Could the Cleveland Browns Actually Be Good this Year?

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The Browns have been an absolute dumpster fire since being revived in 1999 and even before then their existence in the Super Bowl era hasn’t been anything to write home about. The ineptitude that has been showcased by this franchise has made them the laughing stock of the league. From firing their head coach seemingly every year, to keeping the worst of the bunch longer than he’s earned simply because of the aforementioned reputation, missing out on a trade of a perceived franchise quarterback because you didn’t submit the paperwork in time, to going 0-16, the Browns have been pretty rough. And this was just last season alone.

Hue Jackson has been a disaster as head coach. While the talent around him hasn’t been great, most teams can usually “luck” their way into a victory or two. In his 2-year tenure, Jackson holds a record of 1-31 with the Browns, that one win being against the San Diego Chargers on Christmas Eve in 2016 thanks to a late blocked field goal. That was on a Saturday. The Browns haven’t won on a Sunday since 2015 when Johnny Manziel was their quarterback. To make matters worse, Jackson swore that if the Browns went 0-16, he’d jump into one of the Great Lakes, implying he would do it at the end of the season. He just did it a couple days ago.

And then of course, there’s the jersey.

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This picture of the jersey is a bit outdated because it doesn’t include Deshone Kizer, Cody Kessler, or Kevin Hogan, all of whom have made starts for the Browns in the Hue Jackson era, all of whom have since been shipped out since the start of the offseason when new GM John Dorsey took over. Quarterback has been the definition of a black hole since the Browns returned to the league. Starting with Tim Couch in 1999, the Browns have taken the following quarterbacks in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft: Couch, Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden, Johnny Manziel, Deshone Kizer, now Baker Mayfield. Everyone up until Mayfield has been a colossal bust, some were hard to dispute at the time of drafting (Brady Quinn seemed to be can’t-miss coming out of college), some were head scratchers (Brandon Weeden was 28 years old when the Browns made him a first round pick in 2012), while others made everybody question what they know about football (Johnny Manziel was the exact opposite of what a quarterback is typically classified as and the Browns still took him 22nd overall).

But is there hope? The team that the Browns are set to field in 2018 is, on paper, the best they may have had since their re-inception. With the recent addition of linebacker Mychal Kendricks, the Browns suddenly have arguably the best group of linebackers in football with Kendricks, Jamie Collins, and the VASTLY underrated Christian Kirksey. They’ve got a potent pass rushing duo in Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah. They just drafted a very solid corner in Denzel Ward fourth overall. They’re getting Josh Gordon back for a full season and he looks as good as he did prior to his suspension. They acquired Jarvis Landry in a trade with the Dolphins. They acquired a competent quarterback in Tyrod Taylor. They drafted Baker Mayfield first overall to sit behind Taylor for a year to develop. Even without the recently retired Joe Thomas, the Browns still have a solid offensive line. Carlos Hyde is a new addition in the backfield. There is legit talent on this Browns team this year and it’s thanks in large part to the addition of John Dorsey in the GM’s seat.

Now am I saying the Browns are going to win a Super Bowl in 2018? Of course not, the dumbest football fan on the planet won’t even say that unironically. The only way anybody is placing any Super Bowl bets on the Browns is if they DESPERATELY need hundreds of millions of dollars right now to pay off their debt to the mob. But could they actually be competitive this year? Well…yeah! I’m actually going to go ahead and say I think this team could feasibly go 8-8…on paper.

The problem is, a culture of losing is very difficult to shake. Trust me, I know. My high school football team won 4 games in my 4 years there, 3 of those came in my sophomore year and my freshman and senior seasons were winless seasons. You always doubt yourself and your ability to win the game. In fact, I went into a few games thinking to myself “I hope the score will at least be close so we have something to hold our heads up high about.” It’s going to take a DRASTIC culture change if the Browns are going to take things to the next level and the type of thinking that’s probably running rampant amongst guys within the organization right now is going to hold them back. While the roster overhaul is a good start, this team needed to be gutted to the core. No seat is going to be hotter than Hue Jackson’s in 2018 and it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest to see him get gutted the moment things start spiraling for the Browns in 2018. Besides, they do have Todd Haley at Offensive Coordinator, who does have head coaching experience with the Chiefs. He was 19-26 with the Chiefs, though he did lead them to the playoffs in his second of 3 seasons.

