The Cleveland Browns have had a hard go of it lately.
Well, not just lately — more like for this decade. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2002. However, there are reasons for optimism this year as a youthful team begins to mature.
It’s especially realistic on the defensive side of the ball. The Browns have the makings of a star cornerback in Joe Haden, who is young and talented at one of the most important positions in the modern NFL.
Not only that, but they have a strong pass rush, partially because of Jabaal Sheard. Sheard had eight and a half sacks and five forced fumbles last year, and should be even better this year. They also drafted Barkevious Mingo, who is supposed to be the best pass rusher in the draft.
Having a good corner and exerting pressure with the defensive line is how to build a good defense in the modern, pass-dominated NFL.
On offense, there are also promising possibilities, but less trustworthy ones. Trent Richardson is a force and had a great year in 2012, but truth be told, running the ball is a hard way to build a great offense. The key for the offense this year is Brandon Weeden.
Weeden showed that he has a great arm last year, and has the skills to be an NFL quarterback. He still has problems with pressure and has not fully adjusted to pro football speed yet. Weeden’s development will likely decide the Browns’ year and while he should be better, few believe he has the ability to pull the Browns into the playoffs.
So the Browns should have an above-average defense and running game with a below average passing game. If Weeden can simply be average, the Browns have a shot at the playoffs. As a second-year quarterback, average is a high expectation especially when the Browns have little talent at wide receiver.
Possibly the worst thing going for the Browns is their division. Their divisional rivals are all poised to compete for the playoffs, and the Browns have to play them each twice.
The Browns have new leadership in their front office and some young talent. They are trending up, but with an inexperienced quarterback and a tough division, it is hard to see them making the playoffs. They should end up around 8-8.
For a franchise that has a terrible recent history and some young pieces, 8-8 should be hopeful and even exciting, not frustrating.
Jay Cullen is a New York Giants writer for RantSports.com. Like him on Facebook.