For the Browns, Up Is the Only Direction Possible
Coming off a 10-6 season in 2007 which—despite failing to result in a postseason appearance—reinvigorated the franchise and its fan base, expectations were unnaturally high for the Cleveland Browns in 2008.
On the schedule last season were five nationally televised prime time games against the cream of the crop in the NFL; sports talk radio was buzzing in the preseason about playoff hopes and even some national sports media outlets were calling for big things of the Browns in 2008.
And then the Browns won four games.
Falling well short of expectations pretty much sums up Cleveland's 2008 campaign. Between injuries and relative ineptitude, the team never seemed to get on track. Even a big win against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants on Monday Night Football seemed like an anomaly at the time instead of the standard.
Gone are Romeo Crennel and Phil Savage. Kellen Winslow was traded away this off season. Donte Stallworth is mired in a legal battle in south Florida stemming from a fatality he caused earlier this year. Several players, most notably Brady Quinn, Shaun Rogers, and Josh Cribbs, have—reportedly—asked out if their demands are not met this off season. The culture is changing in Cleveland, and the good thing is that it would be hard for the Browns not to improve on last season's dismal performance.
By how much, though, remains to be seen.
New head coach Eric Mangini is bringing a new philosophy—along with a bunch of his former players—to the Browns' locker room. The days of jovial head coach-player relations are finished. Now is the time for insensitive, get-the-job-done-or-else football under a coach from the Bill (Parcells and Belichick) family tree of coaching. Just ask Cribbs, who recently asked for a new contract and is now demanding a trade because the new front office simply would not cave into his request.
For a team that plays in a division where the golden standard is tough, physical football, the Browns needed a shot in the arm. Finesse football will have to go by the wayside in order for Cleveland to have any success against the likes of Baltimore and Pittsburgh on a yearly basis. The NFL has become a league where mimicking the recent successes of others has become trendy and the Browns would do well in taking a look at how the Ravens and Steelers play football.
Realistically speaking, besting last year's win total of four games is very possible this season for Cleveland. Improving on it by leaps and bounds, however, seems improbable. Mangini may have taken the Jets to the postseason in his first year on the job in New York, but doing so now would require the Browns to win at least nine games.
Based on last year's success and what other teams have done in the off season, it does not appear there are nine winnable games on Cleveland's 2009 regular season schedule.
So where does that leave the Browns?
Finishing the season .500 may be the best case scenario, provided the Browns can steal a few games from heavy favorites. Five to seven wins, however, feels more appropriate. This is a team headed in the right direction under Mangini, so a return to the .500 and above level of professional football is in the foreseeable future.
Provided, of course, that the Browns give Mangini the time and personnel to get the rebuilding job done.
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