Posts Tagged ‘browns’

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It doesn’t seem to matter who the Broncos put in at QB, they keep winning games.

For some reason, I can’t seem to learn. The Denver Broncos have been good, no, great, for over a year now and I continue to deny them the credit they deserve. I picked against them a lot in big games last year, throughout the playoffs, and in the Super Bowl. My most egregious error, however, was previewing the AFC this offseason without even mentioning them.

Why? Why do I keep making this mistake? It’s because they haven’t had a QB I can trust. I’ve strongly believed (and still do, to a lesser extent) that the QB position is by far the most important position in today’s NFL and if you don’t have a great QB, you won’t win a Super Bowl. The Broncos proved me wrong last year and have carried their winning streak into 2016 with two rookie QBs, neither of which we have reason to believe are spectacular talents (yet). At 4-0, the Broncos are proving they can do it again without a great QB. They could very well not win the Super Bowl this year, but their sustained dominance gives us a look into something much more profound: with all the other pieces in place, teams don’t have to “get lucky” with the QB position.

That may sound really obvious, but it should be a comfort to many teams like Cleveland or Los Angeles. The Browns in particular have been searching for “that guy” for two decades now, using top pick after top pick on draft busts. They watch as teams like the Patriots and Steelers have struck gold with franchise QBs, allowing them to build a great cast around them on the way to multiple Super Bowls. They’ve also watched the Seahawks and Ravens find amazing QBs late in the draft, when they weren’t even looking for a franchise guy. Maybe one of these years the Browns will get lucky and find their Russel Wilson. Or maybe they can do it like Denver and pad their defense and offensive cast using the deep pool of talent from college.

This obviously isn’t as easy as it sounds. Realistically, teams like the Browns and Rams are already trying this and have to suffer through 6-win seasons and high coach turnover. It’ll be tough for a lot of teams to get it right, but we’re already seeing signs that a few are on the cusp. The Cowboys, Eagles, and Vikings (combined 8-1) have had amazing success out of the gate without elite QB play. Yes, Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz look very good so far, but do they look like instant franchise guys? They could turn out to be, but the point is they don’t have to be. Prescott and Wentz are helping their teams win games through ball protection and sustained drives. Neither rookie has cracked the top 15 in passing yards or TDs, but both lead the league in fewest interceptions thrown (none). More to the point, the Minnesota Vikings look like a top 5 team with Sam Bradford at the helm. We know Bradford. He hasn’t changed, but his team has. He now has an unbelievable defense behind him and a great coach to give him the plays necessary to succeed. Instead of the Rams looking for Bradford to guide them, it’s now the Vikings looking to guide Bradford. In the past, it didn’t appear this has been the “way” to win the Super Bowl. Now the Broncos have done it this way and so far it doesn’t appear to be a fluke.

It’d be great to see a league emerge where QBs can be relied upon less than they are now. It’s not particularly fun to see the Browns search for a QB year after year. With the college system producing so few NFL-ready QBs these days, it’s almost necessary to see teams win a different way. The Broncos may not have a Tom Brady or Big Ben, but they’ve been the best team in the NFL for a while now. It’s up to the rest of the league to catch up.

Baltimore hosts Cleveland in Week 17 in a potentially season-deciding game. Baltimore won the first matchup on a last second field goal.

Baltimore hosts Cleveland in Week 17 in a potentially season-deciding game. Baltimore won the first matchup on a last second field goal.

In the 2014-15 season of the NFL, we are seeing something pretty unbelievable. Two divisions are polar opposites and could leave us with a playoff mess.

The AFC North and NFC South–almost comically opposite by name–aren’t your ordinary divisions. Unlike your average division with a front-runner or two-team battle, these two divisions still have all four teams in contention. The quality of the contest is where you see the difference. The AFC North is a battle of the best. The Ravens, Steelers, and Browns all sit at 7-4 behind the 7-3-1 Bengals. Cleveland’s 7-4 record is potentially good enough for second in six other divisions, but if the season were to end today, not only would the Browns miss out on the playoffs, but they would finish last in the AFC North.

