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It's only April, and I'm proud to proclaim that I'm already sick of the Cleveland Browns. Seriously, a "Roadmap to Tampa" article with a picture of Braylon Edwards? Five prime-time games (including three Monday Nighters) in 2008? Is this the Twilight Zone?

Spare me if you've heard this story before: an up-and-coming AFC North team features an explosive offense and is poised to ruin the Steelers' divisional reign of terror. Basically, it's the same premise of an article I've been reading for the past three years or so, with a few names changed:

The Cincinnati Bengals Cleveland Browns are definitely the team to beat in the AFC North. An explosive passing game, led by young Carson Palmer Derek Anderson and Chad Johnson Braylon Edwards, will ultimately lead the Bengals Browns past their AFC North brethren.

Much like Cincinnati's recent teams, I think that the Browns are incredibly overrated, and by no means a runaway choice for 2008 AFC North Champion. As down as many fans are on the Steelers due to their challenging schedule, player changes, and offseason from Hell, it's worth noting that they were still within a holding call of reaching the second round of the playoffs, despite a plethora of injuries (or did we forget that?)

I'm certainly not blaming the Steelers' loss on the officials; they put themselves in the position where a bad call could help decide the game, and that's no one's fault but their own. But I am saying that despite their roller-coaster performance in that game, they still almost pulled it out.

The media is high on the Browns because after years and years of losing, they made a little noise last year (again, just like the Bengals initial venture into the .500+ Club a few years ago). A few free agent signings later, and they're the favorite in the AFC North, leapfrogging the incumbent division champion that features one of the league's truly elite quarterbacks and the NFL's #1-ranked defense. Sorry, but that just rubs me the wrong way.

The 2005 Bengals were 11-5, they won the AFC North, and they were ushered out of the first round of the playoffs in their own stadium by the Steelers. True, they lost Carson Palmer during the game. But they also went into the Halftime/Chad Johnson Sparring Match with a lead. It was a winnable game for the Bengals, no doubt about it. They just weren't ready for the next step.

Pundits were still in love with Cincy going into 2006, even though the Steelers won the freaking Super Bowl. The Bengals responded with an 8-8 regular season, capped off by the ultimate choke job in losing a must-have Week 17 game against the Steelers in what turned out to be Bill Cowher's last game as the Steelers' coach.

As recently as last year, the Bengals were still the AFC North preseason favorites in a number of publications and on a variety of sites. I found this insulting at the time, given that half their team was arrested in the offseason, coupled with the fact that their nucleus had yet to win a playoff game (hmm...sounds like a certain team from Dallas, Texas, as a matter of fact - but that's a different argument for a different day).

So the Bengals went out and crapped their way to a 7-9 record in 2007, and the Steelers won the division despite having a new coach, a new philosophy, and a rash of injuries.

That brings us to the 2008 offseason, and I'm already prepared to hear about nothing but Browns supremacy from now until Week One in September. Sorry, but with all of the NFL TV/radio/internet/newspaper/magazines that I intake, that's going to get really old really fast. In fact, as I stated above, it already has.

A few bullet points to shoot through the "Cleveland=Awesome" theories you'll be hearing for the next five months or so and help you through what will be a challenging couple of months:

--Derek Anderson sure is a great quarterback. I like how everyone's casually forgotten that he failed to beat out Charlie Frye for the starting job, a quarterback who played so horribly in the opener that he was traded to Seattle.

--I keep hearing how Anderson is celebrated as a "Pro Bowl quarterback". Translation: "Tom Brady didn't feel like going to Hawaii after losing the Super Bowl, so he used the injury out and decided to hang out somewhere else with Gisele."

Ladies and gentlemen, Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Anderson!

--Anderson put up some eye-popping stats, no doubt. Among those never mentioned: his 19 interceptions in 15 starts. Let's just keep that between me and you.

--Are you really sold on Jamal Lewis for the long haul? Sure, if you're into shaky character guys with a history of injuries who played well in a contract year. I know I am.

