Cleveland Browns: Early Signs Point to a Playoff Appearance in Cleveland in 2011

Cian FaheyFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2011

JACKSONVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 21:  Colt McCoy #12  of the Cleveland Browns leads the team out of the tunnel during a game agaisnt the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on November 21, 2010 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns have not appeared in an NFL playoff game since 2002.

This is just another nightmare that continues to haunt Ohio natives to go along with Lebron James' decision and the fact that the WWE's the Mizz is the only champion the city has seen in recent times.

That may all be about to change however...

Before the 2011 NFL off-season has even officially begun, the Browns have a good basis from which to work towards a playoff appearance in the tough AFC North.

From Brady Quinn to Jake Delhomme, Browns fans have been through a torrid time at the quarterback position. Crucially Colt McCoy has appeared to settle this problem.

Colt McCoy isn't used to losing. McCoy won more NCAA division I games, 45, than any other quarterback in the history of college football. Now the NFL is definitely a different deal than the college game and McCoy finished his rookie season with an underwhelming 2-6 record, but he showed amazing composure throughout leading his team to impressive victories in New Orleans against the Saints as well as at home over the New England Patriots.

He does not have the statistics, throwing six touchdowns to nine interceptions, but anyone that watched him play last season could only have been impressed. Every rookie quarterback struggles at some stage, but when you consider that the Browns lack a true No. 1 receiver or great depth at the position, you can't help but wonder what he will do next season.

McCoy remains a young quarterback, but like other quarterbacks that have had success early in their careers, such as Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, he has a top-notch running game to rely on.

Peyton Hillis gives the team a definite offensive identity. Hillis exploded last season carrying the ball 270 times for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns. Hillis does not often come off the field. He is the true definition of a feature back, but the return of rookie Montario Hardesty to the field next season could give them a dynamic duo to carry the load.

Should Hardesty not recover sufficiently from his torn ACL, that prevented him from playing in his rookie season, the team should not miss a beat. Hardesty is a luxury that the Browns would like to have but do not necessarily need to make it to the playoffs in 2011.

The Browns will be a running team in 2011. With such stud maulers as Joe Thomas, Alex Mack and Eric Steinbach, that is always going to be their focus but this off-season could make them even more dangerous.

The team will be hoping to pick up either AJ Green or Julio Jones in the upcoming draft to diversify their attack. Picking with the sixth overall selection, they should be able to find someone capable of alleviating the pressure on Mohammad Massaqoui and Brian Robiskie.

Defensively, the Browns have good foundations from which to build on.

Joe Haden disproved any worries about his slow 40 time at last year's combine with an incredible rookie season. Eric Wright may have struggled in 2010, but expect the Browns to try to resign him. Should they not, Sheldon Brown proved to be more than capable as the old man of the secondary.

Not to be lost in Haden's shadow, fellow rookie defensive back TJ Ward was impressive, if a little inconsistent, during last season.

The Browns had the 18th ranked pass defense in the league last season. This is likely to improve entering the second season as the youthful stars in the secondary are only likely to get better as each game comes.

The Browns defense as a whole was of a playoff standard last season finishing 13th in the league in points allowed. The loss of Rob Ryan to the Cowboys will need to be overcome, but the appointment of former Buffalo Bills head coach Dick Jauron should give the team a boost.

Jauron may be more infamous than famous in most people's minds, but he has a vast amount of knowledge and experience particularly working with defensive backs.

The Browns' front seven is a reliable unit. The loss of Shaun Rodgers should not hurt much as he barely featured last season. Expect them to look to reinforce the defensive line with some run stuffers to slow down the impressive Rashard Mendenhall and Ray Rice who reside in the division.

The talent in the Browns' division is the biggest challenge to their chances of making the playoffs in 2011.

The Cleveland based franchise finished third last season ahead of the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals continue to implode as Carson Palmer flirts with retirement and key pieces such as Cedric Benson and Terrell Owens are free agents.

The Browns aren't likely to win the division, but a few minor additions in the right areas could help them to catch up to the aging Ravens while the Steelers always suffer a season withdrawn from the Superbowl.

The Browns may have finished with only five wins and eleven losses in 2010, but their passion and fight in every game caught my eye all season. If the team continues in this vain, the appointment of the inventive Pat Shurmur, in place of the passive Eric Mangini, could be a formula for success in Cleveland.

Yes Browns fans, success!

By no means is this team likely to win a Superbowl on the next attempt, but every year teams jump from irrelevance to a place in the spotlight.

Its time for the Browns to seize that place and shine for the first time in a long time.