NFL Bold Prediction 2013: Cleveland Browns Will Win AFC North
The Cleveland Browns have been the laughingstock of the NFL since re-joining the league in 1999. The joke stops now for one of the most storied franchises in the league. The Browns were once a dominant franchise, collecting seven NFL championships under the wing of quarterback Otto Graham and then winning their most recent title in 1964 behind running back Jim Brown. The Browns will restore those winning ways this season by winning the AFC North, erupting the barks from the famous “DawgPound”, led by the most faithful fans in the league.
The Browns spent their offseason overhauling their personnel and selecting the offensive minded Rob Chudzinski as their new head coach. “Chud”, the offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers for the past two seasons, may be exactly what the offense-deprived Browns need to end their losing ways.
Norv Turner was added to the coaching staff to be the team’s offensive coordinator. Turner has thrived as an offensive coordinator, winning three Super Bowls as the play caller for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1990s. Former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman posted an 0-11 record in his rookie season before Turner was the team’s offensive coordinator. Under the tutelage of Turner, Aikman developed into one of the greatest quarterbacks in league history. That’s not say Brandon Weeden will also become a Hall-of-Famer, but it’s hard not to get excited with the second year QB’s production in two preseason games in 2013. Weeden posted a 127.7 quarterback rating in the first preseason contest, then registered a whopping 137.8 rating in the second exhibition game. Through two preseason games, he’s 18-of-25 for 229 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Trent Richardson should also benefit with Turner under the helm. Turner’s system has produced the NFL’s leading rusher five times. Richardson has one of the highest ceilings in the league for starting running backs. He ran for 950 yards with 11 rushing touchdowns in 2012, despite playing with broken ribs in nine of the 15 games he appeared in.
The Browns reloaded their defense in the offseason, starting by hiring aggressive minded Ray Horton to be the club’s new defensive coordinator. Horton has implemented an aggressive style of defense with his 3-4, multi-front attack scheme. The Browns added players via free agency and in the draft that should thrive in Horton’s hostile pass rushing defensive scheme that aims at putting immense pressure on the quarterback. The Browns were able to add fierceness to their defense in the first day of free agency by signing Paul Kruger, the sacks leader for the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. The Browns then inked defensive tackle Desmond Bryant to a five-year, $34 million contract. Bryant is a tenacious defender that has a knack for getting to the quarterback, recording five sacks in 10 starts for the Oakland Raiders last season.
In an unexpected yet brilliant move, the Browns selected Barkevious Mingo with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Mingo could flourish in the creative scheme set forth by Horton. Mingo constantly made quarterbacks move out of the pocket in his tenure at LSU, tallying 28 total pressures last season, second most in the SEC.
With the offseason additions, the Browns defense should be the strength of their team in 2013.
How does the rest of the AFC North stack up?
The Ravens regressed in the offseason, losing eight of their starters from their team that hoisted the Lombardi trophy a season ago. The Pittsburgh Steelers did not appear to improve this offseason as the team may enter rebuilding mode in the next year or so. The Cincinnati Bengals have made the playoffs the past two years but were mediocre in each season as the team has beaten just two opponents with winning records the past two seasons.
Is it unrealistic to think the Browns can go from worst to first in 2013? Since 2003, at least one team in the NFL has vaulted from worst to first. In that time span, 19 teams have made the jump from last in the division to first. There is a ray of hope for the Browns, who will seize the AFC North crown in 2013.
Tyler Ash is a New England Patriots Writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on twitter @TyAsh34 Like His Facebook Page, or add him to your network on Google Plus … He writes NBA articles and MLB articles for Rant Sports as well.