With just one playoff appearance since returning to the NFL in 1999, the Cleveland Browns’ fan base is desperate for something to put its faith in. In a division dominated by the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens over the past decade, there is never much room for error, and while the Browns aren’t likely to compete for a postseason position again in 2012, it will be a crucial year in terms of the direction of the franchise. President Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert drafted running back Trent Richardson with the third-overall pick, and then selected Brandon Weeden at 22, identifying them as the core players that will be tasked with turning around an offense that ranked in the bottom-half of the league in both the pass and run games. If Richardson and Weeden can live up to expectations and inject some life in to a stagnant offense, and the defense continues to progress, this season will be considered an online sports betting sites success. Anything less, and the Browns could once again be subject to major offseason changes.
Head Coach: Pat Shurmur
Offensive Coordinator: Brad Childress
Defensive Coordinator: Dick Jauron
Owner: Randolph D. Lerner
Stadium: Cleveland Browns Stadium
Capacity: 73, 200
Super Bowl Wins: 0
Cleveland’s west coast scheme should get a major boost with the addition of Richardson in the backfield, especially considering he will be running behind a solid offensive line, led by left tackle Joe Thomas. Richardson will give the Browns’ a big-play threat out of the backfield, but they are still lacking weapons in the passing game. Weeden is likely to start from day one, but it won’t help that Cleveland will be missing a game-changing talent at wide receiver. Greg Little returns as the No. 1 option at receiver after leading the team with 61 receptions and 709 yards in his rookie season, but the team lacks depth behind him with Mohamed Massquoi and Joshua Cribbs second and third on the depth chart. Tight end Benjamin Watson will give Weeden a solid safety option underneath, but the Browns will need to add more playmakers in the passing game to continue to develop.
Grade: C +
The Browns’ defense was a major strength last season under defensive coordinator Dick Jauron, who helped the unit successfully transition from the 3-4 to a 4-3. Cleveland finished second in pass defense, with Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden leading a solid secondary that showed a lot of man-coverage looks. Haden is an elite cornerback, and might have better totals than his six interceptions and 37 pass disruptions over two seasons if teams threw at him more. Dimitri Patterson and Sheldon Brown will battle for the other starting spot, with the loser taking the nickel spot, while TJ Ward and Usama Young man the starting safety spots if healthy. The biggest defensive improvement is expected up front, where defensive tackle Phil Taylor and end Jabaal Sheard started all 16 games in their rookie seasons. Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin will provide a solid interior tandem, while Sheard proved he has what it takes to be a top rusher off the edge, with Juqua Parker, Frostee Rucker, and Marcus Bernard all figuring in to the rotation at the other end spot. Middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson is coming off a career-high 158 tackles, but the Browns will be without strong-side ‘backer Scott Fujita for three games due to suspension. In order for Cleveland to take another step forward they must improve against the run after ranking 30th last sportsbook season.
Grade: B +
Even if the Browns want to see more out of Cribbs in the passing game, they may not have a choice but to get as much out of his game-breaking ability as a return man as they can. Points will be at a premium for Cleveland in 2012, and while the new rules will limit Cribbs’ potential on special teams, he still has the speed and elusiveness to make big plays. Kicker Phil Dawson is consistent, and has done a solid job of dealing with the weather playing in the AFC North. Punter Reggie Hodges missed all of 2011 with a torn Achilles tendon, but the Browns feel he will be ready in time for camp.
Grade: B –
The Browns have a solid defense that should improve in year two under Jauron, with young pieces such as Haden, Sheard, Taylor, and Jackson continuing to grow as the leaders on that side of the ball. However, there remain major question marks on offense even with the addition of Richardson, with Weeden likely given the reigns from week one with a lack of playmakers to make this offense work. Cleveland should be better in year three under the tandem of Holmgren and Heckert, however the season will be graded in terms of development rather than actual numbers, with a tough sports betting schedule putting the Browns’ additions to the test.
Projected Record: 4-12 (4th in AFC North)
Week 1 – vs. Philadelphia (1:00 PM ET)
Week 2 – at Cincinnati (1:00 PM ET)
Week 3 – vs. Buffalo (1:00 PM ET)
Week 4 – at Baltimore (Thursday, 8:20 PM ET)
Week 5 – at New York (1:00 PM ET)
Week 6 – vs. Cincinnati (1:00 PM ET)
Week 7 – at Indianapolis (1:00 PM ET)
Week 8 – vs. San Diego (1:00 PM ET)
Week 9 – vs Baltimore (1:00 PM ET)
Week 10 – BYE WEEK
Week 11 – at Dallas (1:00 PM ET)
Week 12 – vs. Pittsburgh (1:00 PM ET)
Week 13 –at Oakland (4:15 PM ET)
Week 14 – vs. Kansas City (1:00 PM ET)
Week 15 – vs. Washington (1:00 PM ET)
Week 16 – at Denver (4:05 PM ET)
Week 17 – at Pittsburgh (1:00 PM ET)