The NFC South presents a much different kind of race. One more along the lines of “Who wants to win this division least?” It was widely predicted that the Saints would take the division, perhaps with ease. But their season hasn’t gone the way anybody has planned and they now find themselves with an abysmal record of 4-7. Again, most divisions would sit the Saints third or even fourth with a record like that but in the NFC South, they are in second and share the same record as the division leading Falcons. At 4-7, the Saints are in second via a tiebreaker. What’s even more mind-boggling is that last place Tampa Bay, at 2-9, is not only in contention for the first overall draft pick, but can also win the division! Carolina is third at 3-7-1.

Could one of the 4-7 disappointments actually be a division champ? It's either that or someone worse.

Could one of the 4-7 disappointments actually be a division champ? It’s either that or someone worse.

With only a few weeks remaining in the regular season, you can see what’s coming. The division winner for the NFC South is bound to have a record within the 6-8 win range. The extreme possibility remains that the division winner could enter the playoffs with a 5-11 record. Five wins. That’s insane. In case you forgot, the entire AFC North has already past that mark and all four teams are still battling for an AFC wildcard spot. In case you’re wondering when the last time all four teams were three games above .500, try never. It’s the first time in NFL history that has happened. And surprise, surprise, they are 10-1-1 against their NFC inverse.

The AFC North is on a collision course of the likes we’ve never seen before. Unlike the NFCS, with all four teams competing for one spot against only each other, the AFCN teams have the three inside the division as well as five others competing for a wildcard spot. It’s going to get messy and you can almost guarantee that a tiebreaker or two will come into play.

A five-win division winner is still very unlikely, but keep an eye on these two anomalies of the NFL. With these two divisions going rogue, we could witness some incredible playoff scenarios. When we do, prepare for at least a one AFC North team to feel slighted. Big time.

Cleveland leads the AFC North but still has key division games ahead. Can they navigate their schedule en route to an AFC North Championship?

Cleveland leads the AFC North but still has key division games ahead. Can they navigate their schedule en route to an AFC North Championship?

In case you haven’t noticed, the AFC North is the best division in football. Didn’t see that one coming. Not only does every team have a winning record, but each team sits at least two games above .500.  As it stands now, the Cleveland Browns lead the division at 6-3 (yes you read that right), Cincinnati follows at 5-3-1, with Pittsburgh and Baltimore right behind them at 6-4. It’s as tight as can be. While many of the other divisions have a couple teams battling it out, all four teams in the AFC North have a legitimate chance to be the division champ. It’s shaping up to be one of the best division races ever.

Back to basics for a second. Every division sends its winner to the playoffs, with a chance to send a second team to the playoffs if they have a good enough record for a wildcard spot. Every now and then a division sends three teams to the playoffs. The AFC West did it last year when Denver took the division and Kansas City and San Diego won both wildcard spots. With how well each team is playing in the AFC North this season, the division looks poised to send three teams to the postseason like they did back in 2011. But with key division matchups remaining, is the AFC North doomed to eat itself alive?

Four division games remain: Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati (Week 14), Cincinnati @ Cleveland (Week 15), Cleveland @ Baltimore (Week 17), and Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh (Week 17). There are 16 different ways these games can play out and based on these scenarios, we might be able to get a sense of how important those non-division games are for all four teams. Because 5-3-1 Cincy has to play 6-4 Pittsburgh twice, we can guarantee that one of these two teams will have five losses from remaining division play alone. Additionally, Cleveland has to play within division twice and Baltimore has one division game remaining so either of those squads could have five losses after those games. In fact, there is an 87.5% chance that two teams will have five or more losses after their remaining AFC North games. There’s a slim chance (37.5%) that either the Browns or Bengals will win out in their remaining division schedules, leaving them with only three losses.

Both the 6-4 Ravens and Steelers hope to distribute division losses to their AFC North foes.

Both the 6-4 Ravens and Steelers hope to deal division losses to their AFC North foes.

