Why did the Cleveland Browns fire Rob Chudzinski?

rod-chudzinskiMost new NFL head coaches are given 2-3 years before an organization makes a decision on their job status. This being said, it was extremely puzzling when the Cleveland Browns decided to fire Rob Chudzinkski after just one season.

Chudzinski had just completed the first year of a four-year contract when he received news of the firing. So why was the former Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator dumped after his lone season in Cleveland? Well there’s the organization’s stated reason, and also the reasons why many insiders thought Chud was axed. Let’s look at the team’s media statement first:

We needed to see progress with this football team. We needed to see development and improvement as the season evolved and, unfortunately, we took a concerning step backward in the second half of the year. Our fans deserve to see a consistently competitive team. We have high standards, and there’s an urgency for success. When we believed we were not positioned to achieve significant progress in 2014, we knew we had to admit that a change was needed, and move forward.

After hearing this statement and looking at the Browns’ record over the past 11 games, there are some glaringly obvious reasons why Chud was fired. They began the year with some promise after starting off 3-2. However, they won just one out of their last 11 contests, including a seven-game losing streak to close out the season.

rob-chudzinskiThere were two weeks in a row that were particularly telling of this season, where the Browns lost to Jacksonville at home, then blew a 12-point lead against New England with three minutes left. Couple this with losses to the Bears, Jets and Steelers to close out the year, and you can definitely see how this year ended on a sour note.

Beyond the losing, the front office felt that Chudzinski’s players showed a lack of accountability and effort as the season wore on. They especially felt that Brandon Weeden and Greg Little weren’t held accountable for their poor play. One prevalent thought was that as the coaching staff spent more time with the players, the worse they were getting.

Another point worth making here is how the Browns organization sees a couple of talented coaches that they like. Penn State’s Bill O’Brien and New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels are rumored to be at the top of Cleveland’s list. Given Chud’s perceived shortcomings as the Browns coach, it seems like a perfect time for this team to chase another top-notch coaching prospect.

Of course, Chud didn’t leave this job without some public outcry – most notable from many of his players. D’Qwell Jackson was really critical of the move as he said, “After the Trent Richardson trade and our quarterback injuries, I thought for sure he’d get a pass. Not one year. Come on. One year? There’s no way. Chud was good for us, good for the team. He came in and did everything right, I thought.”

As Jackson referred to, the team lost Weeden to injury for an extended time period while Brian Hoyer suffered a season-ending knee injury. Plus the team traded Richardson just two games into the season and never truly replaced him with a decent starting running back. But despite all of this, management apparently felt that their team was talented enough to win more than four games.

4 NFL Playoff Spots up for Grabs in Week 17

drew-breesLast weekend saw a few teams sew up NFL playoff spots and/or division titles. The Denver Broncos (12-3) are looking the best now since they clinched both the AFC West title along with a first-round playoff bye. Of course, this weekend’s game against Oakland is by no means a rest-your-starters situation because Denver must win to lock up home field advantage.

And why is this the case? Because the AFC East champion New England Patriots (11-4) hold the tiebreaker over the Broncos. If they can beat the Bills at home and Denver loses against Oakland, they’ll grab home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. However, if New England loses, they could be out of a first-round bye.

Both the Cincinnati Bengals (10-5) and Indianapolis Colts (10-5) have a chance at unseating New England for the second first-round bye. Cincinnati, which clinched the AFC North, has to beat a playoff-desperate Baltimore team and have New England lose. Indianapolis needs to beat the Jaguars, plus have both Cincy and New England lose.

Rounding out the five AFC teams that have already secured a postseason spot is the Kansas City Chiefs (11-4). They have no chance of winning the AFC West (swept by Denver), and are locked in as the AFC’s number five seed. So if they feel like it, Kansas City could rest their starters against San Diego.

