As the preseason unfolds, we armchair hacks decide to whip out our knowledge and wisdom to tell us how our teams will do in the next four months.
Inevitably, via bias or other factors, these prognoses fail, leaving many of us with egg on our faces, as well as open to high-minded debates that go, "You think they'll beat them? Moron!"
But as long as two teams go on the field, we know one will win, one will lose. Neither team releases the script to the other (we suppose), so the outcome can never truly be known in advance.
However, from all our prognosticating, we can take educated guesses. But some are hard to make, since analysis can declare a game too close to call, or some of those "x-factors" can arise at any time. For fun, some fortune-tellers decide to tell not only individual scores, but how many yards will be thrown and run for.
But in the end, despite most of the game's unknowns and surprises, these educated guesses will wind up being mostly right with few actual surprises.
Instead of taking these educated guesses and trying to extrapolate a concrete answer for each game, why not just leave it with the educated guess?
Basically, what this system does is take the percentage odds of winning each game, then averages them out to figure out what kind of season to look forward to.
Here goes something...
The Cleveland Browns look to begin the season with a new coaching staff presiding over the same on-field nucleus on offense, while the Bengals are starting the year with a new on-field nucleus on offense.
With the departure of Chad Ochocinco and the forced retirement of Carson Palmer, the Bengals are looking to a new rookie tandem of QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green to spearhead the new passing game with second-year wideouts Jordan Shipley and Jermaine Gresham, as the solid Cedric Benson will handle the running duties.
New offensive coordinator Jay Gruden will likely protect Dalton with a heavy reliance on Benson and simple running patterns.
This will allow the Browns defense to load up the offensive line as their emerging secondary, led by cornerback Joe Haden and safety T.J. Ward, will mop up the simple passing routes. The D-line of Cleveland's is also young, featuring rookies Jabaal Sheard and Phil Taylor.
As the Browns are going up against an O-Line that only enabled 95 yards a game last year without significant improvement, the Bengals should not be looking forward to scoring many points.
Cleveland's offense will be defined by the running game, featuring Madden cover boy Peyton Hillis, second-year "rookie" Montario Hardesty and free agent pickup Brandon Jackson.
The passing game, with promising second-year QB Colt McCoy, remains suspect as it's unclear who will emerge to catch his passes between Mohammed Massaquoi, who missed most of the preseason with injury, the fading-from-relevance Brian Robiskie, rookie wideout Greg Little and Josh Cribbs, the All-Pro special teams specialist, who is trying to fit a hybrid mold.
Against a weak secondary that only has Nate Clements putting reasonable fear into anyone, McCoy and the unproven receiving corps should have a great opportunity to sink or swim on the field.
Even so, the offensive line, traditionally suspect on the shores of Lake Erie, seems to finally be in position to solidify, anchored by All-Pro LT Joe Thomas, Pro Bowler C Alex Mack and a right side with Tony Pashos and Shaun Lavauo. Replacing the solid Eric Steinbach, out indefinitely with back problems, will be a challenge.
While it's pretty fair to think that the Bengals offense will be stymied, it's also unclear how well McCoy and Hillis can put points on the board. But, they should put enough on the board to secure the win.
The fans in Cleveland, riding the momentum from the Indians' early-season run, will take that momentum to the football season, too, providing for a decent 12th Man as well.
Chances of Browns winning: 80 percent
This year's Super Bowl will be played in Indianapolis. Unfortunately, this will probably be the only chance the Browns will play there.
This game will be decided by one player: Colts QB Peyton Manning. On Sept. 3, Manning himself will decide if he will put himself on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List and miss the first quarter of the season.
If he plays, then his seasoned, at-the-line adjustments will send the Browns D into a tailspin, chasing after Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon and Anthony Gonzalez all day as Manning manufactures mismatches at will.
Without him, The Browns D will make backup Curtis Painter's day miserable, as the receivers will be waiting for adjustments that won't come.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Colts front seven can still bring it, with a still-stellar Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney anchoring the line, snuffing out any potential outside runs by Hillis, Hardesty and Jackson.
