Heading into Week 16, the Cleveland Browns are coming off perhaps the most disheartening loss of the season. On the bright side for fans, there is a distinct possibility it won't matter once the apocalypse is among us.
But if mankind and John Cusack are still around, Cleveland will have to figure out a way to rebound from a season packed end to end with very high highs and very low lows—kinda like my dating life, but with a larger audience and Brad Childress' mustache.
In any case, there are a few bright spots in the chaos. We laughed, we cried and we debated, but most importantly, we paid attention. When it comes to autumns, the Browns have given fans more than our share of duds in the past decade. 2012 wasn't one of them, and 2013 won't be either.
The majority of losses this season were close in either numbers or tone. With a few adjustments and a little sprinkle of fairy dust, this Cleveland squad could be playoff contenders in the next couple of years.
Will the team rebound from a losing season and break .500 next year? It's difficult to say. But I would argue that the tires are done spinning and starting to gain some traction.
Here are five reasons why fans should have hope heading into 2013.
One of the more pleasant surprises of the season, the Browns defense proved that it can play through the injuries and suspensions to some of its more influential players.
It was far from perfect, but this defense played the entire season with a chip on its collective shoulder. There were predictably good performances from Joe Haden and unpredictably great moments from the likes of Buster Skrine, Craig Robertson and others. Penalties were a huge concern in the first part of the season, but even those are seeming to die down a bit with experience.
Even with the losses of Phil Taylor, Joe Haden, Scott Fujita and others, the defense boasted some compelling statistics. They tended to stand their ground on third-down conversions, for instance, allowing just 36 percent to go through.
There are two main reasons why this unit isn't ranked higher in overall team efficiency: injuries and time. The Browns offense averages a far-below-league-average 28:17 time of possession, and any defense is bound to get tired sometime.
If they are given a chance to get healthy and fill some holes in the offseason, this will be one of the more feared units in the coming seasons. The Browns are well on their way to cultivating one of those brutal, scrappy and stingy defenses characteristic of the AFC North.
Browns fans know, all too well, what it's like to ask that painful playoff-free question: What do we need to fix? At certain points in the last decade, the answer has been, everything.
Sometimes the big problems eclipse the small ones. If I get punched in the face at the same time I happen to have a hangnail, I'll probably take care of the former first. The same goes for the Browns.
We came into this season with one of the most inefficient and clumsy offenses in the NFL and a lot of questions to go with it. Since you apparently have to score points to win games, that had to take precedent over seemingly smaller concerns.
I'm not claiming that the big stuff is solved, but the Browns have had just enough cohesiveness this season to illuminate even the smallest cracks. It's not a science, and these weaknesses can completely shift with the tweak of an ankle or a failed drug test. But it's a start.
It's easier to sew on a button than to re-knit an entire onesie, and the Browns are solid in enough positions that we can turn our attention to the nitty gritty this offseason.
Brandon Weeden reminds me of myself when I'm trying to flirt: anxious, tentative and often unaware that he's staring at his target too much.
It's becoming more and more clear that Weeden's problem is overwhelmingly the mental aspect of the game. Yes, he's had a lot of pressure on him—so have all rookie quarterbacks. And I love my team, but it's not exactly like the nation's eyes are constantly upon the Browns. We're not the Cowboys; he needs to learn how to cope.
And yes, he's been criticized. So has everyone in every job ever. He can either use it as motivation to do better or he can drown in it. It's really that simple.
Weeden is one of the most polarizing Browns players in recent memory. Love him or hate him, however, there's no denying his inconsistency. And starting NFL quarterbacks in a brutally competitive division don't have that luxury. His audition's almost over, and something has to happen behind that football.
Maybe he'll get his head right in the offseason. Maybe the front office will push for the buzzed-about return of Colt McCoy. Maybe the coaching staff will re-examine the WCO and how it fits with this particular set of talent. Regardless, I can't imagine a series of performances the likes of which we've seen this season. Something has to give.
And when it does, the Browns offense will finally be able to concentrate on getting more consistent(ly good.)
Jimmy Haslem and Joe Banner mean business. Personally, I think it's about time.
I tried to find a term in theoretical physics to describe how I feel about this decade of Browns fandom. I couldn't find one (Chaos Theory was close, but not quite right) so I'm making one up.
Shurphy's Law is quite simple; eventually even the most poorly coached teams can still succeed with that much raw talent on the field. It's science.
I really wanted Pat Shurmur to make it, but even his players seem to be doubting his ability to lead this team to the light. Something isn't working, and the front office and the fans won't be able to take it for much longer.
We've got a hungry team, and we need a hungry head coach. The Browns are a unique mix that requires both a scrutinizing eye for talent and the maddening itch to perfect it. I simply don't see that in Shurmur, and I don't think the players or the front office do either.
Change is in the wind, and it's a reason for positive thinking.
Not many people know this, but there was actually an asterisk right after December 21, 2012 on the Mayan calendar. In the footnotes, two mysterious and beautiful symbols were only recently decoded.
I don't write the news, people. I just report it.
Note: Admittedly, I have no idea if this picture is at all germane to the topic. I just thought it was cool and kind of mysterious looking.