2014 NFL Preview: Cleveland Browns

2014 NFL Preview: Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns haven’t made the playoffs since 2002. Since then they have had one winning season. They have lost at least 11 games in six consecutive seasons. Five different head coaches have manned the sidelines since 2005, including Mike Pettine, who was hired in January. To say that the Browns franchise is in need of a massive turnaround would be an understatement. The potential year-long suspension to wide receiver Josh Gordon derailed what was an otherwise encouraging offseason. A few big name free agent acquisitions and a promising draft haul has reason for optimism. That said, these are still the Browns. In a division with three solid contenders, Cleveland has a ways to go before they can climb from the AFC North basement. Here’s a preview of their 2014 campaign.

Outlook: Pettine brings a defensive pedigree to the head coaching position. He learned under the tutelage of Rex Ryan and is considered one of the best 3-4 minds in the league. He has plenty of talent to work with, so the defense has a chance to be good. The offense is a work in progress. The quarterback situation remains unsettled and Gordon’s absence will leave an already spotty receiving corps thin. By the end of the season, they could very well be a difficult team to put away. But early on it will be tough sledding for Pettine and Co.

New arrivals: Johnny Manziel brings a dynamic style and some off the field baggage to the quarterback battle. He is a polarizing player, but the excitement level is sky high heading into training camp. When healthy, Ben Tate is an above average starting running back; he will compete with rookie Terrance West, who is a prime sleeper candidate. Miles Austin is a name, but his infant-sized hamstrings are a liability. Justin Gilbert and Pierre Desir bring youth to the cornerback position. Veterans Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner are coming off career years and will help legitimize a defense in transition.

Wave goodbye: T.J. Ward is now a Bronco, but the signing of Whitner eases his departure. Ward is a big hitter with decent coverage skills, but the price tag was deemed too much by the front office. Guard Shaun Lauvao started 43 of the last 48 games and parlayed that success into a 4-year, $17 million deal with the Redskins. The drafting of Manziel and Brian Hoyer’s return from injury made Jason Campbell expendable, so Campbell is backing up Andy Dalton in Cincinnati.

Over/Under Wins – 6.5: Hoyer is penciled in as the starter, but it’s only a matter of time before Manziel seizes the reins. It would be wise to let him ride the bench for a while, but the lure of his potential will be too great. Gordon’s suspension deals a significant blow to an offense that could’ve been explosive. The likes of Austin, Andrew Hawkins, and Anthony Armstrong aren’t scaring defenses. Ben Tate has never carried the load for a full season. Again, the Browns are trending upward, but 2014 will be filled with growing pains.

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