Cleveland Browns: Will the Browns See Their First Super Bowl This Decade?
"I'm afraid the Browns won't make it to the Super Bowl before I die."
If I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me, I could buy the Browns and at least die in the owner's box watching it never happen.
But just how realistic is our fear?
It's probably safe to assume that if you've been sentenced to be executed before 2012, you'll go without seeing Cleveland make it to the title game. But how about in the next 10 years? Is it really so unrealistic to think that the Browns just might make their first ever Super Bowl by 2021?
Maybe. After all, popular belief states that there's a curse afoot that will undo any legitimate chance that we can all die happy. But let's assume for the sake of argument that the curse is not actually all-powerful, and perhaps if the rest of the pieces were to fall into place, they might have a chance.
So, curse notwithstanding, I feel comfortable saying that yes, the Browns do have a shot to make it to the big dance some time in the next ten years.
Why? Well, part of it is admittedly that semi-deluded faith we all have in the team we love. But there are some good concrete reasons to think the Browns just might be Super Bowl bound in the next decade.
Following are six such reasons. These of course, don't guarantee it will happen, but they do increase the odds dramatically.
As always, please share your own reasons why you think (or don't think) the Browns have a shot to go for an NFL title in the Super Bowl by 2021.
1. A Solid Crop of Young Potential Stars on the Roster
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Since cleaning house in the front office in recent years and adopting a 'blow the whole thing up and start over' philosophy, the Browns have begun to amass a solid group of youngsters who just might have the talent to turn into a bona fide playoff-caliber team.
When a team goes into rebuilding mode, no matter how potentially good the new recruits they bring in are, it obviously doesn't translate into success overnight. However, once the foundation is laid, the wheels are set in motion for the team to become a success down the road.
There are two reasons this could mean a potential Super Bowl shot for Cleveland: The first is simply that they've finally got a group that may just have the talent to get that far. Most of the team's best players are well ahead of the midpoint of their career, thus they're all at the point where they're going to get better, rather than start to decline, within the next few years. When a team has that much potential talent that is all on the upswing, it stands to reason that in a few years, they'll have enough players on the roster who all have what it takes at the same time.
Which brings me to the second part of this: players who begin the journey together and improve as a team play better as a group down the road, for the most part. There's something about learning the ropes and improving as a group that creates a chemistry and a drive to win as one that is nearly always more successful in the long run than a team of older, proven stars who are thrown together onto one team after they've already achieved individual success.
Don't get me wrong, the Browns will need to bring in some veteran help in the future and tap the free agency market to fill in the missing pieces if they want to get to the big show, but the fact that the team will mostly be made up of a group that developed together is a huge, huge advantage.
2. Management That Knows How to Win
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Much of the reason the aforementioned young talent wound up in Cleveland and much of the reason why it will likely develop into a cohesive, successful team is thanks to the men behind the scenes: Mike Holmgren, Tom Heckert, and the rest of the Browns front office.
Before Holmgren and Heckert got involved, the Browns front office was for a long time, quite frankly, a total mess. The GMs office had a revolving door, and each incumbent either stagnated in the poor progress of the one before him or actually made things worse.
But at last, under Holmgren and Heckert, the team's management appears to have turned a corner. We haven't seen it translate into wins yet, unfortunately. But it's very early in the process, and anyone who watches the Browns on a weekly basis can tell you that last year's 5-11 team looked a lot different than other Browns' teams with a similar record in the recent past. Losing record or no, it was clear that the team was heading in the right direction.
Holmgren and Heckert are both proven winners with other teams. Of course, we have to make that statement cautiously when we look at Holmgren. He has admitted that much of Green Bay's success when he was their coach was due to the masterful GM Randy Wolf, and obviously his go-round in Seattle didn't end in a Seahawks victory parade.
Still, all in all, the teams he has worked with have had a fair share of success. Heckert too proved during his time in Philadelphia that he knew how to build a successful franchise. We don't know yet if the formula is going to result in a Super Bowl entrant for Cleveland yet, but the front office is clearly moving the team in the right direction and has given us every reason to believe that what they've built may someday become a true winner.
3. A Balance of Offense and Defense
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When looking at the great Super Bowl teams of the past, most stood out specifically on either offense or defense (more often in recent years, on the offensive side), but if you look at any one of those teams, they were all very, very good on the other side of the ball as well.
Super Bowl teams are never one-sided. No matter how spectacular their offense or defense is, they're pretty darn good at the flip side of the game as well.
The Browns are moving in the right direction on that front also. They are wisely working to build up a very solid game on both offense and defense, rather than trying to build a powerhouse on one side and neglecting the other.
