4th Annual 32 in 32ish NFL Previews: Cleveland Browns

Up next in our continuing preview of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days (or so) leading up to the start of the 2017 season is the Cleveland Browns, coming off a last-place finish in the AFC North last season.

Last year was the sixth straight season the Browns finished in last place in the division, and there’s really nowhere to go but up after finishing 2016 with a 1-15 record. The team made one of the more surprising moves of the offseason, trading for QB Brock Osweiler, who was a major disappointment for the Texans after they signed him to a big free-agent contract last offseason. Despite his $16 million salary this season, he’s going to have to compete for the starting job with QBs Cody Kessler and DeShone Kizer, the team’s second-round pick in this year’s draft. They went defense with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, selecting DL Myles Garrett out of Texas A&M. Other additions of note include DB Calvin Pryor, who they acquired in a trade with the Jets, and WR Kenny Britt. The team lossed its two best pass-catchers from last season, with WR Terrelle Pryor and TE Gary Barnidge no longer on the roster.

Three different quarterbacks started games for the Browns last season, but Kessler is the only one left on the roster. He started eight games, and played in nine total, throwing for 1,380 yards and 6 touchdowns with 2 interceptions in 195 passes. With Houston, Osweiler started 14 games, going 301-for-510 for 2,957 yards and 15 touchdowns, but he threw 16 interceptions and was sacked 27 times. Of the holdovers from last year’s team, the two most successful pass-catchers were RBs Duke Johnson and Isaiah Crowell; they caught 53 and 40 passes, respectively, but neither scored a receiving touchdown. WR Corey Coleman had 33 receptions for 413 yards and 3 touchdowns, while Britt caught 68 passes for 1,002 yards and 5 touchdowns with the Rams last season. Crowell was the team’s leading rusher, tallying 952 yards and 7 touchdowns on the ground. As the No. 2, Johnson ran for 358 yards and 1 touchdown. Overall, the offense finished as the second-worst in the league with points scored and third-worst in yards. Defensively, the Browns gave up  the third-most points and second-most yards.

No matter who gets the nod at starting quarterback, and Kessler seems to be the favorite early in camp, will have a tough time finding success without many strong weapons in the passing game. Britt is a veteran but has only had a single 1,000-yard season in eight years in the league. Coleman put up decent numbers in his rookie campaign, but he is unproven in the No. 2 role. He could be a good complementary piece, but I’m not sure he’s ready to be a reliable option for 16 games. Johnson can provide a receiving option out of the backfield. And while Crowell probably isn’t one of the 10 best running backs in the game, he almost reached 1,000 rushing yards last season and could reach that mark in 2017. The offense might not be able to score enough to win many games if the defense doesn’t show improvement over last season. If Garrett can live up to the hype of being the top overall draft pick, that would be go a long way to getting the defense to be better than last season.

The Browns’ schedule begins with back-to-back divisional games, hosting the Steelers then visiting the Ravens. They stay on the road in Week 3 to take on the Colts in Indianapolis. Osweiler may get a chance to face his former team in Week 6 when the Browns head to Houston to take on the Texans. In Week 8, the Browns go overseas to take on the Vikings in London, followed by their bye. They visit the Lions in Week 11 coming off their bye. In Week 14, the Browns host the Packers. They end the season with consecutive road games, at the Bears in Week 16 and at the Steelers — bringing the schedule full circle — in Week 17. The Browns almost certainly have to win more games than last year, but with their schedule I’m having a hard time finding more than about three or four games that I think they can win, so they’ll likely finish in last place in the AFC North yet again.

Sources: http;//www.clevelandbrowns.com, http;//www.pro-football-reference.com

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