However, with a secondary that's lacking depth, this could be another chance for McCoy and the passing game to take another step forward.
Where the D falters, however, seems to be in the interior, where the Browns running game can excel. It will be up to the Colts' D to stop the running game and force the Browns to test their budding passing game to keep up with the offense.
If Peyton Manning plays, it won't be enough.
Odds of Cleveland winning: 25 percent if Manning plays, 65 percent if he doesn't.
Last year, they finished in third, behind two flagship teams contending for the AFC Championship with a defense whose coordinator coached miraculously. There were questions at quarterback. Their coach spent a lot of time on the hot seat.
Or was I talking about the Dolphins, who live in the shadow of the Patriots and Jets, whose defensive coordinator Mike Nolan pulled formations out of crevices I don't want to mention publicly, and whose head coach, Tony Sparano, spent the off-season watching his owner shop for his replacement as Chad Henne got booed this preseason?
When Browns fans are looking towards an optimistic 2011 campaign, this is one of the games they are counting on to win. But don't take it too lightly, Browns Backers. Last season's 13-10 win on the shores of South Beach could've just as easily been a product of Chad Henne's inconsistency rather than the Browns' on-field superiority.
Where the Colts' D lacked interior strength, nose tackle Paul Solai has emerged as a legitimate line swallower, allowing Karlos Dansby and Cameron Wake to dominate the left side of offensive lines. Thomas, Mack and whoever fills in for Steinbach will definitely have their work cut out for them.
This is where Shurmur's installation of the "West Coast Offense" comes into play. Eric Mangini and Brian Daboll's run-first, ball control offense played right into their hands last year. If a playmaker emerges on the receiving corps, the short passing game can put the potentially inconsistent secondary on its heels.
If the secondary holds, it'll be up to the linebackers and secondary to win this game. Chad Henne, who handed the Browns a win last year, has proven he can avoid similar mistakes, but not that he won't. With Brandon Marshall and Brian Hartline to throw to, the secondary also has it's work cut out.
Running-wise, the Dolphins have the inconsistent-but-explosive Reggie Bush and...(crickets). If Bush can make it outside, which is easier to do against a 4-3 setup, he can have a good day.
Odds of Browns winning: 50 percent
Incoming Head Coach Mike Munchak took over in Nashville looking to build his offense around All-World Running Back Chris Johnson. Problem: Johnson is holding out for All-World money, has missed training camp and is way behind on getting into Munchak's system.
Behind a solid veteran O-Line and established catchers in Nate Washington, Kenny Britt and Justin Gage to throw to, it just might be the passing game that becomes the threat to opposing defenses more than Johnson this year.
If Jauron's defense is going to be worthy of showing its mettle, games like this are going to be key.
Defensively, the Titans are unproven and potentially mediocre. I see the Browns O-Line dominating the Tennessee front seven, allowing Hillis to set up a quick passing game that controls the ball, puts points on the board and keeps the Titans' offense playing catchup all season long.
Cortland Finnegan, Chris Hope and the rest of the secondary will be too worn out from tackling Browns runners to cover receivers, who will pile on points.
Chances of Cleveland winning: 70 percent.
If you average things out, I've given the Browns - after four weeks, to win between 55.25 and 66.25 percent overall. Establish that as a winning percentage and that would make our record after four weeks 2-2 or 3-1 without saying which game they'll win or lose.
Of course, if you multiply the percentages by each other, you also get the odds of being 0-4 (2.25 percent) or 4-0 (7 percent).
If there's a defining element about the Browns in the last few years, it's their ability to win games they "should" lose then turning around and choking away games seen as sure things.
2009: Beat the Steelers, lose to the Lions.
2008 Give the Giants their only loss in the first 12 weeks by a 35-14 score, lose to the woeful Bengals 14-0.
Overall, we average out to the team we're expected to be, but telling exactly how we become that team gets chaotic.