But I’m not just talking about Jackson. I’m talking everybody in the organization should be on the hot seat, INCLUDING owner Jimmy Haslam. While you can’t exactly fire the owner, I really don’t think the Browns are going to go very far while he’s at the helm. The ineptitude starts at the top with him. I mean for God’s sake, Dorsey wouldn’t even tell his boss who he was drafting first overall until the night before the Draft! If the Browns were to be sold, we could see things take a turn for the better provided it’s to a capable buyer. Just look at what happened with the New England Patriots. They were basically the Browns of the 20th century in the AFC and while they did appear in a Super Bowl prior to new ownership, they got absolutely DESTROYED by the Chicago Bears and really had no business being in that game in the first place (they upset Dan Marino’s Dolphins to get to the big game). However, since Robert Kraft bought the team in the early-90’s, pretty much everything has gone New England’s way. While it took a while for the Patriots to become what we know them to be today, they did eventually become arguably the most dominant franchise in NFL history. It’s not unreasonable to think that the Browns

That’s going to do it for today, let me know what you think of the Browns’ chances at future success in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

Josh McDaniels Burns the Colts

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This was a fun experience for me when the news broke. I had just gotten done with a workout and I checked my phone and saw that Josh McDaniels, whom everybody assumed was going to be the next head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, had backed out of the agreement they’d had in place in order to return as offensive coordinator of the Patriots. I told my Colts-fan buddy that I’d been working out with “hey, McDaniels rejected the Colts” and he was incredulous and didn’t believe me. I showed him my phone and he went on a tirade that lasted through our post-workout dinner, which accumulated to about an hour of rage. Plus a large portion of my Twitter feed is Colts fans who were irate about the decision so that gave me even more pleasure, which was huge for me because the Patriots’ loss to the Eagles still stings a bit. But here’s a live look at how I’ll be arriving to classes tomorrow:

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That would be dancing on peoples’ graves. But that’s the asshole Pats fan in me. Here’s what we know about the McDaniels situation.

The Things We Do Know

From what I’ve gathered, Kraft reportedly “sweetened” McDaniels’ contract to entice him to return, which obviously worked. I wonder what the added stipulations must have been. From what I’m reading from Adam Schefter’s ESPN article about it, apparently the late push the Patriots made to retain him was very aggressive. It was also a better decision for McDaniels from a family perspective, as he doesn’t have to uproot them and move them out to Indianapolis as he’s had a few weeks to think over the decision since interviewing for the job during the Wild Card Round. Ultimately, he felt uncomfortable with moving his family out of New England. We also know that the Colts had already hired McDaniels’ assistants who are now under contract. Whether or not they can be fired right away is unknown to me, but if not, that puts the Colts in a REALLY bad position. It’s interesting to me, though, that the Colts hired the assistants McDaniels wanted before actually inking McDaniels to a deal. You would think they’d have their guy set in stone like all the other teams do before going out and hiring the people he wants.

What We Don’t Know

The biggest question for me is whether or not Andrew Luck’s health played a factor in backing out of the Colts job. Luck missed the entire 2017 season after having offseason shoulder surgery and according to Chris Mortensen, there are doctors who aren’t sure that Luck’s shoulder is totally healed and that he may need more surgery done on it. But if the Colts’ franchise quarterback is having shoulder issues that could derail his career, that seems to be a pretty legitimate reason to back out of the job. He’d be setting himself up for disaster, especially considering this will be his second gig. The first was such a failure that another failure would likely prevent him from ever getting a third chance. I also think it’s possible that working under Jim Irsay wasn’t ideal for McDaniels. Irsay’s history with drugs and alcohol have been well-documented and perhaps McDaniels wasn’t comfortable with a loose cannon like him being his boss when he’s been so used to a guy like Robert Kraft all this time. But the biggest thing that we don’t really know that intrigues me is what this means about Bill Belichick’s future in New England. McDaniels has stated before that the ideal situation for his next head coaching gig would be as Belichick’s successor with the Patriots. Is it possible that Belichick may be gone soon? His contract is up after 2018 but given his success with the Patriots, if wants to keep coaching he’s going to get an extension. So perhaps McDaniels may be aware that Belichick is considering calling it a career after next season and doesn’t want to burn the opportunity to replace him by taking the Colts job. There’s a lot to digest here.

