Cleveland, OH. Heading into the 2012 NFL regular season, is there a team who has less hope this year than the Cleveland Browns? In a league where huge turnarounds can happen within just a season or two, it seems as if nobody who knows the game well at all is picking the Browns to be anywhere near the playoffs come January. In fact, based on the overall talent level in the NFC North, anything other than a last place finish would downright stunning. For a franchise that has had so much success throughout their history, the Cleveland Browns are, and have been, one of the worst organizations for years now. Amazingly enough, even with their problems for so many seasons now, Cleveland still has a winning all-time regular season record, at 489-410-13. From 1946-1973, the Browns only had one losing season. They even had some very good squads in the 80′s, only to of course be thwarted by that team from Denver on a couple of occasions. But in the last decade or so, it has been slim pickins as wins have been extremely tough to come by. In the last 14 years, the Cleveland Browns have had just two winning seasons. It seems like plan after plan has been scrapped, and the formula to win just hasn’t been found. So now, Cleveland heads into 2012 behind a rookie QB and a rookie running back. They have made it abundantly clear that they are all in on Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson as the cornerstones for the future. Once again, Browns fans are expected to be patient, as winning any more than five or six games would be big news. This plan had better work out in the not too distant future, or guys like President Mike Holmgren, GM Tom Heckert, and Head Coach Pat Shurmur may very well be on their way out.
The AFC North is undoubtedly one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. When you have to contend with perennial powers Pittsburgh and Baltimore four times a year, it’s really no picnic. Throw in a Cincinnati team that made the playoffs in 2011, and looks to only be getting better, and that is not a lot of fun to have as your in-state rivals. When Mike Holmgren was hired to lead the Browns ship in late 2009, it brought some serious credibility to a fledgling franchise. It gave Browns fans a reason for optimism, as Holmgren’s track record cannot be ignored. However, as he heads into his third year as President, the team is still lacking overall talent, and has a lot of glaring holes. So in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns made their plans at QB and RB about as clear as can be. They had decided as a franchise to shift their direction in the span of one night, selecting both Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden in the first round. This was a definite indication that they were once again in rebuild mode, and Browns fans were going to have to be patient, once again. Although Weeden is in his late twenties, and Richardson has all the looks of being NFL ready now, they are still first year NFL players and will need time to learn the pro game. Factor in that the Browns are below average in overall team talent, and that the time for these two guys to develop could take longer than normal. It was a bold move by the organization, and one that screams a bit of desperation. The front office has to know that too much losing has occurred over many years now, and this once proud franchise is looked at as one of the worst in the NFL right now. Cleveland has some of the best fans around, even with the various things that have not gone their way for all of their sports teams throughout the years. If somehow, Weeden and Richardson can spark a rebirth of sorts and actually turn this entire team around in the next year or two, they will be looked at as saviors by Browns fans. It’s gonna take a lot more than these two players to get the job done, but it’s gotta start somewhere, doesn’t it?
So what should any Browns fan realistically expect for the 2012 season? As mentioned previously, anything more than a last place finish would be some big news. The Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals all look to be quite a bit better, and only massive injuries to those teams would drop them down to the bottom of this division. As sad as it is to say, another year of around 5-11 seems about right, as wins will again be tough to come by. But, if the young starters on offense can bring some excitement at times throughout the season, and win a few games they really shouldn’t win, then that would be a silver lining in what should be a difficult season ahead.
Denver Sports by J Simp