Mike Holmgren is president of the franchise, replacing what’s-his-name.
Tom Heckert is the general manager, taking over for I-don’t-know-who.
Jake Delhomme is the quarterback, replacing the last guy, who had one of those long hyphenated names: Brady Quinn-Anderson-Frye-Dilfer-Garcia-Holcomb-Couch, or something like that. (Hey, it was a tough year. Or was it 11? I lost count, to tell the truth.)
Finally, Jim Brown is mad somewhere. When Jim Brown is mad, the Browns play well.
So the team will be improved. The question is by how much.
A lot, I say. As in six wins.
But wait, you ask. Didn’t they win five games last year? Come on, six wins isn’t much improvement over five; just one, if I’m smarter than Jeff Foxworthy.
In the Browns’ case, six wins is a lot.
The five victories a year ago were a bit of a mirage. Yes, they won the games fair and square. Yes, they won four of them consecutively to end the season, and looked pretty good doing it.
Still, they were playing for something—pride—when their opponents were mostly playing out the season. Oh, Pittsburgh was the big prize of the lot, and Jacksonville should have had a little gas left in the tank and was therefore a pretty satisfying notch in the belt, but it wasn’t like they knocked off the Saints or the Colts, or even the Texans or the Jets.
So I view the Browns of last season as more of a three or four-win team, perhaps for my own sanity as much as anything. Too many years of getting one’s hopes up teaches cautious optimism, not unmitigated glee.
There’s a pop culture joke there somewhere, but let’s move on.
Here’s why I think there will be improvement: The quarterback position is far more stable than it has been in years, which gives the offense a fighting chance; the offensive line is solid; there is potential (still that, nothing more) at receiver and running back; the secondary looks exciting; Phil Dawson will get them points when drives stall in enemy territory; and they have Josh Cribbs.
The sum total of those parts will make them better this year.
Here’s why I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs, or even reach .500: The defensive line has yet to show they can stop the run; the linebackers are inconsistent; they lack a premier punter; Jake Delhomme is 37, not 27, and, as good as he’s looked, that makes a difference; they don’t have enough playmakers on offense; and they will be facing a tough schedule.
I wrote the other day that the Browns need to win their first two games, against Tampa Bay and Kansas City, because the seven that follow are ridiculously hard. If they win those two, I say they win six on the year. If they don’t, it could be a long season.
That’s not being a naysayer; the little boy in me hopes they go 16-0, sweep through the playoffs, win the Super Bowl 87-0 (you have to let Dawson kick a field goal), and are forever remembered as the greatest team in the history of professional football.
But that’s little boy stuff, and the NFL isn’t.
Six wins? I’ll be happy.
As long as the Browns play with pride and determination—and take steps forward and not the other way—it will be an enjoyable ride.
Right now, especially, the fans of this snakebitten city deserve no less.