The NFC picture is a lot murkier at the top. Only three teams have clinched playoff berths, and nobody has wrapped up a first-round bye or division title. So far, we only know that the Seattle Seahawks (12-3), Carolina Panthers (11-4) and San Francisco 49ers (11-4) are assured of a postseason bid.

russell-wilsonSeattle is in the driver’s seat of NFC home field advantage, but they must beat the Rams to secure this edge. If they lose, everything opens up at the top because Carolina could gain NFC home field advantage if they beat the Falcons, the Niners win at Arizona, and Seattle loses against St. Louis. For San Francisco to grab home field advantage and unseat Seattle for the NFC West title, they must win, have Seattle lose, and have Carolina lose or tie.

What we’ve discussed so far only covers the teams that are guaranteed a playoff spot. There are four remaining postseason bids left, which we’ll discuss below.

Last AFC Wild Card Spot – Four teams are still alive for the last AFC Wild Card berth. Due to a myriad of tiebreakers, all of these teams need help in making the postseason, and you can check out the scenarios here. Baltimore holds a tiebreaker over Miami (current sixth seed), but San Diego holds the tiebreaker over Baltimore, and Miami holds the tiebreaker over San Diego. In short, it’ll be interesting to see how this playoff-hunting triangle plays out. As for the Pittsburgh Steelers, well, they need all three of the aforementioned teams to lose, plus a victory this weekend.

karlos-dansby-interceptionLast NFC Wild Card Spot – The final NFC Wild Card slot is a much simpler matter because only the Saints and Cardinals are chasing after it. Assuming New Orleans wins against Tampa Bay, they are in. But if they lose, Arizona makes the playoffs with a victory over San Francisco.

NFC East Title – The Dallas Cowboys got a dramatic, come-from-behind victory over Washington to set up a huge game this weekend. Now, they’ll play the Philadelphia Eagles at home for the NFC East crown. The winner goes to the playoffs and grabs home field in the first round, while the loser will be watching on TV next week.

NFC North Title – Just like the East, this is another win-or-you’re-out scenario. Chicago plays Green Bay at home, with the victor grabbing the North title and a playoff spot.

NFC South Title – This one is between Carolina and New Orleans. If Carolina wins, they capture the South title. But if they lose and New Orleans wins, the latter clinches the South and a playoff bid.

NFC West Title – Seattle must win to secure themselves the West title. However, if they lose, then San Francisco could step in and take the West crown with a victory over Arizona.

NFL Power Rankings for Week 14 (Dec. 5th, 2013)

peyton-manning-chiefsLast week was characterized by a couple of very high-profile matchups between the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs, as well as the Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints. The Broncos proved their dominance of the AFC West by beating their division rivals on the road by a score of 35-28. Kansas City is still a lock for the playoffs, but the illusion of their defensive dominance is now gone.

As for the Saints and Seahawks, this one wasn’t even close as Seattle throttled the visiting team. Most believe that the Saints are nearly invincible inside of the Superdome. But they appeared very mortal while playing at CenturyLink Field. Here’s a look at how last week’s featured games will shake up the Week 14 NFL power rankings.

1. Denver Broncos (10-2); beat Kansas City 35-28, retains same ranking – The margin between Seattle and Denver is slim. But it’s hard to bump Peyton and company out of the top spot when they just beat a playoff-bound Chiefs for the second time this season. Eric Decker had the game of his life after reeling in four of Manning’s five touchdown passes.

2. Seattle Seahawks (11-1); beat New Orleans 34-7, retains same ranking – So much for that bolstered New Orleans defense… Russell Wilson looked like a 10-year veteran the way he picked apart the Saints defense to the tune of 310 passing yards and three touchdowns. Oh yea, and Seattle’s defense was pretty good too as they shut down one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

3. New England Patriots (9-3); beat Houston 34-31, moves up two spots – The Pats got off to a slow start against Houston. But they once again staged a big comeback on the strength of Tom Brady’s 371 yards and two touchdowns. On a side note, Stevan Ridley’s days as New England’s starting running back appear over.

colin-kaepernick4. San Francisco 49ers (8-4); beat St. Louis 23-13, moves up two spots – San Francisco ended St. Louis’ hot streak and took a big step forward in the race for NFC playoff positioning. The Niners, who began the year trying to feature Colin Kaepernick’s talents more, seem to be getting back to this approach now that they’ve got some wins under their belt.

