, Sep 25||1:00 PM CBS||Win|
|4||Sun, Oct 2||1:00 PM CBS||Win|
|5||Sun, Oct 9||1:00 PM CBS||Loss|
|6||Sun, Oct 16||1:00 PM CBS||Win|
|7||Sun, Oct 23||1:00 PM CBS||Loss|
|8||Sun, Oct 30||1:00 PM CBS||Win|
|9||Sun, Nov 6||1:00 PM FOX||Win|
|10||Thu, Nov 10||8:25 PM NFL||Loss|
|11||Sun, Nov 20||1:00 PM CBS||Loss|
|12||Sun, Nov 27||1:00 PM FOX||Win|
|14||Sun, Dec 11||1:00 PM CBS||Loss|
|15||Sun, Dec 18||1:00 PM CBS||Loss|
|16||Sat, Dec 24||1:00 PM CBS||Loss|
|17||Sun, Jan 1||1:00 PM CBS||Loss|
For the Browns, a 7-9 record in 2016 would be a huge upgrade over last season’s 3-13 record. The Browns fan base has yearned for excitement, consistency and winning. Well, they’ll probably have to settle for just one of those, consistency. If the Browns can put Robert Griffin III in the best position to make plays with his talented wide receiving core, then they may be able to put some points on the board and save their defense from struggling like they did a year ago.
If all else fails this season, there’s always LeBron.
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