The Cleveland Browns are a young team with a new coaching staff bent on creating offensive production on the ground and through the air. Earlier, I predicted that the Browns would go 9-7 in 2013, just missing the playoffs as the seventh seed in the AFC.
Of course, that was just a prediction based on what seems reasonable given Norv Turner’s history of successful offenses and the assumed maturity of Brandon Weeden to command the passing game. There is some wiggle room in both directions. There has been a lot of talk about Trent Richardson being beat up with a myriad of nagging injuries last season, as well as hamstring and shin problems this preseason.
If we look for the silver lining, we could write these off as the kinds of dings, tweaks and bruises that a bell cow running back naturally takes on through the course of a season. What if that silver lining turns into a dark cloud? What if all these dings are the warning signs of a serious breakdown injury? Richardson is the engine of the offense, so what happens to the Browns if he goes down?
I like Weeden’s arm. I love Jordan Cameron’s ability to go get a ball up top. I even think Rob Chudzinski has crowbar big enough to pry Josh Gordan’s head out of his own behind.
Still, if Richardson breaks down, I don’t think the Browns’ offense can win games through the air. The defense, while serviceable, doesn’t have the ability to go out there and win games on a smattering of opportunistic turnovers. I hate to say it, but if Richardson goes down and Gordon can’t grow up, the Browns might make it to a 4-12 record this year.
However, if we look on the bright side, I think the color and stripe of the Browns rises higher than some might think. Norv Turner-driven offenses have a high octane reputation. His play-calling relies on a featured back that can move the pile, run between the tackles and catch passes out of the backfield. This describes Richardson perfectly.
At the same time, his passing game calls on a quarterback like Weeden who is comfortable throwing from the shotgun formation. A fast, big-bodied tight end like Cameron, who can out run and out-leap linebackers in traffic or snag one out of the sky in the end zone, completes the package.
Turner is a perfect fit for the young skill position players that make up the Browns’ core. With a soft schedule and the team facing defensive coordinators who are likely to underestimate them, it’s entirely possible that the Browns win two more games than the 9-7 I predicted. 11-5 might just be enough to take down the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals for the AFC North title.
Eric Beuning is a Fantasy Football writer for RantSports.com.