Few 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.
This 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.
Of 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.
As 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