Since this is a personal analysis, you can also put in your own percentages to tell how disappointed/pleased you'll be over the course of the season. (see Weeks 1-2 of the 2010 season.)
Looking into the bye week, I hope the Browns coaching staff looks at the first four weeks as an elevated preseason, getting a deeper look at who's capable of being a substantial part of the team's foundation on both sides of the ball.
By now, we'll know how well the Raiders are making it without Nnamdi Asomugha taking away half the field from opposing offenses.
If the secondary can adapt, which is very possible with safety Michael Huff, Stanford Stoutt, Chris "Not The One Holding Out" Johnson and Walter McFadden, then McCoy and his receivers better be able to stretch the defense, or the front seven, led by Richard Seymour and Kamerion Wimbley will be able to pin its ears back and chase after Hillis and Hardesty.
However, with Wimbley being the only developed linebacker on the field, this would be a perfect opportunity for Ben Watson and Evan Moore to shine.
With Jason Campbell in solidly as starting quarterback, it'll be up to the secondary to stop Jacoby Ford and the unproven (maybe?) Darrius Heyward-Bey, two receivers who have unable to prevent departed TE Zach Miller from being the teams go-to guy in the passing game. It's likely Kevin Boss can fill those shoes decently.
If Haden, Ward and Sheldon Brown are showing what it takes, then Campbell will be throwing the ball away numerous times. A suspect offensive line will make it tough to give Darren McFadden or Michael Bush any room to move.
This one is the Browns' to lose, but the Raiders can give them enough opportunities to do it.
Odds of Cleveland winning: 60 percent
It seems like the acquisitions of G Robert Gallery, TE Zach Miller, WRs Sidney Rice and Mike Williams to add to RB Marshawn Lynch are preparing Pete Carroll's offense to put up the numbers he used to at USC.
However, it seems all he needs is a QB, as career backups Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst don't make defensive coordinators lose sleep.
Maybe not Andrew Luck, but maybe Matt Barkley?
(Oops. Did I type that out loud?)
While I can't outright accuse Carroll and the Seahawks of playing down to move up in the 2012 Draft, I can certainly claim that these offensive weapons may not be guided well by Jackson or Whitehurst.
If (likely) Jackson can manage the offense, then it'll be lucky the Seahawks have to travel to the Lake Erie shore, where winds will hopefully be ready to blow those passes into Row 7.
As for the defense, you almost have to make mistakes to help them beat you. Earl Thomas looks to lead a young secondary that could be easily confused in coverage. The front seven still seems to underperform.
A healthy Browns running game should be able to run over them all day while an emerging passing game will have another opportunity to grow.
And at home, I think they will. The Seahawks can score on Jauron's defense, but their defense will allow more.
Odds of Cleveland winning: 70 percent
Basically, if Dick Jauron's defensive game plan works against the Seahawks, he should basically build on it for this west coast trip.
A stellar running back in Frank Gore, a strong receiving corps led by TE Vernon Davis (who'll exploit our linebackers all day), and two receivers we're familiar with (Braylon Edwards in a make or break year and Ted Ginn Jr), new Head Coach Jim Harbaugh should be able to design plays to get them decent looks.
Now, if only they weren't stuck with Alex Smith as their best chance under center, grooming draft pick Colin Kaepernick to probably be replaced by someone else in a few years.
However, unlike the Seahawks, it seems San Francisco has a defense that won't let us off the hook the way I expect the Seattle defense will. An aggressive line in a 3-4 defense is a rarity, but ends Justin Smith and Ray McDonald can get to the quarterback.
Linebacker Patrick Willis is one of those players you must plan around, and when he's joined by stalwart Takeo Spikes and upcoming Amhad Brooks, the O-Line will need its A-game.
If the O-Line can hold off that front seven, then the receivers will have more chances to prove themselves against a secondary that could've improved with the off-season acquisitions of Donte Whitner and Carlos Rogers.
If it's up to the Browns to outscore Seattle, it'll be up to them to keep them off the board more than the 49ers.
