They say that defense wins championships. Could the Cleveland Browns be building one worthy of contending in the physical and rugged AFC North?
Fresh from an encouraging 7-9 season under Mike Pettine, Cleveland goes into 2015 with a defense that can win it a few games thanks to the additions of defensive lineman Randy Starks, cornerback Tramon Williams, rookies in nose tackle Danny Shelton from Washington, defensive tackle Xavier Cooper from Washington State and defensive end Nate Orchard from Utah.
Combine that with perhaps the best secondary east of Seattle in Pro Bowlers Joe Haden, Dante Whitner and Tashaun Gipson, and the Browns have the personnel to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Super Bowl champion QB’s Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton within the division.
On offense, it’s another question though.
With uncertainty about who will start Week 1 at Met Life Stadium against the New York Jets in the form of Johnny Manziel and Josh McCown, Cleveland’s offense may take some time to find their identity. Couple that with the loss of Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron to the Miami Dolphins, Brian Hoyer to the Houston Texans and Buster Skrine to the New York Jets and Cleveland lost some real leadership both on and off the field.
Offseason additions such as Brian Hartline of the Miami Dolphins, Dwayne Bowe from the Kansas City Chiefs, Rob Housler of the Arizona Cardinals and the selection of former Florida State offensive lineman Cameron Irving, running back Duke Johnson out of Miami (FL) and Vince Mayle out of Washington State may offer some spark for a otherwise-perennially unit proverbially allergic to scoring points most Sundays.
And with the schedule filled with big games such as a Week 6 clash against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, the in-state rival Cincinnati Bengals in Week 10 on Thursday Night and a Monday Night game against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 12, coming off their bye week.
Cleveland will need all the luck and balls to bounce their way, as they face the Bengals again in Week 13, the defending NFC West Champion Seattle Seahawks in noisy CenturyLink Field Week 15 and the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 16 in Arrowhead before wrapping up the season at home against the archrival Pittsburgh Steelers.
Despite what some may think, the Cleveland Browns may have caught a couple of breaks early in the season in facing a Jets team minus Sheldon Richardson, a rookie quarterback in Tennessee Titans Marcus Mariota, a weary West Coast team in the visiting Oakland Raiders Week 3 and a San Diego Chargers team sans Antonio Gates at Qualcomm.
So with all that being said, what is the over/under on how many games the Browns will win in 2015?
According to Football Betting Center, many betters are taking the under on the Browns improving upon their 7-9 mark based on both the offense and defense being in collective transition. With the Browns averaging five wins a season since 2010, per Pro Football Reference, it is wise to bet low on a team that has totaled 25 wins over the last five years such as the Browns.
While this writer is as hopeful and optimistic as any member of the Dawg Pound, I have found that in my past experiences that having low expectations for the Browns yield big results.