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ESPN’s analytics lists Browns among teams most likely to improve

Browns roster leads to expected jump in ESPN’s projections

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the fact that most of the best teams use analytics, the term is still often looked at with a negative connotation. That is especially true with many Cleveland Browns fans.

In the end, analytics just puts numbers to what has already happened and tries to predict what will happen based on history. Instead of hunches and guesses, data analysis tries to break things down into numbers.

Projecting the Browns 2023 season is where analytics and basic analysis match up quite well. Cleveland’s roster has gotten better but QB Deshaun Watson’s uncertainty casts a shadow on how good the Browns could be.

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell put out a list of four teams the data is projecting will improve from last season. Two (the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns) have drastically improved their rosters. One (the Los Angeles Rams) is banking on health to prop their season back up. The other (the Denver Broncos) changed coaches and, like the Browns, are hoping for a bounce back from their quarterback (Russell Wilson).

In Barnwell’s piece (Subscriber, $), he notes that the teams he has predicted to improve in the past have averaged three more wins. The pieces of data that he uses are interesting for Cleveland:

Record in 2022: 7-10

Point differential in 2022: minus-20

2022 record in games decided by seven points or fewer: 2-5

Projected strength of schedule, via ESPN’s FPI: 13th easiest

Quite simply, the Browns had a losing record, didn’t have a high point differential deficit, were bad in close games and have a somewhat easy schedule. Barnwell’s data suggests that a team like that could jump up at least a few wins even before figuring in all the roster improvements.

The piece does a very detailed job of breaking down all the positives and concerns related to the team including Kevin Stefanski’s stellar performance with backup/low-level starters, Cade York’s struggles, the need for more production out of some highly drafted players and excitement around RB Nick Chubb and the offensive line.

Add in all the improvements on the defensive line and a revamped set of weapons, Cleveland is set up perfectly to join Barnwell’s history of improving by three or more games in 2023. The problem for the Browns is projecting a 10-win season could be projecting them to miss the playoffs.