5. New Orleans Saints (9-3); lost to Seattle 34-7, drops two spots – The Saints didn’t suddenly become a bad team just because they got blown out by a fellow NFC powerhouse. However, this loss does raise some questions about New Orleans’ ability to win big games away from home.

6. Carolina Panthers (9-3); beat Tampa Bay 27-6, moves up one spot – Nobody predicted this week’s game against New Orleans to be a battle for first place in the NFC South. But that’s exactly where we’re at after Carolina won a franchise-record eighth straight game. Cam Newton is playing the best football of his three-year career, and just threw for 263 yards, ran for 68 yards, and accounted for three TD’s against the Buccaneers.

7. Kansas City Chiefs (9-3); lost to Denver 35-28, drops three spots – Alex Smith is really looking solid at QB after piling up 293 passing yards, 46 rushing yards, and three total TD’s. But what happened to that vaunted KC pass rush from earlier this year? Manning went virtually untouched for the second time these two teams faced.

8. Cincinnati Bengals (8-4); beat San Diego 17-10, moves up one spot – Holding the Chargers to 10 points at home is no small feat. The Bengals supplemented their great defensive effort with a strong running game (164 yards on 38 carries).

9. Indianapolis Colts (8-4); beat Tennessee Titans 22-14, moves up one spot – The Colts put a halt to their massive struggles with a hard-fought victory over Tennessee. Their lack of a running game is disturbing and the Trent Richardson deal is officially a dud. But they still have a little bit of time to fix these issues before the postseason.

demarco-murray10. Dallas Cowboys (7-5); beat Oakland 31-24, moves up one spot – Dallas used a surprisingly effective two-back approach, with Lance Dunbar rushing for 82 yards on 12 carries and DeMarco Murray gaining 63 yards on 19 carries. Murray also got into the end zone three times against the soft Oakland D.

11. Philadelphia Eagles (7-5); beat Arizona 24-21, moves up one spot – Philadelphia keeps pace with Dallas in the NFC West with a huge victory over Arizona. Is it time to anoint Nick Foles (237PYDS, 3TD) as one of the league’s top QB’s?

12. Detroit Lions (7-5); beat Green Bay 40-10, moves up one spot – The Lions absolutely terrorized Matt Flynn in the pocket and racked up seven sacks and a safety. Now, the challenge will be repeating this dominant performance against teams without Flynn under center.

13. Arizona Cardinals (7-5); lost to Philadelphia 24-21, drops five spots – The Cardinals don’t really deserve this free-fall after losing by three points on the road. But with everybody behind them winning and boasting a similar record, the margin for error is slim in this range.

14. Baltimore Ravens (6-6); beat Pittsburgh 22-20, moves up three spots – Like any true champion, the Ravens aren’t going down without a fight. They scraped by with five field goals, and dug in to stop a two-point conversion with 1:03 left.

15. Miami Dolphins (6-6); beat New York Jets 23-3, moves up three spots – You have to give Miami some credit for battling back to .500 with all of the controversy surrounding them. It now appears that they’re in a two-team race with Baltimore for the last AFC Wild Card spot.

adrian-peterson-rushing-record16. Chicago Bears (6-6); lost to Minnesota 23-20 (OT), drops two spots – Chicago blew a golden opportunity to keep pace with the Lions in the NFC North. Their defense once again got gashed by a running back, with Adrian Peterson rushing for 211 yards on 35 carries.

