Cleveland Browns: Is a .500 Season Still Possible?
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After watching the Browns' better-than-expected preseason efforts, some of us (who shall remain nameless) got a little over-excited and predicted an 8-8 season.
With 12 games down in 2010, the Browns have logged five wins and seven losses and have four games left to play. That's right, fellow optimists: an 8-8 season is still within the Browns' grasp.
But is it realistically possible? Let's take a look at the remaining four games on the schedule to attempt to determine whether the Browns can post three more wins in 2010 and go .500 on the season.
1. Week 14 at Buffalo Bills
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The Good News: I don't know who those people are who wander out onto the field when the Bills' opponents' offenses have the ball, but they're certainly not an NFL defense.
The Bills boast the worst run defense in the league, ceding a whopping 2,051 yards to opposing rushers. Really bad news if you're about to go up against the likes of Peyton Hillis.
The Bad News: While it hasn't exactly translated into wins for them, this team has shown on multiple occasions that they can score a lot of points.
Remember back in week seven, when they put 34 points on the board against Baltimore and forced overtime? The Ravens barely got out of that one alive at 37-34 and they have one of the league's best defenses.
Most teams aren't afraid of the underrated Ryan Fitzpatrick, but with his combination of cerebral and athletic skill, they should be. A guy who can put a lot of points on the board should be concerning to the Browns, whose offense has been on the anemic side in terms of points lately.
Verdict: Looks like a scary game for Cleveland fans with a score far closer than it should be, but the Bills defense will be no match for Peyton Hillis.
2. Week 15 at Cincinnati Bengals
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The Good News: Something is very, very wrong with Carson Palmer, and his team's 26th-ranked running game isn't helping.
Cincinnati was lucky to get the two wins they do have and publicly-aired frustration by their players hasn't helped them focus on getting back on track either.
The Bad News: The Browns have a tendency to drop games they should win, and a struggling opponent who is also in their division is a prime candidate to force this sort of upset.
Cincinnati's pass defense does a fair job (15th in the NFL), which means Hillis may have to shoulder this one alone.
Verdict: Palmer throws to players in the wrong uniform even when their colors aren't similar to his own team's. Bengals nine game losing streak will reach 11 by the time the Browns get done with them.
3. Week 16 Baltimore Ravens
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The Good News: The Browns almost got the Ravens the first time the two teams met this season. Since then, the Browns have become a much, much stronger team. Add to that the fact that Joe Flacco had the game of his career in the last Browns-Ravens matchup, which won't happen again.
Intangibles will matter in this one too: the Cleveland faithful are still really angry at Art Modell and his Ravens and the Browns have evolved into a team that really, really wants to win for their city and their fans.
In the event of a close game, heart matters. A lot.
The Bad News: The widespread belief that the Ravens are all defense and no offense is a complete misconception. Ranked 16th in team rushing yardage and 15th in team passing yardage, this team isn't exactly an offensive juggernaut, but it's also far from one-sided.
Flacco may not be as good as he looked in the first meeting of these two teams, but he's no slouch.
Then there's the more obvious problem: the Browns are facing the sixth-ranked rushing defense in the league, which means this one can't be won on Hillis' back alone.
Verdict: The Ravens are a good team, but they are very beatable. The Browns almost got them once, and this optimist thinks this time Cleveland comes out on top of an ugly, grinding, low-scoring game.
4. Week 17 Pittsburgh Steelers
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The Good News: All the rivalry-based hate in the world won't change the fact that the Steelers are a better team than the Browns. But this was true at the end of last season too, and the Browns came away with the win.
Certainly the Steelers are a better team than they were at the end of 2009, but guess what: so are the Browns.
While this one looks grim, remember that just like the Browns have a habit of losing to teams they should beat, they also have a habit of beating teams they should lose to (ahem, New Orleans, New England).
The Bad News: The Steelers are beatable, but only barely so. This is a team that looks like it could go deep into the playoffs and has no significant weak points.
But the really bad news is that Pittsburgh boasts far and away the best run defense in the league. The Steeler D has allowed an impossibly stingy 747 yards on the season. That's almost 300 fewer yards than even the second-ranked run defense in the league, Chicago.
The only bright spot is that their pass defense is ranked 24th in the league, which gives the Browns a shred of a chance to succeed if all of their receivers have, uh, the best games of their respective careers.
Verdict: Looks like the one we want the most is the one we won't get.
The Final Tally
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If my predictions are correct (and unfortunately, they rarely are), then this gives the Browns three wins in their remaining four games this season. It's easy math—this puts our beloved Brownies at 8-8 in 2010.
That's an optimistic prediction for sure; the smart money says the Browns take Buffalo and Cincinnati but lose to Baltimore and Pittsburgh, leaving them at 7-9 for the season.
Regardless, the fact that we can even ponder the possibility of an 8-8 season (or a 7-9 one, for that matter) after the way the year started for the Browns is really something.
What do you all think? Please share your predictions for how the Browns' record will shake out at the end of the 2010 season in the comments below.