It’s always fun predicting how a team is going to finish even before the first snap of the season. Time for some fun.
The Browns have kept company with the dregs of the National Football League for a major portion of the time since they returned to the league in 1999. And, for the most part, deservedly so.
It is said that you are as strong as those with whom you surround yourself. Considering where the Browns have finished most of the time in the last dozen seasons, it’s not difficult to see where the problem lies.
But it now appears the Lerner family has done something right and the big payoff will not be that oncoming train. The long-awaited turnaround season that will ultimately recapture the glory days of the past begins tomorrow at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
That’s because Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert Jr. have slowly removed the Browns from the dregs category and placed them in the representative category. Last season, we saw glimpses of the future with shocking victories over New England and New Orleans.
This season, look for the Browns to take a significant step toward the kind of respectability they have sought for way too long. This will be the season they take a large step forward.
Of course, an easy schedule will be a large factor as the Pat Shurmur era kicks off tomorrow at CBS against the Cincinnati Bengals. The home schedule is one of the easiest in recent memory. Six of the eight opponents racked up a 39-57 record last season.
In fact, only one of their out-of-division opponents this season managed a better than .500 mark last season. And that team, the Indianapolis Colts, will be without its Hall of Fame quarterback when the Browns travel to Indiana in week two.
If Colt McCoy and the west coast offense are, indeed, a match made in heaven, there is every reason to believe the Browns will flirt with the .500 mark this season. I see them winning as many as seven games, mostly before the final five weeks of the season.
That grueling stretch includes four games with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens and the last of three trips out west to play the Arizona Cardinals. That masochistic stretch more than makes up for the relatively easy home schedule.
I see the Browns checking into that string of games with a 6-5 record with McCoy getting the pro football world’s attention, drawing comparisons to Brian Sipe along the way. Sipe was a classic overachiever for the Browns in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
In some ways, this season will end up much like the 2001 season with Butch Davis in his first season as coach, That team beat the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens twice en route to a 7-9 season.
I see the Browns knocking off the Bengals twice this season and delivering a surprising blow to another division opponent’s playoff hopes in the last month.
With an offense that will be good enough to not ever be out of a game and a defense that will grow and mature as the season unfolds, the Browns at the end of the season no longer will be considered dregs anymore.
This will be the season the Browns take one giant step beyond respectable and become competitive. They no longer will be the weekly pushovers. Those bully days are over.
Make it 7-9 with an outside shot at 8-8. No playoffs, but Browns fans will not dread the 2012 season. That’s one they will eagerly look forward to after this season.