So What Do the Colts Do Now?

Well there are a few options on the table here. Eagles’ defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is an option, as the Eagles’ defense has been terrific since he took over and he’s had moderate success as a head coach with the Lions in the past. I’ve also heard that Leslie Frazier could be a candidate. Frazier was on the Colts’ staff when they won Super Bowl XLI and also has head coaching experience with the Vikings. I’ve heard that several Colts fans want Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub. I really don’t know anything about the guy but the Chiefs’ special teams have been really good these last couple years, particularly in the return game. Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich could also be a potential candidate after how successful his RPO’s were this season as well as the development of both Carson Wentz and Nick Foles leading them to a Super Bowl win. There are plenty of other options out there so just because McDaniels is out of the picture doesn’t mean the Colts are royally screwed.

So we really don’t know for sure why McDaniels changed his mind about becoming the Colts’ head coach except that Kraft sweetened his contract and he wasn’t comfortable uprooting his family from New England. Other than that we can only guess until people with more intimate knowledge of the situation step forward. But as a Patriots’ fan, this was very welcome news, especially after some of the crap that’s been coming out since they lost the Super Bowl. From the Malcolm Butler saga to the fact that Rob Gronkowski’s not only considering retirement, but his house was broken into and he was robbed of safes and guns. But getting to gloat around this Indiana University campus is something I’ll never take for granted and you can bet I’m going to get myself punched in the face before the day is out. That’s going to do it for this blog, let me know what you think about McDaniels punking the Colts in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

 

Wild Card Round Picks: Day 1

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Last Week: 8-8                      Season Record: 144-81

So first I want to address the story everybody seems to be talking about with the whole “there’s drama in the Patriots organization” story that ESPN published at 1am yesterday. That’s about as exaggerated a piece as I’ve heard in my life. People are really digging for things to knock the Patriots down a peg at this point. While I do think that Brady is terrified of his career’s mortality and Alex Guerrero may have a bit more real estate in Brady’s head than some may care to admit (some of the stuff in the TB12 Method is a bit ridiculous), the idea that there’s some kind of power struggle between him, Bill Belichick, and Robert Kraft is just ludicrous. It ends with a line that suggests that Belichick won’t return after this season to coach somewhere else. For a guy who has written as many hit pieces about the Patriots as author Seth Wickersham has (and there have been a few), this seems to be a pretty uninformed statement. Every single source he had in that paper was anonymous, which harms your story’s credibility. Believe it or not, if you request to remain anonymous or want to say something off the record, there is nothing that holds the journalist back from using that stuff. That’s all fair game to use and a reporter can say “no” to anonymity. There are no legal grounds for any of that so the fact that not a single source was named puts things into question for me. But it’s not like anything was that damaging, either. It suggested that Brady was basically a 40 year-old child, saying that he never won “Patriot of the Week” from the coaching staff during the 2017 season, which is about as preposterous a gripe as I’ve ever heard in my life about Brady. The guy has 4 Super Bowl MVP’s and 2 regular season MVP’s, you think he gives 2 shits about “Patriot of the Week?” Get the fuck out of here. Now that that’s done, I’m going to get to my first set of Wild Card Round picks then I’m going to have a Wachusett Bella Czech Pils in support of the Patriots. That’s not a plug, I promise. If it were, I’d be using it a lot more frequently. But just look at this can:

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I feel a strange urge to cut off half of each sleeve on my sweatshirts, scowl at everyone I come across and give one word answers to every question. That’s a very odd buzz. Enough rambling, Wild Card picks time.