17. San Diego Chargers (5-7); lost to Cincinnati 17-10, drops two spots – After a dramatic 3-point victory at Kansas City last week, San Diego couldn’t keep the magic going at home against the Bengals. The offense was surprisingly ineffective, especially when they crossed the 50-yard-line, and failed to complete drive after drive.

18. Green Bay Packers (5-6-1); lost to Detroit 40-10, drops two spots – Aaron Rodgers may be back this week. But the Pack is also down one and a half games in the NFC North, which is probably too wide of a margin to make up.

19. New York Giants (5-7); beat Washington 24-17, moves up four spots – New York kept their slim postseason hopes alive thanks to four sacks from Justin Tucker. Andre Brown also added two touchdown runs, though he only gained 35 yards on 14 carries.

20. Tennessee Titans (5-7); lost to Indianapolis 22-14, retains same ranking – Although they lost, Tennessee is still just a game out of the AFC Wild Card race, and they hold all of the tiebreakers.

21. New York Jets (5-7); lost to Miami 23-3, drops two spots – New York is just playing terribly on offense right now. At least Rex Ryan finally had the nerve to bench Geno Smith after another awful outing (29PYDS, 1INT). Unfortunately, Matt Simms isn’t much better…

22. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-7); lost to Baltimore 22-20, drops one spot – Not only did Mike Tomlin earn himself a big fine for stepping in the way of a Jacoby Jones’ 73-yard kickoff return, but he also may have costed Pittsburgh a draft pick. Not exactly the best way to build for the future.

zac-stacy23. St. Louis Rams (5-7); lost to San Francisco 23-13, drops one spot – St. Louis fought hard on the road against a superior team. Zac Stacy turned in a tough game against this loaded defense as he rushed for 78 yards on 19 carries. He’s definitely a good building block for the future.

24. Minnesota Vikings (3-8-1); beat Chicago 23-20 (OT), moves up five spots – The teams from here on out are so bad that Minnesota leaps up five spots for grabbing a win against the Bears. Adrian Peterson finally looked like he did in the second half of last season, showing he has more than enough left in the tank.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-9); beat Cleveland 32-28, moves up five spots – It’s finally time to consider the Jaguars a legitimate NFL team again. Chad Henne led a late comeback after finding Cecil Shorts in the end zone with 40 seconds remaining.

26. Cleveland Browns (4-8); lost to Jacksonville 32-28, drops two spots – As if it were possible, Cleveland is about to get a lot worse! Now both Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden are hurt, leaving the Browns picking at the bottom of the barrel for a healthy QB.

27. Oakland Raiders (4-8); lost to Dallas 31-24, drops two spots – After some ups and downs this season, Oakland is having yet another bad season. Perhaps they’ve found a quarterback for next year in Matt McGloin, though.

28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-9); lost to Carolina 27-6, drops two spots – At this point, it’s very difficult to see Greg Schaino keeping his job. So Tampa Bay will essentially go back to the drawing board this offseason.

29. Atlanta Falcons (3-9); beat Buffalo 34-31 (OT), moves up two spots – Atlanta finally got the type of all-around offensive production they’ve been looking for, with Matt Ryan throwing for 311 yards and 1 TD, and Steven Jackson rushing for 84 yards and two touchdowns.

30. Buffalo Bills (4-8); lost to Atlanta 34-31 (OT), drops three spots – The good news is that CJ Spiller (149RYDS, 1TD) finally looked like the back that Buffalo was expecting this year. The bad news is that it comes when this team’s season has already gone down the drain.

31. Washington Redskins (3-9); lost to New York Giants 24-17, drops three spots – Washington has now been eliminated from the postseason in 17 of the last 21 years. After this season’s disappointment, some wonder if Mike Shanahan will be around in 2014.

32. Houston Texans (2-10); lost to New England 34-31, retains same ranking – Another close call for Houston, another loss. The Texans haven’t won since September 15th and it’s questionable if that will change before 2013 ends.

