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Browns named one of NFL’s most likely to improve teams

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No one is saying the Cleveland Browns will go from worst-to-first, but the chances they improve are pretty good.

San Diego Chargers v Cleveland Browns Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns were bad in 2016, everybody knows that, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t some randomness involved in just how bad they finished the season.

Saying the team will improve from a 1-15 embarrassment of season is hardly going out on a limb as a NFL prognosticator. But that’s what ESPN’s Bill Barnwell is doing, and his reasoning isn’t so simple.

Per Barnwell’s adaptation of baseball statistics legend Bill James’ Pythagorean Expectation, point differential is given much more weight when predicting future success than merely evaluating teams by their win-loss records.

“Because all wins are not created equal,” Barnwell wrote.

Barnwell has been on this train for some time, as he said in 2012 when this type of analytical approach began to gain traction.

Proficiency is hard to capture with data, especially when so many data points are available. That’s why I’ve always had a hard time assigning wins and losses to quarterbacks. Although they do influence games and can “win” them with one play, there are too many other factors to solely blame or praise them for single game outcomes. But that’s a different conversation for a different game.

Is Joe Flacco elite?

Sorry, we’re officially off the rails. Stay with me for one more moment.

Here’s a blurb from Barnwell explaining why his 3.5 win expectation for the Browns wasn’t met last season.

In part, the Browns were flummoxed by a nearly unprecedented revolving door of quarterbacks. Cleveland probably wasn't going to look good under any circumstances, but coach Hue Jackson was down to third-string rookie Cody Kessler by the end of Week 2 after both Robert Griffin and Josh McCownsuffered injuries. In the end, five different quarterbacks threw 20 passes or more for the Browns last season

The only other time that has happened in the modern NFL without a strike being involved is in 1984, when Mike Ditka cycled through five quarterbacks for a 10-win Bears team. A year later, he narrowed down his list to two and the Bears went 15-1.

And here’s a quick recap of his reasoning for why the Browns will improve in 2017.

  • According to Barnwell’s metrics, the Browns had the fifth hardest — the hardest overall, per DVOA — schedule in the NFL last season. FPI says their league-average schedule should help them find more wins this year.
  • They should have more stability at the quarterback position.
  • An influx of veteran and young talent added to the roster after gutting the roster last offseason.
  • They will be luckier.
  • Of the last eight teams to finish with just one win, each team averaged 6.6 wins in the following season.

Barnwell didn’t even mention Gregg Williams. He’s worth at least one more win, right? Right?