Tennessee Titans (9-7) vs Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)

I was pretty disappointed to see the Titans make the playoffs. I don’t know if there’s ever been a more undeserving 9-7 team in league history. Offensively they were 23rd in total yards and 19th in points scored (they scored fewer than the Texans for Christ’s sake). Defensively, they were 13th in total yards and 17th in points allowed. Their turnover differential was -4 on the season. So how the Hell is this team 9-7 and not 6-10 like they statistically probably should be? Marcus Mariota regressed in a big way in 2017, as he threw for just 3232 yards with only 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. This is the same guy that had a touchdown-turnover ratio of 42-4 in his final year at Oregon. I have a strange suspicion that if the Titans get blown out of the water in this game, then the front office may make some changes to the coaching staff because Mariota is too skilled a player to be putting up a garbage stat line like that. Nevertheless, the Titans are in the playoffs for seemingly doing the bare minimum to get by. That’s going to hurt them when they face the Chiefs. Nobody started the season better than the Chiefs did. Their first two games they beat up both the Patriots and Eagles, the two 1-seeds in the NFL playoffs, en route to starting out 5-0. But that’s when the roof seemingly caved in on them. They became predictable offensively and teams were able to snuff them out. They lost 6 of their next 7 games before Andy Reid relinquished playcalling duties. They won their last 4 to close out the season. They seem to be back on the right track, looking more like the early season world-beaters vs the pathetic midseason team each day. Kansas City’s main strength is that they don’t turn the ball over, as they only did so 11 times this season for a turnover margin of +15, second best in the NFL after the Baltimore Ravens at +17. If the Titans are going to have any chance of beating the Chiefs given the talent on each roster, they’re going to need to get takeaways and that’s just not going to happen. I’ve got the Chiefs winning pretty easily and will take on the Patriots if the Jaguars beat the Bills or the Steelers if the Bills beat the Jaguars.

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Projected Score: Chiefs 38 Titans 14

Atlanta Falcons (10-6) vs Los Angeles Rams (11-5)

The last time the Falcons were in LA, they steamrolled the Rams in what proved to be Jeff Fisher’s final game as Rams head coach. This year will be COMPLETELY different circumstances, as the Rams have been amongst the best teams in the league this year. They did a complete 180 offensively, as in 2016 they were the worst scoring offense in the league but the best in 2017. Defensively, the Rams were pretty good in their first year with Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator, though I felt they were capable of much better. They were +7 in turnover margin, which really helped because they ranked just 19th in total yards allowed and 12th in points allowed. There are some fantastic players on the Rams defense, particularly Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn, and Alec Ogletree who can really take over games if you let them. Jared Goff’s development was HUGE for their success and it didn’t hurt that Todd Gurley had an MVP-caliber season (as you may have read, I picked Gurley for MVP in my awards blog). The Falcons barely made it into the playoffs after barely losing Super Bowl LI after at one point holding a 28-3 lead over the Patriots. Defensively, Atlanta continued to make strides in the right direction, as they were 9th in yards allowed and 8th in points allowed. Not bad for a team that didn’t crack the top 20 last year. However they did struggle to get turnovers, as they ranked 27th in that category, falling behind the likes of the Colts and 49ers of all teams. Offensively they took a step backward, however that’s to be expected when you’re coming off a season where you scored the most points in the league and lose your offensive coordinator to a head coaching position elsewhere (Kyle Shanahan with the 49ers). They were still very good offensively, though, as they finished 8th in total yards but 15th in points. A lot of that has to do with the fact that they were -2 in turnover margin, which will hurt your total output. But Todd Gurley did lead the NFL in fumbles and we saw with Deion Jones in Super Bowl LI that he’s more than capable of ripping that ball out to create turnovers. I think if the Falcons’ defense is able to step up and create turnovers, then they will win this game. If not, then the Rams are going to have their way with them. This is probably the hardest game to pick in Wild Card weekend, though I guess I kind of deserve it considering how easy a pick I think Chiefs-Titans is going to be. I think I’m going to give the edge to the Rams just because I think they’ve got more guys having breakout seasons than the Falcons do and will face the Vikings in the divisional round.

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Projected Score: Rams 27 Falcons 24

Those are my thoughts on the Patriots “bombshell” and the first two games of the Wild Card round. Tune in tomorrow when I do Sunday’s set of games. You can leave a comment below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.