It's on the road. It's possible, but I don't see it.
Chance of Cleveland winning: 45 percent
We all know the "triplet" nucleus of the offense, with QB Matt Schaub, WR Andre Johnson and RB Arian Foster, who's now got the assistance of steady FB Lawrence Vickers when needed. With capable TE Owen Daniels keeping the linebackers honest, they will put points on the board.
If Taylor, Sheard and Rubin are healthy, getting to Shaub will be key to victory as much as Haden's matchup against Johnson.
Last year, the Texans Achilles' heel (more like the entire leg), was their passing defense, which should be assisted by the hiring of Wade Phillips as Defensive Coordinator and acquisition of Jonathan Joseph. Maybe. Looking it over, I don't see a quick turnover. If McCoy can win a game on his own, a game like this will reveal that.
With a second straight game on the road, I can see this one going either way. But since it's on the road, I see this one as the one showing that we're still looking ahead.
Odds of Cleveland winning: 45 percent.
Looking at the lineups of the Rams and Browns, I'm wondering if every player traded jerseys save for Sam Bradford with Colt McCoy and Peyton Hillis with Stephen Jackson, would you even know the difference?
Of course, the only reason why people would know those two tandems would've switched jerseys would be that you'd recognize their faces. Other than that, it seems like these two teams are as close on paper with each other as the Steelers and Ravens.
Two young franchise quarterbacks ready to take the reins for the next decade. Two All-Pro feature running backs. Two receiving corps that wouldn't be recognized outside their city's local broadcast areas (assuming they're recognized in them in the first place).
Defense, however is where these teams diverge. Where the Browns are looking to build up the secondary, line and then linebacking, the Rams seem to be building leadership around each unit.
The secondary is showing promise with cornerbacks Ron Bartell and Bradley Fletcher. Their linebacking unit is working around emerging star James Laurinaitis. The line is being built around former first-rounder Chris Long.
Outside of that leadership, the support seems suspect. If the Browns O-Line can win in the trenches, then victory is theirs.
Since the game's at Cleveland and Pat Shurmur knows the Rams personnel better than Steve Spagnuolo knows our offense, the Browns get an edge.
Odds of Cleveland winning: 55 percent
Whatever happens, Dick Jauron should create a bulls-eye game plan that doesn't allow Maurice Jones-Drew another last-minute run to the goal line which allowed them to escape with a close victory.
But will it even get that far?
Quarterback David Garrard will be handing the reins to Blaine Gabbert soon, but don't count Garrard out yet. He's still got some legs in him when not handing off to Jones-Drew, who at 26 is a premiere back.
However, It's not clear who Garrard can throw to. You know anything about Mike Thomas or Jason Hill? I hope I really won't be then, as a dominating day by Haden, Ward and the secondary should allow the front seven to contain Garrard and Jones-Drew.
Defensively, they made some potentially quality moves, adding Dewan Landry from the Ravens and rescuing (at least the weather's nicer...) Paul Posluszny from Buffalo. If Aaron Kampmann stays healthy, he could lead a unit that won't get bullied in the trenches.
Overall, this team is a work in progress, and a few steps behind Cleveland at that.
Factor in the revenge factor from last year and home field, and the edge goes to the Browns.
Odds of Cleveland winning: 60 percent.
So far, averaging out the percentage odds I've given the 2011 Browns makes their record either 5-5 or 6-4. The playoffs are a mathematical possibility.
Knowing they've got four games coming up with the Steelers and Ravens coming up, this one counts as a statement game to tell if they're deserving of being taken seriously.
Not to mention, we face the Bengals fresh off their games against the Steelers and Ravens. They will be beaten up enough that we can solidify their place in the AFC North basement.
Odds of Cleveland winning: 85 percent
If we are going to make waves in the division, riding any momentum into this home game will be our best chance.
I think this is the Ravens year. Joe Flacco continues to improve, He still has Anquan Boldin to throw to, despite Boldin not having Eric Wright ushering him to the end zone like he did last year.
