If Brandon Weeden‘s ceiling is even a borderline-average NFL quarterback, I believe the Cleveland Browns are right in that mix of potential 9-to-10-win wild-card teams out of the AFC this season. Division foes Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers are probably there as well.
Cleveland could be heading for last in the AFC North once again if Weeden 2013 looks like Weeden 2012, but if this preseason or Norv Turner‘s history as offensive coordinator are any indicator, Weeden should be making a dramatically positive improvement upon his extremely poor rookie year.
Turner’s ability to craft offenses that chuck it down field and maximize the strengths of strong pass-blocking lines dates far back in his career. For as awful as his head coaching career has gone the chances keep coming due to the demonstrated wizardry as offensive coordinator.
Dropping back between line bookends Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz, Weeden could benefit from the league’s most comfortable pocket. Jordan Cameron and Greg Little provide wide targets with exceptional mobility for their size while Josh Gordon has proven he can get it done downfield with Weeden.
Perhaps the biggest reason I’m jumping on the Browns playoff wagon is the addition of defensive coordinator Ray Horton and his specialty 3-4 formation. Kicking Jabaal Sheard out to 3-4 outside backer and heading this rotation with Barkevious Mingo and Paul Kruger could have the makings of a suffocating pass rush. Phil Taylor and Desmond Bryant are two square pegs in square wholes with this formation, while TJ Ward and Joe Haden have the type of elite secondary talent that Horton got the most out of back in Arizona.
All the pieces are in place for a surprise playoff berth for Cleveland; that is if Weeden can make a leap to at least halfway decent.
Predicted Regular Season Record: 9-7 (2nd in AFC North)
Predicted Finish: Loss in wild-card round at Houston Texans