Why does this matter? If you haven’t checked lately or read my post on the AFC playoff picture, the AFC wildcard race is extremely tight. The room for error is razor thin and getting thinner with every passing week. As far as the wildcard spots go, we are looking for records right around 10-6 to have a shot. Depending on the results of coming weeks, that estimation could dip to 9-7 or even rise to 11-5. Keeping this window in mind, the AFC North might be in a little trouble if two teams will have five or more losses after remaining division games. If, for instance, Pittsburgh loses both games to Cincy, they’ll have win out the rest of their schedule to go 10-6. Didn’t I say the room for error was thin?

The good news for the AFC North is that there are some scenarios in which every team puts itself in a decent position. There is a 62.5% chance that all four squads will have below six losses after their remaining division games. This will give some teams–like Baltimore if they beat Cleveland–some breathing room when it comes to their remaining schedule. These are the scenarios that give the AFC North the best chance to send three teams.

Seeing how this will all shake out is the fun part. Those non-division games could crush the dreams–for both the division and wildcard spot–of any of these teams. You could argue that those are the games that really matter most. Like pointed out before, a six-loss team (after division games) would have to consider every non-division game a must-win.

With all this mess, can the AFC North really send three teams to the playoffs? Pay attention to those vital non-division games because we already know the AFC North is gonna rough itself up a bit.

Even after a mid-season QB change, the Bills find themselves in a good spot in the AFC wildcard race.

Even after a mid-season QB change, the Bills find themselves in a good spot in the AFC wildcard race.

The second half of the NFL is the best half of the NFL. We think we know who these teams are by now (for the most part) and now the race begins. We’ll take a quick look at the AFC playoff picture as it starts to take form for the first time. Trust me, I am just as interested in the NFC but it is simply too early take a look over there. Spoiler alert: it’s wide open. Not to say the AFC isn’t wide open, which it is, but we can at least take out a few teams to clear up the early picture.

Before the season started, we looked at the AFC and saw three divisions where there was an overwhelming favorite. We couldn’t quite mark them down yet because we at least had to see them play. Well, eight weeks have past and those teams are who we thought they were. The Patriots, Colts, and Broncos are all division winners. Mark it down. In pen. Yes I see you sitting there a game behind, Bills and Chargers. It’s not gonna happen. Have fun fighting for the remaining two wildcard spots. You have company.

On the opposite side of things, there are four teams we can absolutely declare dead. And again, we could have before the season started but, to be “fair” I guess, we gave them a shot. No surprises are to be had here. Take out the Jets, Jaguars, Titans, and Raiders. They’re done.

Before we get into the huge pack fighting for those two wildcard spots, we should talk about the division complicating everything: AFC North. Obviously this remains the last division spot to be filled and could also send a wildcard team, maybe even two. The problem? Without the entire division being tied, the AFC North teams are virtually as tight as they could possibly be. They are so close, in fact, that the division leader Bengals (4-2-1) have less wins than the two teams trailing them (Ravens and Steelers 5-3)! To make matters worse, the team in last (Browns) has a winning record at 4-3. All four teams have a legitimate shot at winning that division. This means, of course, that all four teams also have a legitimate shot at finishing last. I mean, someone has to place last. Moving forward with this playoff picture, we’ll have to keep all four of these teams in the back of our mind as possible division winners, wildcard teams, or last place teams. As more division games take place (Ravens at Steelers this weekend, Browns at Bengals next week), things will start to clear up. For now, we deal with a bit of a complicated, and crowded, pack of wildcard contenders.

All of a sudden, the AFC North is the most exciting division in football.

All of a sudden, the AFC North is the most exciting division in football.

