Ask Andrea: The AFC North Mailbag
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This week's Ask Andrea AFC North Mailbag features four questions concerning the fates of the Cleveland Browns' quarterbacks, the Browns' eventual chances to win a Super Bowl, whether the Baltimore Ravens or Pittsburgh Steelers are under the most pressure and just what I believe each team's record is going to be when all is said and done this season.
That's a lot to tackle, so let's get at it. Remember: The Mailbag runs every Friday and the only way to send me your questions is via Twitter. Hit the follow button below so you'll be able to get your every burning AFC North question answered in a timely and knowledgeable manner. It's kind of the best.
It's funny you should ask me about this now, Howard. Before I had even caught wind of Sapp's comments, I had been wondering when this particular permutation of the Browns could become a playoff team—and honestly, I don't think it will take them very long.
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This year is stretching it. The Browns have undergone a lot of changes on both sides of the ball, not the least of which is moving to Brandon Weeden at starting quarterback (presumably). It's going to take Cleveland more than just this season to gel together and turn into the kind of team that can make a deep and very serious run at the playoffs.
I think this Browns team, at some point in the next three seasons, is going to be a beast. They brought on all manner of components this offseason to fix their most glaring weaknesses (defensive front seven, running back, quarterback), wide receiver Greg Little is going to be just fine and the group of tight ends they have are severely underrated.
The AFC North is a tough division and the Browns are looking to get tougher, as a result. With the Cincinnati Bengals on an upswing and the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens likely to deal with some personnel shuffling in coming seasons, the Browns may be able to capitalize and make it to the playoffs and perhaps the Super Bowl.
It sounds hilarious or improbable, but I'm with Sapp on this one: The Browns will get a Super Bowl, and yes, it will be in your and my lifetimes.
I think this year will be much like the last, with the Ravens and Steelers at the top, the Bengals just below and the Browns at the bottom—but not way at the bottom, like we've all gotten used to of late.
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The main thing I keep vacillating about in my head is the Ravens' 2012 season. They lost starting left guard Ben Grubbs in free agency and replacing him is going to be difficult. And then there are all the defensive losses—Terrell Suggs to injury, Jarret Johnson to free agency and so on—that also have me worried.
I think the Ravens still have much talent around them, but if the defense falters this year and quarterback Joe Flacco can't hold up his end of the deal in response, it could be a rare season of struggle for Baltimore. But I'm not sold on that future just yet.
I can see both Baltimore and Pittsburgh ending their years at 11-5 or 12-4, the Bengals at 10-6 and the Browns in fourth place at a much-improved 8-8. These predictions, however, will likely change after camp and preseason starts and we have a better picture of just what these teams will be looking like this year.
I think the Ravens are under more pressure. It's not just all the losses on both sides of the ball (Suggs' potentially season-ending Achilles injury included)—it's also the fact that for the last four years, they've made it into the playoffs but have yet to reach the Super Bowl.
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For a team that has been, in many ways, more talented than almost any other in the league, the lack of Super Bowl appearances is disconcerting. The Steelers have undergone some serious changes of their own, from the release of many long-time veterans like Hines Ward and James Farrior, to replacing offensive coordinator Bruce Arians with Todd Haley.
But the core of why they've been so good is still pretty much intact, the veterans they released only make the team younger but not any less experienced and Haley should only maximize the potential of all the players on that offense.
The Steelers know that they can reach a Super Bowl with the group they have, even though there are some new faces and some old, reliable ones are gone. Even with their most talented players on the field, the Ravens have yet to do so; and now, they've lost some key components and are yet again facing such high expectations. If that's not pressure, I don't know what is.
I wish Seneca Wallace was the odd quarterback out for the Cleveland Browns, and I said as much in a column earlier today, but ultimately I think the Browns will opt to trade Colt McCoy before the regular season starts.
As long as Mike Holmgren is around, Wallace is seemingly safe. For whatever reason, the Browns' team president has an affinity for Wallace, which practically assures him job security. That's a major reason the Browns will keep Wallace and not McCoy, but it's not the only one, of course.
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The main issue is value. Though it's smarter for the Browns to have McCoy being Weeden's backup (and, honestly, I think the smartest thing the Browns can do this year is keep both Wallace and McCoy), if they want value for him in a trade, they'll get a better shot at it prior to the start of this season than they will when it ends or the next one begins.
Barring injury or extreme difficulty on Weeden's part, McCoy won't be seeing on-field action this year, and teams in need of a veteran quarterback may be less inclined to trade for someone they haven't seen do anything in quite some time.
But if McCoy can get a few preseason starts in, and the Browns' top brass can get a bit of momentum built for him (let's say he looks good—not Weeden-good, but serviceable-good—in camp), teams with an immediate need for a better backup than they have now (like, maybe, the Denver Broncos) will have more interest.
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Clearly, no team is going to want to trade for Wallace this offseason, this regular season or ever. Wallace has enough bad tape floating around in the world—and turns 32 in August—to make it almost certain he won't catch on anywhere else, with any legitimate shot at playing.
McCoy, on the other hand, has just 21 starts to his name, and still possesses a great deal of both potential and talent. I think the Browns would get decent value for him in a trade once the 2012 season is over, but they'll get better value in August or early September. So if they're looking to move a quarterback and get something in return, McCoy's time is all but up.
However, if the Browns simply want to cut a player and their losses, I truly believe it should be Wallace. If Weeden cannot complete the season, it is far, far worse to have Wallace in there as starter than McCoy. If Cleveland moves McCoy, they better be confident Weeden can be under center all 16 games.
That's it for this week's Mailbag. Remember, we're doing this thing here every week as the season rapidly approaches. Make sure you get your questions in early and you'll be assured a spot in this most coveted of columns.
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