Hot take right? Huge Browns fan and active in our DBN Community. The title is not for hits, and this is not the season has not started yet. This has been on mind since the Chiefs loss. Here is my thinking...
Starting the Conversation (a general prediction)
Predicting the Browns Offense to become more efficient and score more points. If not, this going to be the red flag of red flags. I think we would all like to see them be a little more consistent week in and week out, and aside from games like Dallas and the new Houston Oilers I would sure like to see them to score more first half points consistently. I am predicting they will.
Predicting the Browns Special Teams maintain or get better. For the most part every unit was pretty solid, punt return and kickoff return did not seem all that great but statistically they were near the top. I am predicting (more hoping) they get to the next level (and have a field goal kicker that does give me heart-burn every time he lines up).
Predicting the Browns defense will be statistically better. But I really do not know how much. 9 out 11 new starters, and the front 4? Say what you want about Obi and Vernon...they were pretty solid gap stuffers. We did get some free agents that consistently have proven they are very good (not lumping Clowney in with that group until he can stay healthy). The safety and linebacker positions were a weakness last year and we have gotten in some very good players who will help, and coach up others. So on the balance, I think/hope they will be better. Last season, I just felt like they gave up so many third downs (that were longer than 3 or 4 yards). I feel like the floor this year will be a better unit, capable of getting off the field earlier (which is another reason to feel good about the offense by the way). How good? Let's face it, we just do not know yet, and we may not know as a defense can get very good (or regress) as a season unwinds.
The Other Schedule
A comment about the other schedule. That is to say our non divisional opponents in 21. It is a brutal. Go to week 8 on our schedule and think about how many wins you could reasonably count after Week 8? Do not panic yet...our divisional foes are faced with equal (or some might say) more adversity. For the record we have the 4th hardest schedule in the AFC North. But it does leave me with the feeling that 12 or more wins only comes with the Browns truely having an "Elite" team. That is to say a top 3 Offense or a Top 3 defense...or maybe a top 5 Offense and a top top 5 Defense. With elite status, I see 12 or more wins, but not otherwise. I predict 10 (maybe 11 since we move to 17 weeks) wins the division this year. Our division is too good to think otherwise. Curveballs do happen...nobody predicted the NFC East (who we played last year) would be so historically bad. Also, generally speaking, you hit a team every year with some key injuries, or you win a game you are supposed to lose, and lose a game you are supposed to win, but most hard core NFL/Browns fans can eyeball a schedule and get a feel (of course this is harder for us now, in the past it was...how many teams are worse off than the Browns and you need only look to see if the other basement dwellers were on our schedule when it came out).
The Main Attraction
Here we go...winning the division should be our goal. This is it. No need to talk a Browns fan into getting excited about this. If you need convinced about the significance of this...I can't help you. the Wildcard win in Heinz Field did a lot for us...if you were like me...it was like the 2016 Game 7 Finals. I almost cried. Part of me hopes we play the Ravens 3 times and beat them in their Stadium in the playoffs...it would be so beautiful. It sure would make up for me watching a lot of really really pathetic football. I know the Steelers win made me feel that way. So here we go, team by team matchups in our division.
Very difficult to predict because of the X factor. The X factor of course, is Lamar Jackson. He may be the best pound for pound athlete in the NFL (or the fricking world). He is so good. I don't buy the whole "he can't pass" argument. He lit it up at Louisville, he just needs that timing piece to connect a bit faster. Maybe it comes with the pre-snap read, and he will have better talent to go with Andrews this year....they are gonna score. Is the Defense still top 10? Probably, their back end is fantastic. I think we need to see if our defense has an actual answer for Jackson, until then I have to give the nod (home and away) to the damn Ravens. So 0-2. (Note: if Woods' 4-2-5 can shut Jackson down...I will be breaking out the 18 year old Whisky (those who know...know).
Everyone in NE Ohio is pretty happy with the level of dysfunction of the Pittsburgh Steelers. You want to beat the best, but there is no love lost for their problems. The tik-toks, the Bush Cat Tweet, the collapse at the end of the season, the turnover of talented players the had in the off season. But their demise is over-rated for two reasons.
1. We all know they have elite players on their team. Watt, Tuit, Heyword and Fitzpatrick come to mind on the defense. All 4 are top tier players. And call me a softy, but I love Joe Haden and when he is not hurt he is a flat out glorious football player (there, I said it, I still wish he was a Brown). And let's be honest, Big Ben came off a major arm surgery, it got run down, the Steelers running game was a total crap show and he was not running hot at the end of the season. He is a first ballot hall of famer, we have all seen enough of him to know he is very good. Is he the same as 5 or 10 years ago, heck no, but he would start on all but maybe a dozen or so teams in the NFL.
2. Think about some of the historically bad Browns teams...and how they would fight to beat the Steelers. That is how they are going to feel....the difference is they do not have an historically bad team (which I am happy about, we do not need our Yinzer neighbors getting a top 3 or 4 QB in next years' draft). The still have a very very good defense and they are not going to finish last in the NFL in rusing the football in 2021. They will not start out 11-0 but they are not going to lose 4 of the 5...their play will be somewhere in between, and they will be jazzed to face the Browns.
So I see 1 win and 1 loss (home or away, but most likely both teams winning at home). This hurts by the way, the Steelers home game is Monday January 3 in Heinz field....if they are in the playoff hunt or not, that is gonna be a hard win for us...and likely, we are gonna need that win!
Everyone is sleeping on our fellow Buckeyes from the 513. Offense is scary. They shored up their O-line (it will be better), Burrow is Elite, the kid from Athens is the real deal. He is going to be good for a long time and has some really good receivers! They are gonna score. The Defense is improved, and who among us did not find this to be one of the best things ever in the 2020 Season? They may still be a couple of pieces away from really being lights out scary, but they are going to win at least 5-7 games this year and one of them could easily be against the Browns.
So I see 1 and 1 (lets say wining at home and losing on the road...although we seem to do well at Paul Brown Stadium). Our home game with them is the last game of the season, it could be a big match up.
So there you go....2 and 6 in the AFC North. This is my greatest fear. This is my default. Can the Browns do what needs to be done to turn this into 3 and 3? How about 4-2 or 5-1 which would win the division? I think the answer lies in our defense. I think this is the real story of 2021. Cn the Browns keep rolling on Offense? Can they keep pounding AFC North defenses into submissions and at the same time blowing them away with a precision passing attack? I think they have a good chance of doing this.
However, can the defense do enough to separate? I think we need to get a feel for those first 3 or 4 games to see what our what new defense can do.
...and for the record, I am hoping for 6-0!