I think Lee Evans is an improvement over Donte Stallworth and Ray Rice is now in the Ratbird seat as the feature back with the departure of the declining Willis McGahee. Week 1 vs. the Steelers will show how legit the O-Line is.
Defensively, the leaders are the ageless Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, who lead a solid supporting cast featuring Terrell Suggs, Dominique Foxworth, Chris Carr and a front line that gobbles up offensive lines.
Haden, Ward and the secondary will be picked apart by Flacco.
If the offense can control the ball with Hillis and a short passing game that confuses Reed, they can have a chance.
But they won't. Games like this will be too important to Baltimore from them to lose.
Odds of Cleveland winning: 25 percent
If the momentum shift away from the Browns isn't bad enough in the loss to the Ravens, imagine having to travel to Pittsburgh four days later.
And they think Roger Goodell is out to get them?
Think this is a sure thing? As college analyst Lee Corso would say "Not so fast, my friend!"
On offense, this may be the best Steelers team ever. WIth the unsackable Ben Roethlisberger having his choice of Mike Wallace, Emanuel Sanders and an emerging Antonio Brown to throw to, TE Heath Miller only needs to stay in as an extra blocker.
The only knock on Rashard Mendenhall is his off-field tweets on Osama bin Laden. Now, I can see the problem you'd have with that off the field, but last time I checked, al-Qaeda wasn't on the field.
With Isasc Redman emerging as a capable backup to Mendenhall, this offense reminds me a lot of the one that made Drew Brees a statistical juggernaut in New Orleans.
If this team has a potential Achilles' Heel, it's the defense.
Yes, you read that right.
Lineman Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith are aging. While they're hungry for a third ring to match the Brady-Era Patriots for titles, you have to wonder if their age is going to show.
If it does, then the defense can fall apart, as it is the job of the line of a 3-4 to devour the line, enabling the linebackers to make plays. Remember when the Ravens were also-rans? It was because the front three didn't stop opposing offensive fronts.
Should those three fall, it'll be up to second-year end Ziggy Hood, who's shown promise, 35-year-old Chris Hoke and rookie Cameron Heyward to keep offensive linemen off James Farrior and Lamarr Woodley, keep Lawrence Timmons from stunting and double-team James Harrison.
This will also be a pivotal year for the secondary. The starting unit is averaging all in or nearing their 30s. When lynchpin Troy Polomalu is healthy, they can still be exposed by elite offenses. Without him, however, they're in chaos.
Last year, Eric Mangini and Brian Daboll tried to employ a power running game...which played right into the Steelers D's hands. While it's too soon to say how well the so-called West Coast Offense will grow under McCoy and whoever he throws to, it will be the kind of offense that doesn't play into their hands.
However, as the Steelers are being "tenderized" by the Bengals while the Browns are "preparing" for this one against the Ravens, and it's at Heinz Field, the odds of seeing a potential reversal of fortune in this rivalry are...not yet.
Odds of Cleveland winning: 10 percent.
After the "Five Days of Hell" against the Ravens and Steelers, the Browns will have 10 days to prepare for their last trip west to take on the likely improved Arizona Cardinals.
In the offseason, the Cards picked up QB Kevin Kolb, TE Todd Heap and G Rex Hadnot, adding to the signing of Larry Fitzgerald. It looks like Kolb is an answer that neither Derek Anderson or Matt Leinart could be, so by the time we reach Arizona on the schedule, we could be facing either a team that's looking to not fall apart, or one that's looking for a divisional title in a weak NFC West.
However, it looks like Fitzgerald and Heap will be the only targets Kolb will have, which will allow the secondary to single-cover unproven Andre Roberts and injury-plagued Early Doucet.
Heap's numbers have been declining over the last few years, so it's unknown how much of a threat he can become again.
Lastly, it's largely seen that third-year RB Beanie Wells can complement an offense, but it's unknown if he can be a true feature back.
Of course, if Hadnot is the only improvement to a line that enabled the running game to finish dead last in the NFL last year, you can only guess the chance the young D-Line of Cleveland is going to have to prove itself.
