Preview: Browns open season as favorities over Cincinnati

CLEVELAND - The Browns have not opened the season with a victory since 2004. This weekend the Browns are 7-point favorites against the Cincinnati Bengals.

In as much as it can be, Sunday's opener is a must-win in the eyes of many Browns fans.

"It's important," head coach Pat Shurmur said. "It's important if you're going to string some victories together that you get the first one."

Expectations for the Browns are elevated this season, as President Mike Holmgren and G.M. Tom Heckert are in year two of a franchise makeover, and Shurmur's arrival brings the flare of the West Coast offense.

Fans are also eager to believe that Colt McCoy is the franchise quarterback the team has searched for since returning to the NFL. The Browns appear to be on the rise, and their week-one opponent could be the perfect way to ease into the season.

Cincinnati, simply put, is a mess.

Cincinnati's longtime quarterback Carson Palmer retired after the team's ownership refused to trade him, so the Bengals head into the season with rookie quarterback Andy Dalton as the starter. Dalton struggled in the pre-season, throwing one touchdown compared to three interceptions.

Dalton's top targets are rookie A.J. Green and second-year wideout Jordan Shipley after the franchise's leading receiver Chad Ochocinco left for New England in the off-season.

And the team's starting running back Cedric Benson just spent five days in jail.

The game is winnable for the Browns, and could start the team in the right direction in a season with an incredibly favorable opening schedule.

The combined record of the Browns first 11 opponents is 73-103, before they face Pittsburgh and Baltimore four times in the final five weeks. If the Browns are going to make a significant improvement from last year's 5-11 record, the bulk of the wins will have to come in the first half of the season.

"We are as good as we want to be," running back Peyton Hillis said after practice on Thursday. "It just depends on how we execute on Sundays."

That execution starts on Sunday, and for the first time in seven years, the Browns might just start the season on a positive note.

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