If the fans of the Cleveland Browns were looking for some love this week then they will be very disappointed. There has not been much national love to go around.
It is tough to blame the national experts for doubting the Browns heading into the regular season. The starting offense struggled to put touchdowns on the board, the defense was shredded by the St. Louis Rams backup quarterbacks and their best player was suspended for the entire season.
Just to add insult to injury, Gordon reportedly accepted a job with a car dealership to pass the time this year, according to ESPN.com. It is tough being a Browns fan.
It is also tough to have confidence in a franchise that has been dominated this bad by Pittsburgh. They have lost three times in a row, lost seven of their last eight, 19 of their last 21 and won just five times total since 1999 against the Steelers.
The futility is not just against Pittsburgh, however. The Browns have won just one season opening game since 1999 and that was all the way back in 2004. Even the media I cover the team with every day seem very pessimistic about the Browns' chances for victory.
So how big would a win against Pittsburgh in Week 1 be for the Browns?
“With all the new staff, new coaches, new players on the team; it would be a big win,” cornerback Buster Skrine told the media on Thursday. “It would be a division win starting the season so it would probably be the biggest win of my career so far.”
Think about that statement. In the third year of a player’s career a Week 1 victory would be the biggest win of his career. That is a glaring statement about what things have been like in Cleveland.
With optimism at a near all-time low, let’s take a look at who the experts are picking to win the game on Sunday.
|Elliot Harrison||NFL.com||Pittsburgh||20-17||What can the real-life Hoyer do against this Steelers' defense? Not much, especially if he doesn't get help from Cleveland's receivers.|
|Peter Schrager||FOX Sports||Pittsburgh||27-13||Who’s catching passes for Cleveland? And is Brian Hoyer even any good? I see this one getting out of hand early on.|
|Tom Pelissero||USA Today||Pittsburgh||N/A||N/A|
|Frank Schwab||Yahoo Sports||Pittsburgh||N/A||N/A|
|John Breech||CBS Sports||Pittsburgh||24-13||N/A|
|Various Media Outlets|
As you can see it was nearly a clean sweep for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. The only man who picked the Browns for a victory was Bleacher Report’s very own NFL Columnist Mike Freeman.
In his article from Wednesday, Freeman not only predicts that Manziel won’t start, he also has higher expectations than most people around the country for the Browns this season.
Johnny Manziel won't start. Not this season, anyway.
I'm one of the few people in the world who believe the Browns will surprise some people and Brian Hoyer will do enough to keep the starting job for the entire season.
I also believe Browns wide receiver Miles Austin will make the Pro Bowl, so maybe I'm smoking the good stuff like Josh Gordon.
What does seem certain is that the Browns will have a package of plays specifically designed to get Manziel involved.
I will take two of whatever Mike is drinking. I not only believe that Manziel will end up starting at some point, I also don’t see any way that Miles Austin makes it through the entire season. I also don’t think either of those things will keep the Browns from having a decent season.
The team will improve as the year moves along and that is especially true for the offense. They will never be classified as “explosive” but the combination of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and Johnny Manziel will be tough to defend toward the end of the season.
For Week 1, however, I do not have nearly as optimistic a view. It won’t be ugly and the Browns will not get blown out but they really won’t ever be in the game, either. The main reason? You guessed it; the offense.
As good as I expect the Browns defense to be, and I expect it to be very good, they will spend far too much time on the field to be effective late in the game. In fact, if the Steelers get a 10-point lead anytime in the first half this game is probably over.
I just cannot envision a scenario where the Browns can consistently move the football and score more than two touchdowns. If they do win this game, it will be because the running game was dominant and they controlled the football a majority of the time. Ball control will be the biggest key for a Browns potential victory.
Unfortunately, I see at least one big pass play given up by a secondary that has an injured Buster Skrine and a rookie who is still wet behind the ears. Justin Gilbert will see time on the field but expect the Steelers to target him every time he is in the game. If they do give up a big pass play for a touchdown it will put the Browns at a serious disadvantage they probably cannot climb back from.
My Prediction - Pittsburgh 24 Cleveland 16
All quotes and observations acquired first hand unless otherwise noted.