Defensively, the Cardinals are looking to continue the transformation of Arizona's D into Pittsburgh West. Aging ex-Steelers Clark Haggans and Joey Porter will look once again to feast on some brown and orange, but will they?
Their front three "anchored" one of the NFL's worst defenses, and while Darnell Dockett can be a force up front, it's unknown if NT Dan Williams and DE Calais Campbell will also take part in stopping offenses. The secondary will get work this year, with defenses targeting it without Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
If the Browns offense shows up, this one can be a shootout. If the Cardinals' offense doesn't show up, it could be a bloodbath. But I think the Cardinals will be able to show up with the division possibly on the line. But it may not be enough.
Odds of Cleveland winning: 50 percent
By now, I'm expecting the Ravens to be in a serious playoff hunt, while the Browns are holding on to mathematical possibilities that require help if they are going to see the postseason.
I can easily see the Browns making a game of it, but the Ravens will be just too much. A play here and there at crucial times will give them the respect they need to look forward to next year, but I don't see the upset happening yet.
(Note: This game will cement the AFC North for the Ravens)
Odds of Cleveland winning: 40 percent
On track record, when the Steelers play the Browns during the holidays, it's regarded as an extra bye-week for Pittsburgh before their seemingly annual post-season run.
However, when I looked at their schedule, I saw some teams on their schedule that could have their number this year. They host Baltimore after they host New England, who seemingly has their number every year like they used to have Peyton Manning's.
While they will likely dodge Manning himself, they will also travel to Kansas City, who I think will pull off the upset between their two games against the Bengals.
They travel to San Francisco on a Monday Night, which I think will also hurt their chances. However, while Jacksonville has had their number in the past, I don't see it this year.
The point is, while many season ends leave the Browns disheartened and the Steelers pumped up, the Browns could either be looking to have their fourth non-losing season since 1989 as well as a possible role of spoiler to the Steelers' playoff chances.
This won't be the annual beatdown we've been accustomed to. But they will still win and make the post season, but their starters won't get the extra bye week they're accustomed to either, which will affect them in the playoffs. But they will most likely win.
Odds of Cleveland winning: 35 percent.
When you add up all the percentages and divide by 16, 7.8 wins if Peyton plays, 8.45 if he doesn't. Round up and we're a 9-7 team. Round down and we're a 7-9 team. Anything less than that is disappointing, anything more than that is overachieving.
Of course, that's assuming that the team stays healthy. You can't predict who will get hurt, when they'll get hurt and how long they'll be out.
You can predict how well their backup will do and allow for that, but we're able to handle a few in key areas, but if McCoy or Hillis go down, you can drop a number of those "odds" by 10 percent for each since Seneca Wallace is a capable backup but lacks some of the leadership potential McCoy has, and Hillis will be buoyed by Hardesty and Brandon Jackson, but they cannot spell themselves and get worn down.
This also makes the assumptions that Haden and Ward will continue to progress the ways they did last year under the on-field tutelage of Sheldon Brown, while Usama Young will be solid. It also makes the guess that the young D-Line will have moments that will show promise as well as moments where they get exposed.
But I think we'll own the Bengals and have really good chances against the Titans and Seahawks. If Peyton Manning doesn't play against the Browns, I think we can take it, but if he plays, I'm not seeing a win in Pat Shurmur's future.
I think the Browns have a good edge over the Raiders and Jaguars, while games against the Texans, 49ers, Rams and Cardinals will tell if our hopes were worthy or not.
Lastly, I think we're ready to approach the doorstep of the AFC North elite, but knocking on the door is yet to come. The more some of these "either-or" games go our way will show how close we are to that doorstep.
You never know, the Browns can just as easily reach their .500 record by going 5-1 in the AFC North (only loss at home against Cincy) then turn around and go 0-4 against the NFC West. Things have a way of going crazy, but things also have a way to even themselves out.
And if they don't, then maybe next year will even it out.