The bar has been raised and the gauntlet has been thrown.
Speaking at a log-rolling and pancake-eating festival in Northern Ohio earlier this week, Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini let it slip that he thinks the progress his new team is making this offseason could pay big dividends this year.
"I know the fans may find this hard to believe," said Mangini while wiping syrup from his chin with a hatchet. "But I really think that with all the hard work we've been putting in, and all the talent we've assembled on this team, the Cleveland Browns have a real chance of being mediocre this season."
"Maybe even very mediocre."
When told of his new coach's comments, wide receiver Braylon Edwards dropped his jaw. And his car keys. And a small child he'd been carrying.
Defensive back Brodney Pool, meanwhile, agreed with his coach.
"All I can say," the defensive back said when replying to the news, "Is that I've been very mediocre for a very long time now."
"I'm just glad someone's finally noticing."
Quarterback Brady Quinn, however, seemed to be less enthusiastic about Mangini's comments.
"You know, I appreciate the coach trying to build up a little morale and get the team excited for the season and all, but seriously...I'm still the quarterback, right?"
Most fans were skeptical of the mediocre tag, as well.
"Sure, the Browns always look mediocre on paper," said Linus Steigenwhaller , a long-time fan from Canton. "But everyone knows they don't play on paper. They play on something other than paper."
"Of course, I'm not sure what that something else is, because actually watching the games causes me to vomit."
Reached later at a puppet and pierogi festival in Parma, the visibly frustrated coach was still standing by his comments.
"I realize that I'm the new guy in town," said Mangini as he wiped a dollop of sour cream off his ear with a Tickle-Me-Elmo doll. "But I meant what I said when I said it before; the Cleveland Browns are going to be a very, very mediocre team this year. You can absolutely bank on it."
"Unless, of course, we suck."
"Then all bets are off."