After many disastrous seasons, including a 4-12 campaign in 2006, the Cleveland Browns brought hope in 2007 to city desperate for a winner. The Browns finished 2007 with a surprising 10-6 finish and missing the playoffs on a tie-breaker with Tennessee.
Expectations are high for Cleveland heading into 2008 as they try to win in the playoffs for the first time since they re-entered the league in 1999.
The offense exploded last year with emergence of Derek Anderson at quarterback. Both Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow II appear to be the players the Browns hoped they were getting when they drafted them. Free agent acquisition Jamal Lewis returned to the form he showed in his early days by rushing for 1,300 yards last season.
I'm here to tell you, though, that Cleveland will not make the playoffs in 2008. In fact, I don't even expect them to have a winning season.
Here are three reasons the Cleveland Browns will finish no better than 8-8 this year:
The AFC North must face the NFC East and AFC South this year. Those are the two toughest divisions in the entire NFL. The NFC East features three playoff teams from last season, including the Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
The AFC South also features three playoff teams from 2007, including a recent Super Bowl champion in Indianapolis.
A 9-7 record may win this division this year, and until the Browns beat Pittsburgh at least once, they will not overtake the Steelers for supremacy in the North.
As good as the offense was last year and is expected to be this year, the defense was terrible last year. They ranked near the bottom of the league in nearly every major category, including points allowed and yards allowed.
While Cleveland did make a number of moves to bolster that porous defense, it takes more than just training camp and preseason games for a defense to play as a unit. It takes time and experience in regular season games.
The front office, coaches, players, and fans can say that the defense is better than last year's, but they need to prove it.
Outside of Jamal Lewis and Willie McGinest, the Browns don't have very much experience handling high expectations.
Two seasons ago, I watched as the New Orleans Saints pull what Cleveland similarly pulled last year. Coming off a terrible 2005 season, the Saints miraculously pulled out a 10-6 record and advanced to the NFC championship game in 2006.
Expectations were high, too high, for the Saints in 2007 and it showed. They fell flat on their face on their way to an 0-4 start and limped to a 7-9 finish.
Opposing teams now will treat the Browns like they are playoff contenders instead of NFL doormats. Cleveland must figure out how to play with the proverbial target on their back.