Looking at five bold predictions for the Cleveland Browns as the team prepares for the opening of the 2016 NFL season.
It is always an optimistic time when the Cleveland Browns have yet to lose a game. Hopefully the feeling can last another week.
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The Browns open up the season this Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, beginning another emotional journey known as being a Browns fan. A new coach and quarterback will once again grace the field, and fans once again have hope that this group will be the group to turn it all around and make sitting next to a freezing lake in the middle of December a rewarding experience.
The last few days before the beginning of the season is a perfect time to offer up some final predictions. Some may even be considered bold.
Claiming predictions about the Browns to be bold is easy given the team’s lack of success since a Clinton was in office. Saying the Browns will finish with eight wins may cause some to claim you are crazy, while predicting any upset wins may appear as a cry for help; a plea for the Browns to be great again.
With the idea of being bold, there are certain predictions that are actually attainable for the Browns in 2016, at least that’s how it seems right now.
So before the season begins and our emotions for the week are determined by three hours on Sunday afternoon, let’s take a look at five bold predictions for the upcoming Browns season.
Sep 1, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) warms up before the game between the Cleveland Browns and the Chicago Bears at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
RG3 starts all 16 games
The Browns don’t have a great reputation of consistency at the quarterback position, evidenced by the fact the Browns have had three quarterbacks start a game in each of the last three seasons. This also includes three different players opening the season as starters in that span: Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer and Josh McCown.
Robert Griffin III is being given a chance to end the revolving door of starting quarterbacks in Cleveland, and his history of injuries does not bode well for the goal of bringing consistency to the position.
It would be unfair to assume Griffin is going to get hurt, but the several new faces on the offensive line, along with his history of putting himself in harm’s way, makes a full season out of Griffin tough to see happening.
But there is a difference in how Griffin has been playing since joining the Browns. He has embraced the idea of throwing the ball away instead of trying to hold out hope for a big play, while also learning to slide instead of pulling a Josh McCown and diving headfirst into the defense.
That being said, expect to see Griffin start all 16 games this year. He will be the first Browns starter to do so since Tim Couch started the entire season back in 2001.
Griffin will do this by limiting the amount of times he runs the ball, while being more aware in the pocket and getting the ball out before the defense can converge on him. His injury problems plagued him in the past, but he seems to be a different player now. A player who can help the Browns establish some stability on offense.
The focus surrounding the pass-catchers on offense has to do with the return of Josh Gordon. Gordon is sure to be a major threat on offense once he returns from his four-game suspension, but that lost time may hurt his chances of being the team’s leading receiver.
The other player drawing excitement is rookie receiver Corey Coleman, but he still has a long way to go to get adjusted to the NFL game after limited time in the preseason.
A player not being talked about that much is Gary Barnidge, the team’s leader in receiving yards last year.
In a year filled with so many new faces in the receiving corps, Barnidge remains the reliable option just as he was a year ago.
The two players behind Barnidge at the tight end position, Randall Telfer and Seth DeValve, have a combined zero career receptions, so Barnidge is going to see a lot of time on the field in 2016. This abundant playing time will lead to him being the team’s leading receiver for a second year in a row, finishing ahead of Gordon, Coleman and the rest of the wide receivers.
This will lead to another Pro Bowl appearance for Barnidge as he continues to bask in his newfound NFL stardom.
Joe Haden was in the best stage of his career before the 2015 season. He was just elected to his second Pro Bowl and entered 2015 as one of the top defensive backs in the league.
Several bad games and injuries later, 2015 was the worst season of Haden’s career. The injuries had a lot to do with it, but Haden enters 2016 looking to prove he is still the same dominant player who can shut down the best receivers in the NFL.
Haden had ankle surgery earlier this year, but appears to be back at full health.
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A healthy Haden is great for a young Browns defense who will be looking to Haden as a veteran voice throughout the season.
A healthy Haden is a threat to opposing offenses, and his return in 2016 will lead to him being named to his third Pro Bowl.
It may be tough to see Haden back at an elite level after his play last season seemed to usher in a decline, but it was clear he was never playing at full health. The rest of the defense also had a lot of holes, putting too much pressure on an already injured Haden.
The new defense is young, but there is talent all over. This will take pressure off Haden, and allow him to focus on being a shutdown corner. He will return to his All-Pro level of play, and will be playing some extra football in early 2017.
Aug 12, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Cleveland Browns defensive lineman Carl Nassib, right, applies pressure against the Green Bay Packers in the second quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Carl Nassib will be named Defensive ROY
The Browns have a young defense, but the decision to rebuild through the draft was warranted after seeing who was selected.
Emmanuel Ogbah will be a key piece for the Browns, but Carl Nassib is going to be a player to watch for years to come.
Nassib was not only an All-American in 2015, as he was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. This award was won over Joey Bosa, who was selected much higher than Nassib, although his career is off to a much rockier start out in San Diego.
The 6-foot-7 Nassib currently sits behind John Hughes III on the depth chart at one of the defensive end spots, but he is going to see a lot of time on the field at the outset of the season.
He will continue to prove how great he is, compiling the stats normally seen by a starter. By the end of the season, this will lead to Nassib being named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Nassib has the benefit of being on a rebuilding team, which means he will see much more playing time compared to players who enter a situation where there are already solidified starters in the same position.
While the Browns still need to improve on the push from the defensive front, Nassib will shine on the edge of the defensive line.
Jun 7, 2016; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson yells to the team during minicamp at the Cleveland Browns training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Browns will finish 7-9
This prediction may be the boldest of them all. Fans always enter each season with some sense of optimism, even if it is only in their subconscious, but it is hard to maintain after a few brutal, early losses.
The Browns, universally expected to be one of the worst teams in the NFL, have the ability to surprise fans this year and begin the march toward becoming a playoff team.
That does not mean the team will make it this year, but a 7-9 record would be a great first step.
The key to finishing with this record is to win at least two games in the division, which is not an easy task for this young team.
This record would be just as surprising as when the 2014 Browns went 7-9, but five straight losses to end that season marred what could have been a playoff season.
The first four predictions in this post would have to come true for the Browns to achieve this record, as the team’s best players have to be at or near a Pro Bowl level for the Browns to get out of the basement of the AFC North.
While the national consensus sees the Browns finishing with three or four wins, the leadership of Hue Jackson will help the team avoid those late losses that should have been wins, such as the overtime loss to Denver and the blocked field goal return against the Ravens last year. Those two games should have been wins, and this year’s team will find a way to win these types of games.