After another 4-12 season in 2011, optimism remains at an all-time low for the Cleveland Browns and their fans. This was now their fourth straight season of 11 or more losses and for the third time in that time span, the Browns finished last in their division.
But that's just the way it's been for the Browns and their fans ever since the team was reincarnated in 1999. In that time span there has been only one playoff berth and one other winning season. It's especially sad considering the rich tradition of success the Browns had prior to the Super Bowl era.
Two major factors that are out of the Browns control have their season in jeopardy before it's even begun. One is that they are in an extremely difficult division. The AFC North was the only division to send three teams to the playoffs in 2011. Two is that in addition to six games against AFC North foes, they also play two more great divisions in the AFC West and the NFC East.
Even with the 4-12 record last year, the Browns actually had good defensive effort almost the entire year. Their pass defense was ranked second in the league while their overall defense was ranked 10th overall. Unfortunately the run offense did not hold up their end of the bargain and they gave up 147.4 rushing yards a game, good for third worst in the league.
Stopping the pass is good but almost meaningless when teams can run the ball at will against you. It's even more pathetic when considering the Browns horribly anemic offense, which was ranked in the bottom 10 for passing, rushing and total yards.
The Browns offense can't be much worse than last year and if Trent Richardson can become an every-down back, he could have a special career. Unfortunately I can't say the same for possible starting quarterback Brandon Weeden, who has basically no receiving weapons for his rookie season.
With a brutal schedule and a terrible offense, the Browns could be 3-13 or even worse than that next year. Should they get the No. 1 overall pick, there will no doubt be lots of speculation as to whether they keep Weeden or they decide to draft USC's Matt Barkley.