2011 was another disappointing season for Cleveland Browns' fans, as coach Pat Shurmur's team struggled offensively on their way to a 4-12 record and a last place finish in the AFC North.
In fact, the Browns have only been to the playoffs once in the 13 seasons since they reentered the league, and the team hasn't had a winning record since 2007.
Yet Cleveland wasn't simply a pushover team last season, and they will be even more difficult to deal with in 2012.
Of the 12 losses that the Browns suffered in 2011, eight of them were by 10 points or less.
Against the other three AFC North teams, all of whom made the playoffs, the Browns' average losing margin was a mere eight points.
To say that the Browns are just a touchdown and a two-point conversion worse than the rest of the AFC North is very encouraging for a team that won just four games.
The obvious weakness in Cleveland was on offense and management did its best to attend to this issue through the 2012 NFL Draft.
With the No. 4 and No. 22 picks in the first-round Cleveland selected Alabama running back Trent Richardson and Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden.
Both players are expected to start right out of training camp and Richardson looks like a perennial Pro-Bowler in the backfield and the franchise player Cleveland has sorely missed.
The Browns also picked up an immediate offensive starter in the second-round when they picked run-blocking tackle Mitchell Schwartz out of California.
Schwartz is an excellent addition to a line that already showed great potential with All-Pro tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack.
The wide-receiving corps is less than spectacular with Greg Little and Mohamed Massaquoi starting, but that is why the Browns decided to spend a supplemental draft pick on Josh Gordon.
Gordon sat out the 2011 season at Utah after being kicked off the Baylor team for using marijuana, but he has all the potential to turn into a legitimate superstar on the edge.
The big three of Weeden, Richardson, and Gordon will be what Browns fans should focus on in 2012, as the success of this trio is paramount to the success of the organization in future years.
Cleveland has a number of budding superstars on defense and could be considered on the same level as the rest of the AFC North when all is said and done.
On the line Frostee Rucker was brought in from Cincinnati to start opposite of the talented Jabaal Sheard on the end.
You could make a case that Ahtyba Rubin is the best defensive tackle in the NFL and he is certainly in the top five.
Joe Haden is one of the best young cornerbacks in the NFL and he partners with safety T.J. Ward to form a dangerous secondary for quarterbacks to throw into.
The Browns have the unfortunate privilege of having the third toughest schedule in the NFL, although this could be a blessing in disguise for this young team.
It is highly unlikely that Cleveland would have competed in the difficult AFC North this season regardless of their schedule.
Having the opportunity to go up against some of the NFL's elite will give the Browns a chance to really test their young players and get a good read on how successful they can be in the future.
An optimistic view on the season has the Browns winning six games, but you can bet that each game will be a dog fight to the finish.
The AFC North and the rest of the NFL better not overlook the Cleveland Browns in 2012 as some of those close games from 2011 could turn into victories for the Dawg Pound.
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