Thanks to another new front office and head coach, the seemingly dysfunctional Cleveland Browns have low expectations once again for the 2016 regular season.
Is this going to be another typical rebuilding year in Cleveland? How can the Browns shock the NFL by ending up 9-7 and squeaking into the playoffs as a wild card team?
How can the Browns expect to win this season with such low expectations? How can the Browns ever make an attempt to present them as a legitimate playoff threat? What players have the talent to get the rest of the team going? The Browns do not seem to have any players who can reinvigorate the team on an Antonio Brown or A.J. Green level but there are players that can help the team rack up several wins.
The good news is the new front office addressed the obvious weaknesses at wide receiver.
Instead of committing to Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline, the Browns made splashes in the draft including Corey Coleman . The former Baylor receiver was awarded as the top college receiver for the 2015 season. Rashard Higgins, the former Colorado State standout also has a chance to be a part of a prolific pass offense as well.
Josh Gordon to return in 2016?
Fans are still waiting for an official ruling on Josh Gordon.
The NFL still needs three months negative drug test samples from Gordon which means there is a slight possibility he will return in 2016, and after his recent meeting in New York, the possibility of Gordon, would instantly give the Browns one of the most feared offenses in the league. They did not make a ruling last month but given the amount of time since the news broke in April, an official ruling should be coming soon. If the NFL has undisputed proof that Gordon is clean, a ruling could be made before
The claim that Gordon may overcome his addiction may sound like a bad joke that is all too easy to scoff at. However, experts and fans may want to remember that Brett Favre, one of the most iconic NFL legends overcame his addiction to pain pills and alcohol.
Also, former NFL star Cris Carter overcame his drug addiction. If Gordon returns to the field, head coach Hue Jackson will likely be eager to send him and Coleman on a lot of deep routes which could decimate defenses early on.
Gary Barnidge, main weapon of the offense?
Tight end Gary Barnidge will probably be the top receiving target in 2016. He had a breakout 2015 season with 1,049 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
Robert Griffin III or Josh McCown could either use Barnidge as a security blanket or the main weapon. Barnidge never performed like that in his previous 8 seasons as he didn’t even rack up 500 receiving yards. Barnidge emerged as the top Browns tight end after the departure of Jordan Cameron who signed a deal with the Miami Dolphins.
Griffin III or McCown? Health is the key
McCown performed on a near-elite level several times last year. Injuries and the pressure the start Johnny Manziel limited McCown’s starts. However, McCown torched defenses last year in eight starts with 2,109 passing yards and 12 touchdowns.
He was projected to throw for at least 4,000 passing yards. Griffin III may be healthy enough to give McCown a serious challenge. If RGIII returns to his rookie form, he could be named the starting quarterback next month. No one should expect the Browns to make a quick, easy decision. This will likely be another case of waiting until the pre-season is over.
Defensive Rookies Could Gain Attention Early On
Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib could start for the Browns as they are expected to be dynamic pass rushers. Even if they don’t start, they will likely play a lot of minutes early against the Philadelphia Eagles for the regular season opener.
Putting Pressure on Bradford or Wentz
Ogbah, Nassib, Danny Shelton, Paul Kruger, and Barkevious Mingo will be called upon to put the pressure on Sam Bradford or Carson Wentz. There is no guarantee Bradford will start the regular season given his injury history. The Browns clearly need to game plan for both quarterbacks.
Regular Season Predictions
The Browns offense will rank in the top 12 in total yards. They are expected to remain committed to running the football with Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr. but the receiving core could perform at a level that most experts and fans do not expect them too.
Coleman and Higgins could end up being the same of receiving duo that A.J. Green and Mohammed Sanu were in Cincinnati. The pass defense will likely see improvement and could rank 18th, 19th, or 20th in total yards allowed.
It may not be the miserable season that most experts and fans expect but this team seems a couple of years away from being a playoff contender. The common expectation is that the Browns will end the season at 3-13 at best.
Prediction: Browns end season with a 6-10 record, 4th place in the AFC North.