With the Cleveland Browns season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals just hours away, the 2011 season is set to kick off. Going into the game against their division rivals, the Browns have the opportunity to begin Pat Shurmur's career off on a positive note. Here are five predictions for the upcoming game.
Heading into his second season, Colt McCoy has been handed the reigns by his superiors who are hoping that he can be their franchise quarterback. While Pat Shurmur's offense does suit McCoy's set of skills, do not expect the young quarterback to have a big day.
With the departure of quarterback Carson Palmer, along with wide receivers Terrell Owens and Chad Ocho Cinco, the Bengals' defense may be the team's strength. Even with the departure of cornerback Johnathan Joseph, the team still has a solid foundation of talented players on defense, including cornerback Leon Hall and linebacker Rey Maualuga.
Much as he did last season, look for running back Peyton Hillis to once again be the focal point of the Browns' offense. A bruising runner and a good receiver out of the backfield, Hillis should help alleviate some of the pressure that quarterback Colt McCoy will be facing this year.
Hillis began to show signs of breaking down towards the end of last season. Look for a fresh and rejuvenated Hillis to have a big game against the Bengals. Having a talented backup in Montario Hardesty to spell Hillis throughout the season will help as well.
Andy Dalton has a tough task ahead of him as he enters his rookie season as the starting quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals. Just a rookie, expect the Browns to pressure the quarterback early and often. With that pressure, the team should be able to force the young quarterback into some errant throws, which should lead to turnovers.
Although fellow rookie A.J. Green should provide help, Dalton does not have enough offensive weapons to counter his youth and inexperience. The Browns' defense should capitalize on this.
Many considered the 2010 season to be a disappointment for wide receiver/return specialist Josh Cribbs. While the new kickoff rules may prohibit his ability on kickoff returns, he is still dangerous as a punt returner.
His touchdown connection with Colt McCoy in the first preseason game may be an indication that he is further maturing as a wide receiver. He has been perhaps the team's most consistent play-maker over the past several seasons. Although he had a relatively quiet 2010 season, look for Cribbs to open up the 2011 campaign with a game changing play against the Bengals.
The Browns have had little success in season opening games since their return to the NFL in 1999, going 1-11 in those contests. Expect the team to get their second season opening win against the Bengals.
With the Bengals starting over at quarterback, along with other skill positions, the Browns have a great opportunity to open the season and the Pat Shurmur era with a victory. It will be a matter of getting Peyton Hillis involved early and pressuring Bengals' quarterback Andy Dalton.
Look for the Browns to begin the 2011 season on a positive note, with a win in Cleveland against their hated in-state rival, the Cincinnati Bengals.