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

2013-14 NFL Futures: Can the Baltimore Ravens Repeat?

joe-flaccoWhen the 2012-13 NFL season began, most people thought that the Baltimore Ravens would be a competitive team. However, few experts predicted them to be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy last February, especially given the strong seasons that Denver, New England, San Francisco and Atlanta had.

Nevertheless, the aging Wild Card Ravens stormed through the playoffs and on towards the Super Bowl XLVII title. Now the big question remains whether Baltimore can experience Super Bowl success two years in a row.

At this point, most experts aren’t convinced that they’ll become the eighth team in NFL history to repeat as champions. The big reason why is roster turnover since Baltimore has lost a number of key players from last year’s championship squad.

For starters, the team’s best possession receiver, Anquan Boldin, went to the San Francisco 49ers. The offense will also miss starting center Matt Birk, who went out on top by retiring this offseason.

ed-reedLosses on the other side of the ball are even more noteworthy because starting safeties Ed Reed (Houston) and Bernard Pollard (Tennessee Titans) both departed via free agency. Other key players moving on to other teams include linebackers Paul Kruger (Cleveland) and Dannell Ellerbe (Miami Dolphins) as well as cornerback Cary Williams (Philadelphia).

As if all of this isn’t enough, Baltimore lost the heart and soul of their team when franchise legend Ray Lewis retired. No. 52 only played six regular season games and recorded 57 tackles due to a triceps injury. However, he came back for the playoffs and was an inspirational force, helping guide his team to a Super Bowl win. So the question now is what’s left for the Ravens going into this year.

Everything begins with starting quarterback Joe Flacco, who signed a six-year, $120.6 million deal this past offseason. Flacco has always been consistent for the Ravens and put up solid numbers. However, he took things to the next level in last season’s playoffs after throwing for 1,140 yards, 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions in four games. Flacco was so clutch that he out-dueled more heralded QB’s throughout the playoffs like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

ray-rice-ravensAnother big piece that’ll be returning for Baltimore is running back Ray Rice. The sixth-year man out of Rutgers has consistently been one of the best rushers in the NFL, and this doesn’t look to change in 2013. He once again turned in a solid regular season after compiling 1,143 rushing yards, 478 receiving yards and 10 total touchdowns.

The receiving corp will be somewhat of a mystery going into the season. Torrey Smith has served as a solid deep threat, having caught 49 balls for 855 yards and 8 TD’s last year. Jacoby Jones is another veteran who’ll be hoping to make an impact on the Ravens’ passing game. He caught 30 passes for 406 yards last year with the Houston Texans.

Recent additions Brandon Stokely (via Denver) and Dallas Clark could also be seeing some passes thrown their way. The latter was signed in an effort to replace injured tight ends Dennis Pitta (hip) and Ed Dickson (hamstring). As for Stokely, the 37-year-old proved to be ageless after catching 45 passes for 544 yards and 5 touchdowns in his lone Denver season.

Elvis Dumervil, John Harbaugh, Don MartindaleMoving to the defensive side, Baltimore has picked up a large number of key additions to replace their losses. Elvis Dumervil landed with the Ravens after his agent made a fax machine error during contract proceedings with the Broncos. Dumervil brings his 11.0 sacks from last season to Baltimore and should once again be a force on the edge.

Other new faces include Chris Canty (New York Giants), Marcus Spears (Cowboys), linebacker Daryl Smith (Jacksonville), safety Michael Huff (Oakland) in addition to draft picks like K-State linebacker (Arthur Brown) and Florida safety Matt Elam.

One more point worth making about the Ravens D is that Terrell Suggs will be healthy this year. Suggs missed a large majority of 2012 with a torn Achilles tendon, but did manage to return for the latter part of the season. Now healthy and playing opposite Dumervil, he should have a fantastic 2013.

Baltimore could feature as many as seven new starters on defense, which is scary when you’re trying to repeat as Super Bowl champions. However, many people think that this team has gotten younger and faster on D.

Last year’s aging core didn’t exactly tear it up in the regular season after finishing 12th in scoring defense (21.5), 15th in sacks (37) and 17th in YPG allowed (350.9). With the diminishment of Reed and Lewis’ athletic ability, it wasn’t going to be long anyways before Baltimore needed to upgrade on defense.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome is one guy who’s definitely excited about the younger defense that his club will feature. “You have to face the fact the game is changing from an offensive standpoint, with more spread offenses and more read-option,” he said. “You have to become more athletic and you have to have people who can change direction and move and accelerate. I think our moves allow us to play that style of game on defense. And also, with some of our new guys in the secondary, with Matt (Elam), Dig and Michael Huff, we’ve got guys who can match up and play man to man, and that means you don’t have to be substituting all the time.”

There’s definitely been a lot of change and turnover in Baltimore this offseason. However, the team appears confident that they can contend for another Super Bowl title. Of course, pulling off another magical postseason run like last year won’t be an easy task for this club.