If I met you in a bar back then and told you that Cleveland would get an expansion team a few years later that would wallow in sub-mediocrity until they started rebuilding using the Bill Belichick model, what would you have thought?
Admit it, you would have thought I was completely insane. You might have laughed me out of the bar. In downtown Cleveland, I might not have made it out of the bar for suggesting such a thing.
Belichick is hated in Cleveland. Well, he’s hated everywhere except New England, but he’s especially hated in Cleveland.
Yet, without Belichick’s system, one could argue that the Cleveland Browns wouldn’t be looking at a potential playoff run in 2008.
It started with the head coach, Romeo Crennel. Romeo brought with him three Super Bowls and the Belichick master plan for building a franchise.
Crennel knows that a good team starts with the lines. So, together with GM Phil Savage, they went to work on the offensive line.
Joe Thomas was drafted high in the first round to be their left tackle of the future. Eric Steinbach was brought over from Cincinnati to solidify the interior. Hank Fraley was brought in from Philadelphia and has become a fantastic center.
Rex Hadnot will start this season at right guard, as Ryan Tucker is still recovering from injury. That could be the weak spot on the line. Kevin Shaffer is underrated and will do fine at right tackle.
The offensive line will be protecting quarterback Derek Anderson. Anderson was the breakout star among quarterbacks in the 2007 season. He’s a decent quarterback, but his penchant for throwing the ball to the other team worries me a bit.
Brady Quinn is waiting in the wings, but he’s shown nothing thus far to justify pushing Anderson for the starting job at any point in the near future.
Jamal Lewis had a surprisingly good season last year and hopes to repeat that performance this season. If he doesn’t, there’s pretty much nobody behind him. The Browns are putting a lot on a running back who has a lot of wear on his tires.
Braylon Edwards and Donte’ Stallworth should make a dynamic wide-receiving duo. Edwards does everything well. Stallworth is great at stretching the field and making plays after the catch. You couldn't ask for a better one-two punch.
Joshua Cribbs is a tremendous kick returner. Given Joe Jurevicius’ knee injury (he'll start the season on the PUP list), Cribbs may get a chance to see if his kick returning can translate into offensive production.
Kellen Winslow might be the best receiving tight end in the NFL. If his knees can hold up, he’ll be a tremendous weapon.
Their offense will be good, so long as Anderson doesn’t turn the ball over and Lewis stays healthy.
The defense should be much improved, assuming the defensive line can come together.
It was a slow process, but through trades and free agent signings, the Browns think they've finally fixed their defensive line.
Corey Williams came over from Green Bay and brought some impressive talent with him.
Shaun Rogers is one of those “he’s great when he’s motivated” types, but he was probably the best they could have done this offseason at the nose-tackle position. He's a boom or bust pickup to whom they gave a ton of guaranteed money.
Robaire Smith is an effective defensive end—though he can be blocked at times.
The linebackers are led by Willie McGinest, who is a crafty veteran. Crafty, by the way, is Latin for old but still useful. Andra Davis, D’Qwell Jackson, and Kamerion Wimbley round out the linebacker position. All are quality NFL starters, but none are spectacular.
The secondary has its issues.
Eric Wright is okay, but not great in coverage. Brandon McDonald shouldn’t be starting. Behind them is a whole lot of nothing, headlined by career nickelback Terry Cousin.
Sean Jones is a pretty physical strong safety. Brodney Pool should be okay at the free safety.
There really isn’t a great player in the secondary. If the newly revamped defensive line can’t pressure opposing quarterbacks, they’ll likely have a field day against these guys.
It really comes down to the Browns and the Steelers in the AFC North. For the Browns’ coaching staff and front office, it may be playoffs or bust this season.
Jamal Lewis has a lot of miles, and it’s usually a safe bet that running backs with that much mileage break down at some point. Jerome Harrison will take over if he goes down.
While he’s not great, the offensive line is good enough to make him worth a gamble should Lewis go down.
Fighting for draft picks, fighting for the playoffs, or contending for the Super Bowl?
The Browns will be fighting for the playoffs.
The Browns will beat out the Steelers, win the division, go 10-6, then get bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
A successful season, but I’m not sold on Derek Anderson in the playoffs.
Sean Crowe is a Senior Writer and an NFL Community Leader at Bleacher Report. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His archive can be found here. You can find everything he writes, including articles for other publications, here.