A fellow colleague, Tony Santorsa, recently came out with his season predictions for all 32 NFL teams. Many had very strong, negative reactions to his 10-6 prediction for Cleveland, with people believing they are an 8-8 team at best and in the bottom three at worst.
While I may not agree with his other picks, his 10-6 prediction for the Browns is intriguing. Can a team that went 5-11 last season double its win total even though it plays in the tough AFC North?
Here is why the Browns not only can reach this record, but they should expect to reach it.
As stated earlier, the Browns only managed five wins last season.
To those who did not watch the Browns last season, it is easy to be skeptical and argue that the Browns will always be bad. To those of us who did watch them, we know that 5-11 was more like 9-7.
Starting with the first two games against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs, the Browns went from 2-0 to 0-2. If Jake Delhomme doesn’t try and throw a pass as he is falling down, the ball would never have been intercepted and Ronde Barber would never have returned it for a touchdown.
The Browns lost that game 17-14.
Against Kansas City, it was yet another turnover late in the game that set up the winning drive. Kansas City won 16-14 because of a fumble.
They played the Baltimore Ravens very tough, but fell 24-17.
Against Atlanta, they were down 13-10 with the ball at about the 40-yard line before a crazy turnover was returned for a touchdown. They lost 20-10.
Against the New York Jets, they were driving and Chansi Stuckey had just made a big play gaining a first down. Unfortunately, he tried to do too much and fumbled the ball. They lost 26-20.
Against Jacksonville, they were winning late until a monstrous run by Maurice Jones-Drew put the Jaguars on top 24-20.
Against Buffalo, Peyton Hillis had his fumblitis return and the ball was recovered late by Buffalo’s Kyle Williams. They lost 13-6.
In review, the Browns in 2010 lost to Tampa Bay, Kansas City and the New York Jets, all three of which finished with a 10-6 record or better, on late-game turnovers and they humiliated two of the best teams in the NFL in the Patriots and Saints.
There are many doubters of the Browns offense.
Many question quarterback Colt McCoy, mostly because of his size. The guy is only the record-holder for most wins in a collegiate career. He displays great mobility. He has the arm to make NFL throws. The guy is also lighting it up in the preseason, having great games against the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions.
Some may question the running game, especially with the Madden Curse in play for Hillis. So far, Hillis is healthy and running over people. Who knows, maybe since the fans voted for him, the Curse could be over?
He rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. This season, he will have a healthy Montario Hardesty to help spell him and Hardesty is a bruiser as well at 6’0”, 225 lbs.
There is no question how good the offensive line and tight end groups are, but the biggest question may be at receiver.
People are almost positive the Browns will lack the receiving corps to compete.
Last season they might have, but this season they will have the group. Brian Robiskie came on strong at the end of the season, and Josh Cribbs is already making spectacular catches like his catch against Green Bay.
The main reason why the Browns will be just fine at the position, other than the fact they run mostly two tight end sets, is that they drafted some kid named Greg Little out of North Carolina. Little is only 6’3” 230 lbs, a former running back and has already made an impact during the preseason.
With the progression of Colt McCoy, the smash-mouth running game, the talented offensive linemen and tight ends and a Little guy, the Browns offense will be ready to excel this season.
The defensive side of the ball might have been a question coming into the preseason. Rob Ryan is with Dallas, the defense has switched to a 4-3 and many veterans were let go during the offseason.
I know this is preseason, but since it started, the defense has done everything right.
The defensive line is getting pressure, even from the massive rookie Phil Taylor who, along with Ahtyba Ruban, puts almost 700 pounds up the middle. Jabaal Sheard and Jayme Mitchell have also been making a name for themselves.
The linebacker group is young, but D’Qwell Jackson is finally healthy and looks to be in his old tackling-machine form. He joins veterans Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong, both of whom are very familiar with the 4-3 style.
Lastly, the Browns secondary is only getting better as it gains more experience. With rookie standouts T.J. Ward and Joe Haden leading the way, the secondary may be the strongest aspect of the defense.
If everything else has not convinced you the reader that the Browns are very capable of a 10-6 record, just look at the schedule. This is the 2011 schedule broken down into quarters.
The Bengals are sporting a rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton and rookie receiver AJ Green. Other than against Carolina, the offense has looked horrid and should be no match for the Browns. Then they travel to Indianapolis where Peyton Manning is very questionable to play. To finish, they get the Dolphins and Titans at home. They beat the Dolphins last season and who knows what kind of shape the Titans will be in.
This could very well be a 4-0 start.
After the good start, the Browns get a bye week to prepare for the Raiders. The Raiders may suck overall, but they are by far a better team at home. They will put up a fight but should be overtaken due to lack of offense and the Browns run game. The Seahawks come off a bye week, but I join many others in questioning Tarvaris Jackson as a starter. Then the Browns get another team with a questionable quarterback in San Francisco before finishing on the road against the playoff hopeful Texans.
The Browns’ first half could finish 7-1 or 6-2 at worst if they play to their ability.
Third Quarter: Rams, Jaguars, @ Bengals, and Ravens
This could be the defining part of the season for the Browns. The Rams are much improved, but can the defense hold and will a No.1 receiver emerge? The Jaguars may be starting Blainne Gabbert at this point and it could be open season for the Browns, despite the nice additions made on the defensive side of the ball for Jacksonville. If the Browns are rolling, their Week 13 game with the Ravens at home could be a battle.
With three of four games being at home, Cleveland could be looking to reach 10 wins by the end of Week 12 before Baltimore.
Fourth Quarter: @ Steelers, @ Cardinals, @ Ravens, and Steelers at home to finish
There’s a reason the first 12 games are a low level of difficulty for the Browns. The fourth quarter could turn into a last-man-standing series. At Pittsburgh could be huge if the Browns are in contention for the division. The Cardinals game will be more of a tune-up game before heading to Baltimore. Then, depending on if the Browns are in the hunt or if there are eight guys left on the team, the New Year's Day game could either be the clash for the playoffs or a game of pride.
I know it is scary that the Browns may actually be good this season. It is kind of like a certain warm place freezing over or the Cubs winning the World Series.
I just ask that you take baby steps and acknowledge that Cleveland could not only do well, but do so well as to finish 10-6 and MAYBE even be a playoff team.