As the 2008 season got underway Thursday night, I decided to make a bold prediction.
The Cleveland Browns will win the AFC North.
Paul Brown's organization is steadily improving with every season.
In 2006, they were 4-12 and last season, 10-6.
After having their postseason dreams crushed on the final day of the regular season, the Browns have made several new acquisitions and have been focused throughout training camp to reach the playoffs in 2008.
Here is how I view the ''new look'' Cleveland Browns:
Derek Anderson QB
2007-08 Season Numbers: 3,787 Yds, 29 TD, 19 INT, 56.5% Comp. Rating, 82.5% QB Rating
The unsuspecting quarterback never thought he would become a Pro Browl selection and almost lead the Browns to the playoffs.
Anderson began as the 3rd string quarterback last year to begin the season, behind Charlie Frye and rookie Brady Quinn.
However, Anderson leap-frogged his way to power in Week 1 after Frye failed to become productive in the offense and Quinn with no playbook knowledge.
Derek led Cleveland to a 10-6 record including three consectuive victories from Week 6-9, and sweeping the series against divison rival Baltimore.
The 6'6 quarterback decided to resign with the Browns in the offseason; looking to build upon a successful season that concluded by narrowingly missing the playoffs last season.
As for his availability in the team's opener against the Cowboys, Derek's concussion has been reduced to merely a minor symptom and should be fine for game time.
Jamal Lewis RB
2007-08 Season Numbers: 298 Carries, 1304 Rushing Yds, 9 TD, 4.4 YPC, 30 Rec, 248 Yds
In a crucial season of his career, Lewis made a turning point in 2007, taking one giant step in a positive direction by finishing 5th in the NFL rushing and picking up fifty eight first downs.
There has been some concern about Jamal's hamstring and whether he will be ready for the Cleveland's opener on Sunday against the Cowboys.
Coach Romeo Crennel has said Lewis's hamstring is fine and that he will start for the Browns.
Lee Vickers FB
15 Carries, 43 Yards, 2.9 YPC, 13 Receptions, 91 Yards, 7 YPC
Named to Pro Bowl in 2007, Vickers is among one of the league's youngest and most talented at the fullback position.
The 2006 sixth round pick out of Colorado, Lee specializes in run blocking, clearing the wreckage and paving the way for Jamal Lewis and third down back Jerome Harrison.
Vickers also excels at pass blocking, lowering his shoulders into trespassers.
Lawrence is one of the most agile full backs in the NFL, running a 4.6 in the 40 yard dash out of college.
Braylon Edwards WR
2007-08 Season Numbers: 80 Rec, 1289 Yds, 16 TD, 18.1 YPC
The fleet-footed receiver out of Ann Arbor simply annihilated defensive backs last season and engraved his tedious effect into the heart of defensive coordinators leaguewide.
Edwards broke the eighteen year old record previously held by Webster Slaughter, by setting the record for most yards in a season in Browns history during 2007. He also set a team record for most touchdowns in a season last year, breaking another Webster record.
The former Michigan Wolverine standout also finished second in the league in touchdowns behind Randy Moss
At 6-3, 215 lbs with a 40 inch vertical, Edwards is nearly impossible to cover. His effortles route running and smooth strides strike terror in the hearts of his pursuers.
A 2007 Pro Bowl selection, Braylon has all the physical tools of a superstar wide receiver and with an entire offseason to build upon chemistry with quarterback Derek Anderson, expect Braylon to have yet another gargantuan year.
Donte' Stallworth WR
2007-08 Season Numbers (with Patriots): 46 Rec, 697 Yds, 3 TD, 15.2 YPC
The new addition to the Browns receiving core, Stallworth finally provides the quality second receiver that Cleveland has been searching for combining a nice 1-2 punch with Braylon.
Stallworth will be able to draw coverage away from Edwards and be a good target for Derek Anderson.
Donte is great off the line of scrimmage and is a well noted route runner. His football I.Q. and his lightning speed make for a winning combination.
With a full year of AFC experience under his belt, look for Donte' to torch the opposition.
2007-08 Season Numbers: 50 Rec, 614 yds, 3 TD, 12.3 YPC
A reliable third down receiver, Jurevicious is a major asset to the team because of his veteran leadership and playoff experience.
While Joe isn't the quickest on the field, he is the wisest and causes confusion within the defense to obtain his catches.
Unfortunately, the Cleveland Browns will be without Joe Jurevicious for the first six weeks of the season because of a knee injury.
Special Teams standout Joshua Cribbs and rookie wide receiver Paul Hubbard will be given a share of Joe's minutes.
Kellen Winslow Jr. TE
2007-08 Season Numbers: 82 Rec, 1106 Yds, 5 TD, 13.5 YPC
In his 2nd full year after recovering from the motorcycle accident, Winslow Jr. had a breakout season notching over 1,100 yards in 14 games last season for the Browns .
The son of Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow Sr., Kellen had the highest yard per catch average of any tight end in the NFL last season and the most 20+ yards catches, with seventeen.
Winslow Jr. now ranks among the deadliest tight ends in the NFL, and with Antonio Gates's injury and Tony Gonzalez aging, he maybe the best in the AFC.
Here are also a few factors working in Cleveland's favor within their own division:
With Baltimore missing Troy Smith and Kyle Boller for the season, and tossing out a premature rookie Joe Flacco as a pawn, how will their season unfold?
By releasing Rudi Johnson and by failing to aquire player compensation, Cincinatti is left without a proven running back and a deep wide receiving core.
Pittsburgh no longer has outstanding pass or run protection with Alan Faneca's departure to the New York Jets. How long can Roethlisberger avoid defensive personnel before he takes a hit and gets injured? How will the Steelers running game cope with the loss?
The Browns finished 8th in Total Yards, 12th in Passing, 10th in Rushing, 12thin Receving, and 1st in Kick Return yardage last season.
This a team with a lot of optimism for the 2008 season and with good reason.
I believe the Cleveland Browns can win the AFC North with that they have compiled and because of the factors above.
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