CLEVELAND - Well it's hard to believe that we are just days away from the kickoff to another season here in Brownstown.
It's the time of the year where everyone is optimistic about their teams chances of a successful season.
The Cleveland Browns made plenty of changes in the offseason after finishing last again in the AFC North with a 5-11 record. Rob Chudzinski was brought in to replace Pat Shurmur as head coach. Michael Lombardi was brought in to replace Tom Heckert as general manager.
With a change in head coach and general manager comes changes on the field as well. Brad Childress and the west coast offense is out, Norv Turner and a vertical offense is in. Ray Horton comes in as the new defensive coordinator to replace Dick Jauron's 4-3 defensive scheme with a hybrid version of a 3-4 defense.
With all of these changes, it's easy to believe that it will be another long season for the suffering fans here in Cleveland. I believe that will be both true and false.
I've never been someone who takes a lot of what I see from a team during the preseason and translate that to regular season. It was nice to see the Browns go 3-1 during the preseason and show some improvement on both sides of the ball, but in reality, how much of the playbook did we really see during the month of August, probably not very much.
Sunday's season opener against the Miami Dolphins will go a long way as to how the 2013 season will go for the Browns. The Browns will be looking to win their season opener for the first time since 2004 when they beat the Baltimore Ravens at the stadium 20-3. Head Coach Rob Chudzinski will also look to win his first game as an NFL head coach against the same team his predecessor Pat Shurmur did in 2011.
Sunday's game is important because the Browns next three opponents are the Super Bowl Champion Ravens in Baltimore for their home opener followed by Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings on the road and then the Battle of Ohio with the Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium. A loss on Sunday and the Browns could head into October with an 0-4 record.
2013 will be a very important season for quarterback Brandon Weeden. He enters his second season under center with a lot resting on his shoulders. The new offense installed by Norv Turner should help the growth of Weeden as he should get more opportunities to throw the ball down the field and less crossing routes that the west coast offense run by Pat Shurmur is known for. If Weeden struggles this season and the Browns end up with another high draft pick, a young quarterback could be selected.
As for Weeden's fellow first round pick from the 2012 NFL Draft, I expect big things from Trent Richardson running the football in 2013. T-Rich was a gamer in 2012 despite playing most of the season with sore ribs. Richardson rushed for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. I expect Richardson to surpass a thousand yards rushing this year.
The receiving core will take a hit for the first two weeks with Josh Gordon suspended. It will be huge if Greg Little can get off to great start in these first two games. In the days I was out in Berea during training camp, Little looked like a guy who is ready to take the next step in his professional career. I expect Davone Bess to provide the veteran leadership that the receiving core needs. As far as tight ends, Jordan Cameron has some high expectations placed on him this year now that Ben Watson is gone. Cameron was very impressive during the preseason, can that roll over into the regular season. If you ask me, the offense needs production from the tight end spot to be successful.
As for the defense, hopefully Ray Horton's bunch can become a top ten defense in the league. The talent is there for it to happen. My concern will be the secondary because of a lack of depth. How will Buster Skrine play opposite of Joe Haden at cornerback and how will Tashaun Gipson do as the starting free safety opposite T.J. Ward? If both play well, it will go a long way to the success of the defense as a whole. I also want to see how well Jabaal Sheard adjusts to playing as an outside linebacker from a defensive end. Having a veteran like Paul Kruger in the mix should help Sheard's transition. Finally, will the defense get pressure on opposing quarterbacks a lot more than in the past? That's what Horton wants to do which lead to the selection of Barkevious Mingo with the sixth over pick. Now lets hope that happens, but Mingo needs to get his bruised lung healed first.
As for the special teams, how will Billy Cundiff do in replacing Phil Dawson after the Browns released both kickers they had in training camp, Shayne Graham and Brandon Bogotay. Cundiff did kick for the Browns replacing an injured Dawson in 2009 so at least he's familiar with FirstEnergy Stadium. However, Cundiff is also known for the field goals he didn't make, like in the 2011 AFC Championship game with the Ravens. As for the return game, we all wondered what the Browns would do when they didn't resign Josh Cribbs. Travis Benjamin answered that question when he returned a punt for a touchdown in the preseason opener against the St. Louis Rams. The return game should be fine.
So how will the Browns do in 2013. I believe that will improve on their 5-11 season from 2012, but not by much. Before I reveal my 2013 record for the Browns lets predict how all 16 games will go.
Week 1 vs. Miami Dolphins - Win
Week 2 @ Baltimore Ravens - Lose
Week 3 @ Minnesota Vikings - Lose
Week 4 vs. Cincinnati Bengals - Lose
Week 5 vs. Buffalo Bills - Win
Week 6 vs. Detroit Lions - Win
Week 7 @ Green Bay Packers - Lose
Week 8 @ Kansas City Chiefs - Win
Week 9 vs. Baltimore Ravens - Lose
Week 11 @ Cincinnati Bengals - Lose
Week 12 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers - Win
Week 13 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars - Win
Week 14 @ New England Patriots - Lose
Week 15 vs. Chicago Bears - Lose
Week 16 @ New York Jets - Win
Week 17 @ Pittsburgh Steelers - Lose
Based on my guesses for the 2013 season, The Cleveland Browns will go 7-9 this season, 1-5, 4th place in the AFC North. The Browns will finish with a better record, but last in the division again.