You see this happen in baseball too—teams with fantastic hitting and mediocre pitching or fantastic pitching and mediocre hitting often wind up in the playoffs and with winning records, but the team that actually wins the World Series usually boasts a fantastic roster on both sides of the equation.
Prior to the rebuild that is going on at the moment, the Browns were struggling both offensively and defensively. Rather than choosing a quick fix of throwing all their effort into building up talent on one side of the ball and deciding they'd figure out the other half later, they wisely chose the slow and steady approach, going instead with a philosophy that believes it's better to slowly build up both sides to be equally good rather than accelerating one and hoping it's good enough to make up for the other weaker piece of the puzzle.
4. A League-Wide Sense of Parity
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Given the frustrations of the lockout, it's tough to say anything nice about the NFL as a league at the moment. Still, we have to acknowledge that for the most part, they have created a decent amount of parity in football that allows every team a chance to win.
Of course, there will never be complete parity in any professional sports league, but the salary cap and other financial restrictions as well as divisions that are mostly well-aligned and a playoff system that is largely very fair to all, the NFL has done a pretty good job of instilling as much parity as possible for all of its teams.
This of course doesn't give an advantage to the Browns specifically, but it does mean that even as a team that isn't currently at the top of the heap, they have as good a shot as anyone to wind up there in the next few years.
Look at it in contrast to baseball, where for the most part, the top dogs stay at the top for years on end before there's much of a shift. Occasionally of course there is a team or two who manage to beat the odds and succeed in spite of a lack of parity, but for the most part, the status quo rules.
Luckily for the Browns and any other team that hasn't been among the best in recent years, the hierarchy among NFL teams appears to be more malleable.
5. Don't Get Fancy
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For football teams and for the rest of us, it's always generally best to stick to what you're good at. What works for someone else might not work for you, no matter how well it works for them or how pretty it looks when they do it.
The Browns have shown they understand this philosophy by building both their offense and defense on a simple, no frills approach that caters to what they're good at rather than what's trendy in the league, what has worked for other successful franchises, or what's the shiniest object in the room, if you will.
The very traditional West Coast Offense the Browns have chosen to go with for this upcoming season isn't exactly the sparkliest, fanciest thing out there. You won't see a lot of Hail Marys, frequent huge-gain plays, or dramatic trick maneuvers. And that's a very good thing.
The Browns took a long look at what they had in terms of talent on their roster and went with a style that might not be all that dramatic, but is the best one suited to their own strengths.
We see things like David Tyree's circus catch for the Giants in the 2008 Super Bowl and we assume that championships are won and lost on big dramatic plays. Occasionally that's true, but for the most part, championships are won by teams that find what works best for them and stick to it. Football is a grind; the team that comes out on top is very often the one that plays consistently well, if not spectacularly, and in a sense, creates a formula that allows them to outlast the competition.
Obviously, none of us will complain if the Browns diverge from their formula and win an AFC Championship and a trip to the Super Bowl on a Colt McCoy Hail Mary TD pass with 0:01 left on the clock in overtime. But most likely, what will have gotten them to that point is wisely playing the style of football best suited to what their skill set is, which is exactly what the Browns management plans to have them do in the future.
6. They're Overdue
At present, there are four NFL teams that have never made it to the Super Bowl. Two of those are relatively recent expansion teams, so it makes sense that they might not have made it to the big dance just yet. Unfortunately, the Browns aren't one of those two.
The Browns have been in the NFL since Super Bowl One, so given only the exception of the brief period in the 1990s when the team was hijacked by Baltimore and Cleveland had to wait to get its franchise back, they've had nearly as many chances as anyone.
Thus suffice it to say that if there's anyone who is overdue and has put their time in, it's the Browns.
They have of course, come heartbreakingly, devastatingly close before, but let's not open up the wounds of Red Right Eighty Eight and The Drive again here. The bottom line is that unlike in the proverbial horseshoes and hand grenades, close does not count in football.
So that means we're due. Cleveland hasn't gotten a break from the football gods in ages, and it's never gotten one in the Super Bowl era. Actually, it's pretty safe to say that the Browns have probably gotten more bad breaks than any other team in the league.
But just like the fact that even the luckiest teams suffer a bad break eventually, even the unluckiest get a bone tossed their way from the universe eventually.
And sooner or later, that previously perpetually unlucky team will be the Browns. So be patient for just a little while longer, Cleveland fans. It shouldn't be too many more years before the football gods throw us a dawg bone. We've waited long enough.