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What a difference a year makes. The Browns suddenly have, gulp, expectations. What is a realistic win total for the 2019-20 season?
The Ice Cube: That’s the key word this year: “expectations.” Without playing a game, this offseason the Browns have ping-ponged from perennial also-ran to “the World’s Team,” and now they are getting some hate for being overrated. As a long-suffering fan, despite all the hype, I am cautiously optimistic and not as bullish as the betting action in Vegas. I think 10 wins is a possibility, but the scheduled is rough, with 3 of the first 7 games against the Rams, Seahawks, and Patriots. If the Browns have a slip up in games they are expected to win early, like the Jets or 49ers, we could be looking at a struggle to hit .500. I am projecting wins in the opener against Tennessee, and other non-division victories against the Jets, 49ers, Bills, Dolphins, and Cardinals. Throw in a pair of W’s against the Bengals, and you are going to be fighting for a playoff spot at the end of the year, especially if you can get a win of the established NFL elite.
Big $: Let the person who has not downed 7-11 Hilltop Lagers, pulled up the ole schedule and wistfully talked themselves into a 12-4 season cast the first stone. However, upon clarity and sobriety, you see the murderer’s row (Rams, Seahawks, Patriots) mentioned above and are reminded that our divisional foes in Pittsburgh and Baltimore are both accustomed to winning and served us Ls last year. All things considered, the NFL is designed for each team to go 8-8, and the Browns may be good enough to finally bust that bell curve on the right slope and hit 10-6.
What three players need to stay healthy if the Browns are going to be playoff contenders?
The Ice Cube: Outside of Baker, and hoping not to sound to obvious, but Odell Beckham, Jr., is already starting the year injured. A nagging hip injury has kept him limited in practice, and he admittedly is not 100% going into the opener. If he can’t stay on the field, the wide receiver corps is going to be thin. The Browns No. 3 receiver Antonio Calloway is already serving a 4-game suspension to start the year. If OBJ is out to start the year, Hollywood Higgins becomes your No. 2. I’m OK with that given his chemistry with Baker, but the depth behind him is lacking, as shown by the constant roster turnover at the 4th and 5th receiver slots to close out the preseason.
My second pick is Greg Robison, the left tackle. John Dorsey pulled this former No. 2 overall pick off the scrapheap, and he was the anchor of the line in the second half of last season. Don’t be surprised if he makes the Pro Bowl this year. The Browns have built more depth on the O-line this year, but not at left tackle. If Robinson goes down, Baker better buckle his chin strap tight.
Staying on the offensive side of the ball, I am praying Nick Chubb stays off the IR. Without him, I don’t think the Browns have a running back that can handle the full load of carries per game, and that includes Kareen Hunt when he comes back in Week 10.
Big $: I’m concerned the Browns have focused too much attention building outside in with the additions of Jarvis and OBJ and have left the team with an OL that leaves much to be desired, Therefore, if Bitonio or Tretter miss significant time we could watch the season go south real quick.
The other player that must stay healthy is Oliver Vernon. Having him occupy space in opposing team’s heads and game plans will allow Myles, Larry and Sheldon to wreak havoc.
Is Freddy Kitchens up for this job or would he be better suited replacing John Goodman coaching the team in Revenge of the Nerds?
Big $: This has been an off season like no other here on the North Coast. Browns fans and media alike have been heaping expectations upon the franchise that are usually felt in Foxboro and Pittsburgh etc. With that said, Freddie has stayed even keeled and dismissed the rat poison. I’m excited to watch him lead this next chapter of Browns football.
The Ice Cube: Freddie may be Goodmanesque in stature but I think that is where the comparison stops. He has been an assistant in the league a long time and has finally got his shot to be the HC. He seems fully prepared when it comes to handling his team and the media. He is the underdog you want to cheer for, unlike that Coach Harris from Adams College. I don’t doubt Freddie is the right man to lead the Browns right now, but with every young coach, it seems that clock management can be a challenge. If he can keep that from hampering the team early, I think he will quickly become beloved in Browns Nation.
What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of this team?
The Ice Cube: Arguably the greatest strength is going to be the defensive line and pass rush. With the additions of Vernon and Sheldon Richardson upfront, teaming with Garrett and Genard Avery to bear down on the quarterback, expect more sacks and interceptions this season. No doubt there should be more explosiveness on offense with the addition of OBJ, especially when Hunt and Calloway get back in the lineup. There is better depth in the defensive secondary, as well. The weakness I have my eye on is the kicking and punting game. The Browns have been killed in countless games by failures on special teams (second chance field goals because of Browns encroachment penalties, missed FGs, the “Kick Six,” etc.) and they need consistency from their rookie kicker in Austin Siebert, a draft pick out of Oklahoma. They also cut the excellent Britton Colquitt in favor of their rookie punter Jamie “the Scottish Hammer” Gillan. The former rugby player has a howitzer for a leg, as shown by his 70-yard net punt in the preseason, and he is actually a tackling machine, but he has to learn the ball placement of his predecessor to keep the field tilted in Cleveland’s favor.
Give me a best case and worst case for the Browns this season.
Big $: I’m going to be short and sweet here …
Best Case: 1 playoff win
Worst Case: Baker injury