A younger team, a rookie head coach, new offense, new defense, coming fresh out of one of the ugliest labor disputes in decades—what's there to worry about?
Unfortunately, if you're a Browns fan, there is quite a bit to be concerned about.
Cleveland had one of the oldest and slowest rosters in the league, and they made a valiant effort to get younger and better in many of the areas they were lacking. Most notably, they drafted DT Phil Taylor and DE Jabaal Sheard—4-3 linemen—to expedite their transition from the 3-4 alignment used by the two previous coaching staffs. Also, they added WR Greg Little in the second round to super charge the West Coast passing attack they plan to utilize.
With all that being said, the Browns may have been the best 5-11 team in the league—ever. They beat the Patriots and Saints in back-to-back weeks with a rookie quarterback. The defense played well above its level and featured two rookies (Joe Haden, TJ Ward) at key spots.
There are plenty of reasons to be pessimistically optimistic on the shores of Lake Erie this fall. The Browns will face only four playoff teams from last season; granted, they play the Ravens and Steelers twice each. The other two teams are a confused Indianapolis Colts squad and a sub .500 Seattle Seahawks team in the midst of a QB transition, possibly.
If the Browns are to make the 2011-2012 playoffs, what must they avoid to get there?