Do the Cleveland Browns belong among the elite?
This is the question that many are wondering as the '08 NFL season draws closer. It is a known fact that until last year the Browns were never more than average. However, after the Browns showed a high octane performance on offense last year many consider the Browns in the same class as the Steelers or Cowboys.
Nevertheless, this season will prove whether or not the Browns are the real deal for three reasons.
1. The Schedule
The Browns have one of the hardest schedules in the NFL, and most of the teams they will face have excellent defenses.
Their season consists of the NFC East and the AFC Central: Both are considered the hardest division in the league, and they will give the Cleveland Browns a true challenge. For a team that didn't even make the playoffs last year, their schedule alone is reason enough to doubt the Browns.
2. The Defense
While the Browns offense last year was nothing less than marvelous, their defense was another story. The Browns' defense was ranked 30th for total yards allowed last season. That hurts a team regardless of their offense.
The Browns made strides to improve the defense, but all they could show for it was Shaun Rodgers, the biggest question mark on their roster since Brady Quinn. If Rodgers excels this year the defense will improve, but if he doesn't, nothing will be new.
3. The Personnel
This one could make the Browns' season a little hairy.
There are a lot of questions involving the players on the Browns' roster. The quarterback controversy is the most obvious. The Browns made a big sacrifice last year to acquire Brady Quinn, but it wasn't long until Derek Anderson stepped up and started playing stellar.
Jamal Lewis is also a question. "How much does he have left in the tank?" is what many will be wondering this season. What is interesting about this, though, is that people were wondering the same question about Lewis last year. Nevertheless, Jamal Lewis' days are numbered.
And finally, the Browns' poor draft is a reason some Cleveland fans are getting that bad feeling in the pit of their stomach.
All in all, the Browns have plenty of reasons to be hopeful this year, and very well could have another awesome season. However, this next season will be a huge challenge for this surprise team.
If they end the year with a winning season they deserve to considered among the elite, but if the Cleveland Browns return to the Browns of old they will be nothing more than a one year wonder.