Considering the teams we’ve already knocked out or talked about, there are only five squads remaining in contention for those elusive two wildcard spots: Chargers (5-3), Bills (5-3), Chiefs (4-3), Dolphins (4-3), and Texans (4-4). But again, we are forced to consider those four from the AFC North, making it nine teams in the race. To make the picture a little easier to manage, I break these teams up into three groups. First, we have four teams–Chargers, Bills, Ravens, Steelers–in the lead pack at 5-3, along with Cincy at 4-2-1. These are the teams in the best position as it currently stands. If the season were to end today, the Chargers and Bills would be your two wildcard teams. These teams are in a good spot, but not by much. Right behind them is the “step behind” group, with the 4-3 Chiefs, Dolphins, and Browns. If you want a concise group of teams to watch in the AFC, keep your eye on these three for the next couple weeks or so. Every win one of these teams picks up from here on out will make the AFC that much more competitive. Finally, we have a group with a single member, the 4-4 Texans, who are on the outside looking in. Yes, they only have one more loss than the preceding group, but when they finally hit their bye in week 10, all the other AFC teams will have a chance to gain ground. Remember, with only two teams filling the wildcard, the Texans will need a lot to go their way when they don’t win.

So that’s the picture. Three groups with a bunch of good teams. But what really lies ahead for the AFC? Right off the bat, I have to say that things do not look good for the Dolphins. They face a brutal stretch where six of their next seven games are against teams with at least five wins. This includes games in Detroit, Denver, and New England. Their week 1 win over the Patriots is the sole quality win to this point. Their other wins have come against abysmal Oakland, inept New York Jets, and underachieving Chicago. If the first half of the season has been any indication of who the Dolphins are, then I can’t see any way they make it to the playoffs with what lies ahead.

Success against four manageable teams will put the Browns ahead of the playoff race.

Success against four manageable teams will put the Browns ahead of the playoff race.

The Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals are as much of a toss-up as you can get. Baltimore has looked great but was just swept by the sliding Bengals, and the Steelers are as inconsistent as can be. Good luck figuring them out any time soon. But what about the Browns? We are so used to seeing the big three fight it out year after year that we may overlook the team that we’ve heard for years now is “going to contend soon.” So does Cleveland actually have a shot to take the division? They absolutely do, but would have a much better shot in any other division. They have a crucial four-game stretch where they face teams with four wins or less (aka beatable teams). If they go 2-2 or less in these next four, the wildcard spot becomes their only hope. These are games they need to win. Meetings with the Colts and Ravens still lie ahead. Losing such critical ground in a rabid division such as the AFC North be nearly impossible to recover from. Even a wildcard spot will become difficult to achieve with teams like the Chargers and Bills gunning just as hard.

The eye-test has me loving San Diego more than Buffalo or Kansas City, even though KC just beat the Chargers in week 7. Their running game is eviscerated with injuries, yet Philip Rivers continues to carry the team to win after win. But like Miami, a brutal stretch awaits that has the potential to derail their playoffs hopes. They face Baltimore, New England, Denver, and San Francisco from weeks 13-16. They’ll need to get out of there with at least a couple of wins to secure a wildcard spot. The Chiefs and Bills are a couple teams I’ve been low on for most of the season, but have impressed me with recent wins. They face each other in week 10 in what could be a season-defining game. The winner will own the head-to-head tiebreaker in the case that these two finish with the same record.

So that’s where we stand halfway through the season. Enough drama for you? Just wait, every passing week will yield better and better games. It should have been readily clear that I have no idea how the AFC play out. I guess my gut feeling says we’ll see one AFC North team (pick one) and the Chargers steal those two wildcard spots.

If you thought the first half of the NFL season was good, buckle up.

 

For the time being, Brian Hoyer is giving Cleveland fans what they want: a chance to win.

For the time being, Brian Hoyer is giving Cleveland fans what they want: a chance to win.

I don’t have to tell you how Johnny Manziel dominated headlines for months after he was drafted on May 8. Whether they wanted to see him succeed or fail, fans wanted to see Johnny play. Even when Brian Hoyer was announced the starter a few weeks before the regular season opener, we were asking “How long until Johnny takes over?” Surely a couple of Cleveland losses would have not only Cleveland fans, but NFL fans, chanting “Johnny, Johnny!” Or at least that’s what we were led to believe.

“Browns fans are going to be clamoring for Johnny Football to start from the first incomplete pass Hoyer throws.”

“Brian Hoyer has been put in a position to fail.”