--They traded for big, fat, unmotivated D-lineman Shaun Rogers, giving up talented DB Leigh Bodden and a third-round pick in the process. Is it possible to be ripped off by Matt Millen?

--Their acquisition of WR Donte Stallworth is described by Banks as "positive buzz". Remind me, is this the same Donte Stallworth who's on his fourth team in the last 27 months? It is? Thought so. Because NFL teams always want to rid themselves of young, talented wide receivers in the prime of their career, especially well-run organizations like New England and Philadelphia.

Luckily, Cleveland gave him a $35 million contract, with $10 million guaranteed, a sound financial investment if I've ever seen one.

--As Peter King pointed out about a month ago, the Browns story is eerily reminiscent of the 2007 (five win) 49ers: young offense, high-profile signings...

--Did we forget that defense is kinda important in this league? Apparently so, because the Browns' unit ranked 30th in the NFL last year.

--This team's had a history of injuries (Kellen Winslow, Braylon Edwards, etc). But how about this statistic: the Browns have had six players suffer staph infections in the past four years?

--Their backup QB's internet pictures are as talked about as Jessica Alba's. Yes, that's a lame one, but I needed an excuse to add this one to the archives:

So what conclusions can we make? None really, other than the fact that the Browns are no lock to do anything this year and that despite popular belief, one cannot predict the future in pro football. It's also a lesson in how you can tweak statistics to make your point in virtually any NFL argument. I could've easily said that Derek Anderson threw 29 TDs, Jamal Lewis had his best season since 2003, Braylon Edwards found the end zone 16 times, and they feature an electric return man in Josh Cribbs. But these are the Browns, and that would be no fun. That would be like writing an article on how great the Pirates will be this year. Wait a minute...

I'm also not making any proclamations of Steeler superiority, especially with an embarrassing offseason highlighted by a rap sheet featuring the team MVP and the mascot. I'm just saying that we've heard this story before, and the ending will probably be the same. Keep the faith, Steeler Nation. The games will be decided on the field in the fall, not by Sports Illustrated and the NFL schedule makers in April.

Some Browns-related reading:

Browns Depth Chart - Defense [ESPN]

Browns Depth Chart - Offense [ESPN]

Peter King: Browns' retooling highlights MMQB [SI]

Schedule Snap Judgments [SI]

2007 Browns Stats [Pro Football Reference]


Koz said...

Thanks for saying what we are all thinking.

Louis Lipps is my homeboy said...

I'm sure some Browns fans will come in here tomorrow and hoot and holler and whatnot.

But look, we've seen this movie before as Steeler fans. These Browns look EXACTLY the same as the Bengals about 3 years ago. Everyone was in love with their young offensive talent and overlooked their godawfull defense and picked them as the "team to dethrone the Steelers in the AFC North" etc etc etc.

Yeah, we saw how that ended. At least Cleveland doesn't have as many off-field problems as the Bengals wound up having.

Look, I'm not saying the Browns won't do it for sure, but I'm just saying I'm not sold on it. But I do look forward to a more competitive rivalry between the two teams than I've been seeing the last 6 years or so.

And offseason prognosticators tend to overrate free agent signings and underrate player growth. They seem to forget that younger players already on teams can improve greatly from year to year (I'm looking at you Llamar Woodley and Lawrence Timmons).

BTW, my friend told me at dinner tonight about how some girl from Cleveland at his work was bragging up and down about the Browns being on prime time TV 5 times this season. It was kind of a dumb thing to get happy about!

Sean said...

Raul - I agree with you 100%. Personally, I think it's silly to have any predictions until preseason ends. We still don't know what players may be drafted, signed, cut or injured.

Anonymous said...

The Brady Quinn EAS commercials are ridiculous....."Now I'm done."

The Browns are still clowns. Not even worthy of further discussion. To be the man, you gotta what, Cleveland fans?

That's right.

HotDog_Zanzabar said...

You hit the nail right on the head. I agree with you 150%. I agree with the last commentors as well.

Meadowbrookalum1 said...

Zanzabar, I agree with you totally, and with the other commentators also, as well as, Raul.

Mevs said...

Get fucked, how about?