Posted 09/05/2011 at 03:29 PM
The Browns started off the season 1-5 last year and then closed the year with losses in the last four games of the season. In the middle Cleveland went 4-2 including wins over New Orleans and New England. The Browns used three different starting quarterbacks last season as Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace played early in the year before rookie Colt McCoy emerged as a viable option. Nine of eleven losses last year came by ten or fewer points so this was a competitive team and Cleveland faced a tough schedule last year with the NFC South teams and the AFC East teams on the schedule. The Browns were just 1-5 in division games so for real improvement Cleveland will need to find a way to breakthrough against Pittsburgh or Baltimore but the schedule should provide some favorable opportunities in 2011.
Overall the AFC North should see improved records as the four NFC West teams and the four AFC South teams. Cleveland also has the benefit of playing the Colts, likely the best of those eight teams early in the year when QB Peyton Manning may not be 100 percent. The Browns have a favorable early season schedule that could allow for a positive start to the season with three of the first four games at home before a bye week and with ten of the first eleven games against teams that were .500 or worse last season. The third place finish last year brings in games against Miami and Oakland which should be games the Browns have a chance to win and the Browns will have a good chance to improve its division record by catching Cincinnati in week 1 with a rookie QB making his debut. Cleveland does face a very challenging close to the season with both games against Baltimore and both games against Pittsburgh in the final five weeks. A road trip to Arizona as a second straight road game in week 15 could also be a challenging set-up. It may be difficult for the Browns to avoid another late season slide to close the year but Cleveland should be able to get off to a much stronger start to the season.
In the preseason Cleveland has been one of the more impressive teams as the offense has looked sharp even in a transition season with new coach Pat Shurmur. Colt McCoy was very efficient in two of three games and the running game topped 100 yards in all three contests. Cleveland has also played three quality teams facing Green Bay, Detroit, and Philadelphia, and all three have seemingly been playing motivated ball this preseason. Cleveland’s defense was pretty good against the pass last season and overall the unit had respectable numbers for the year, allowing less than 21 points per game. The Browns should produce more consistently on offense with a solid running game and a more seasoned and stable QB situation. The schedule should also be a big reason why Cleveland can be competitive even in a transition season.