I can’t say I disagreed. Back in 2011, we saw Denver fans chant “Tebow, Tebow!” during their very first loss, even when Tebow was 3rd on the depth chart. Heck, just last week we heard “We want Vick!” after Geno Smith struggled in front of restless Jets fans. Having a high-profile name on the bench has proved to be a distraction. Why would this time be any different?

Well here we are after Week 5, Cleveland has lost two of its last three and sits last in the AFC North. Here’s Johnny! Right?

Not quite.

Why haven’t we heard the calls for Manziel? What happened to the irrationality of fans? Give the credit to Brian Hoyer.

Hoyer has played efficiently and consistently and perhaps more important, is giving Cleveland a chance to win every game. Every Browns game this season has been decided by three points or less. The difficulties lie in the Cleveland defense, which has failed to keep any opponent under 23 points so far this season. Hoyer is keeping the Browns in the game by limiting the interceptions (he threw his first in the 4th quarter last week) and playing within his comfort zone. He’s not Aaron Rodgers and he knows that. He’s Brian Hoyer and is quietly doing what he needs to do to help the Browns and keep Johnny Football on the bench.

Manziel’s time will come, but it may take longer than we thought with Brian Hoyer giving Cleveland fans someone to trust.

Tough competition is on the horizon for the 3-2 Cardinals.

Tough competition is on the horizon for the 3-2 Cardinals.

I don’t like discussing who is and isn’t “for real” too early in the season but I feel that five weeks is finally enough to make some judgment calls. We have a bunch–10 to be exact–of teams sitting at 3-2. This is the area where we find a lot of “pretenders,” teams who have started off well but aren’t really a threat down the stretch. Last year, only three of the seven 3-2 teams made it into the postseason and only one (New England) won their division. So which of these 10 teams will falter and which are built to fight for a playoff spot?

Arizona Cardinals: Give the Cardinals credit for holding running backs under 80 yards a game. Only two other teams have done the same up to this point. Other than that, it’s curious to see Arizona with three wins, the most impressive of which coming last week against Carolina. Away from home they have struggled and their offense isn’t picking up enough yards to thrive in a tough division. With Seattle, San Francisco, and Atlanta coming up, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Arizona exposed and end up with a 3-5 record heading into their Week 9 bye. Bottom line: Definite pretenders

Detroit Lions: It was clear in the first few of years of Matthew Stafford’s career that he was built to throw a lot of yards. His inability to take care of the ball is what got him in trouble for the past two seasons, throwing over 15 picks in both. So far he’s only thrown three and Detroit has been able to score a lot of points as a result. Stafford and Calvin Johnson form a scary duo but with Johnson out, as he was against Green Bay, Detroit’s offense suffers. There’s no real way to stop Calvin Johnson, but if teams can contain him and force Stafford to make throws he doesn’t want to make, they’ll be able to slow Detroit’s high-scoring offense way down. Bottom line: Probable pretenders

The Niners will be all smiles soon enough.

The Niners will be all smiles soon enough.

San Francisco 49ers: San Fran suffered a tough couple of games against two very good teams, Seattle and Indy. While this is a concern for a team that is expected to win, or at the very least compete, in these games, it’s no reason to panic. Their defense remains one of the best in the league despite some hiccups and Colin Kaepernick will get back on track. He’s been tripped up a bit in these first few games, failing to throw for over 170 yards in four of five. If there is any doubt, one man assures me San Fran will contend: Jim Harbaugh. I simply cannot see a coach with his prowess fail to build a strong team. With Arizona, Tennessee, and Jacksonville on the slate, expect the Niners to find their stride. Bottom line: Definite contenders

Baltimore Ravens: For the amount of talent they lost, Baltimore is really holding their own early in the season. A rout by Denver and close loss to Buffalo are their only slip-ups, both on the road. Baltimore is tough to beat in their stadium and should win nearly all of their remaining home games if they want to balance out their troubles on the road. Joe Flacco isn’t playing like the same Joe he was in the playoffs but like Kaepernick, I expect him to get in a groove and start to make more touchdown passes. Baltimore is lucky to have a solid record despite Flacco’s 5:8 TD-INT ratio. A home win against Green Bay next week would go a long way in boosting this team’s confidence. Bottom line: Probable contenders