 

Why the 2013 Cleveland Browns won’t be as Bad as you think

brandon-weeden-cleveland-brownsFew NFL teams have even come close to the vomit-inducing results that the Cleveland Browns have produced in recent years. Since finishing with a 10-6 record in 2007, the Browns have gone just 23-57 over the past five years. So what reason do we have to believe that Cleveland will transcend their 5-11 record from last season? Especially when they play in the more-than-challenging AFC North!?

First off, this Browns team is under totally new leadership after cleaning house last year. Pat Shurmur and his staff were dumped thanks to questionable play calling and dismal results. Enter Rob Chudzinski, who should bring a strong level of preparedness and execution to the floundering Browns offense. As offensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers, Chudzinski helped his team average a respectable 22 PPG – much better than Cleveland’s 18 PPG last season. Plus he served as the Browns’ coordinator during their 10-win season in ’07.

rod-chudzinskiThis team’s leadership should get a further boost from new OC Norv Turner and D coordinator Ray Horton. There’s always been questions about Turner’s ability to put everything together as a head coach; but his offensive brilliance should shine in a coordinator’s role. As for Horton, he’ll bring a new mentality to the Browns that involves attacking offenses and forcing mistakes. With Cleveland’s talented front seven, Horton is the perfect man for the job.

Moving to the players, much of the season hinges on Brandon Weeden’s development. With Turner as the OC, Weeden should get a lot more opportunities to throw downfield and rack up some big passing games. Through two preseason contests, he’s been lighting it up after throwing for a combined 229 yards and three touchdowns. Sure this is just the preseason, but it’s reason to believe that the 29-year-old could surpass 4,000 yards and 20 TD’s this year.

trent-richardsonOf course, Trent Richardson will play a huge role in the Browns’ fortunes. He had a standout rookie season after rushing for 950 yards, tallying 367 receiving yards, and scoring 12 total touchdowns. If Weeden can improve, the box should be more open and allow Richardson to have an even stronger second-year campaign. And don’t forget that his first year was hampered by preseason knee surgery and broken ribs during the regular season.

Both WR Josh Gordon and TE Jordan Cameron should have strong years. Many believe the latter could be Cleveland’s most improved player since fellow tight end Ben Watson left via free agency. Now Cameron figures to shine after showing plenty of athleticism during his limited time on the field.

Gordon saw the field plenty last year, and took advantage of his opportunities. He’ll be the Browns top receiving option and should improve on last year’s 800 receiving yards and 5 TD’s. Free agent acquisition Davone Bess will also prove valuable in the passing game. The slot receiver caught 61 passes for 778 yards and one TD in 2012.

joe-hadenAs mentioned before, the defensive front seven will be one of Cleveland’s biggest strengths. Cornerback Joe Haden anchors this defense and has proved invaluable to stopping opposing top wideouts. He missed four games last year after a suspension, but hopefully he avoids any PED troubles in 2013.

The Browns snagged Super Bowl champion linebacker Paul Kruger through free agency this offseason. The 6’4″, 270-pound linebacker racked up 42 tackles and 9 sacks last year, and added another 4.5 sacks during Baltimore’s championship run.

Rookie LB Barkevious Mingo is another defender whom the Browns are expecting big things from. The sixth overall pick runs a 4.53 forty and should thrive in Horton’s aggressive defensive scheme. Jabaal Sheard will once again be a critical part of the Cleveland defense. The linebacker has notched 15.5 sacks in his first two seasons, and there’s little reason to doubt that he could have his best year yet this time around.

With some outstanding new coaches and plenty of talented players, 2013 will see a far more competitive Cleveland Browns team. It’ll be difficult for them to make the playoffs in a tough AFC North division, but we wouldn’t be entirely surprised if it happens. However, we’ll stick with more mild expectations and offer the following projection:

2013 Cleveland Browns Predicted Record: 8-8