Miami Dolphins: Miami started off the season as well as they could have wanted but dropped their next two. I love the wins on the road over Cleveland and Indy, but have lost some faith in their ability to compete after losses to New Orleans and Baltimore. Ryan Tannehill can make throws when he gets time but he’s been sacked nearly five times a game (most in NFL). The running game is faltering bad, failing to run for more than 70 yards a game (28th in NFL). The bye week is promising heading into their match with division rival Buffalo but I’m worried that Miami will be unable to string together enough wins with the current state of the O-line. Bottom line: Probable pretenders

Chicago Bears: Out of nearly every team in the NFL, the Bears are the one team I really cannot figure out. They feel like a team just on the brink of a wild-card spot but just don’t feel like a playoff team. This could change with some convincing wins down the stretch of course, but their body of work up to this point isn’t enough for me to tab them a contender. A win at home against Cincy looks good, but their wins over 1-win Minnesota and winless Pittsburgh don’t tell me much. Their defense was torn apart by the Lions in Week 4 and couldn’t do enough to stop Drew Brees and the Saints in Week 5. Perhaps hosting the Giants on Thursday night will give us more insight. If they truly are a playoff-caliber team, they should have no problem dispatching New York. Bottom line: Probable pretenders

Cleveland's defense is quickly turning into one of the best in the league.

Cleveland’s defense is quickly turning into one of the best in the league.

Cleveland Browns: Cleveland has rattled off three impressive wins in a row. This is their year! Right? Well there’s still a lot to sort out but if one thing is for sure, it’s that their defense is seriously good. They are top-10 in the league in both passing and rushing yards allowed. That D will face yet another test against Detroit who, as I’ve said before, can clearly put up a lot of points. It looked as if Brian Hoyer was Cleveland’s guy after delivering them two straight wins but now they are back to Brandon Weeden after Hoyer’s injury in last Thursday’s game. Can Weeden keep this train going? I’m not so sure I trust him to carry Cleveland on a run to the playoffs but I also didn’t expect the Browns to win three straight. Bottom line: Probable pretenders

Cincinnati Bengals: I’m not so sure who the real Bengals are. Is it the team we saw score six against Cleveland or the team that held Tom Brady’s offense to six? I’m inclined to say the latter is more indicative when I consider the fact that they were able to beat Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, but Cincy really needs to score more points. Defense isn’t really the issue right now but when they do have a bad game, seven to 13 points isn’t going to cut it. Settling for field goals instead of touchdowns is frustrating for an offense and they have got to take care of the ball better. The Jets are the only team that have more turnovers in the AFC than Cincy. Despite these hiccups, I trust their experience and previous seasons of success. Cincinnati should be able to get on a streak when they click. Bottom line: Probable contenders

Tennessee Titans: I love what the Titans are doing this year. Their two losses to Houston and KC were very competitive. Chris Johnson seems to be back on track this year and the defense has been the staple of their wins, keeping every team under 17 points in each victory. But can the Titans seriously be a contender? It sure seems weird to say. Wins over the Jets and Steelers aren’t going to wow me but they look good on the field. They’ll be facing their toughest test by far against Seattle and San Fran in the next two weeks. A win against one of those two would really catch my attention. Bottom line: Probable pretender

New York Jets: I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t give New York a shot at Atlanta on Monday night. To their credit, New York went in there and played one heck of a game. Geno Smith played his butt off despite New York holding the ball for only 24 and a half minutes. Unfortunately, this was one win out of a long, long season. I expect better defenses than Atlanta to force Geno into more turnovers and expose the Jets’ weaknesses. It takes a poised, experienced QB to carry a team like the Jets to a strong season and I don’t think Geno is there just yet. He showed flashes of greatness against Atlanta and I would love it if he and the Jets proved me wrong. Bottom line: Definite pretenders