Playoffs for 2016 Browns?

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After you stop laughing, just maybe you can hear me out here?

The 2014 Browns actually went 7-9 despite the franchise entering the year as their usual mess. They have been without standout wide receiver Josh Gordon in 2015, who will apply for reinstatement from his substance abuse suspension in the offseason. They’ve also shuffled first round quarterback Johnny Manziel in and out of the lineup, who has led the team to 2 of their 3 wins through 14 weeks.

The Dog Pound fan base is as loyal as they come, and head coach Mike Pettine owes it to them to allow Manziel to start the final few games to get more of a sample size on him. The backfield is hardly one worth mentioning as the faces have been drafted, benched, released, and not very productive. It should certainly be an offseason priority, which would help any QB regardless of how good they are.

Cleveland currently looks slated for a top-3 pick in the 2016 Draft. They may very well decide to go quarterback, which would be admitting to a mistake when they traded up for the 22nd overall pick in 2014 to draft Manziel. So, was their 7-9 record a season ago a fluke? It could point them in the right direction after discovering the talents of Gary Barnidge and Travis Benjamin. Add Gordon to the roster and all of a sudden, Cleveland has a solid passing attack. Their offensive line has been pretty good in recent years, led by Pro Bowlers, center Alex Mack and Joe Thomas on the blindside.

That 7-9 team had a defensive identity that was slowly forming in the previous seasons. Coach Pettine is a defensive guy with a few Pro Bowlers on his side of the ball: cornerback Joe Haden, safety Tashaun Gipson, and linebacker Karlos Dansby. They have a solid secondary rounded out by veterans, safety Donte Whitner and corner Tramon Williams. The defensive numbers fell in a rough year without much run support, but they aren’t far away from getting back into the top dozen when you consider an improved offense would control the ball more and score more.

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The Browns play in an extremely competitive AFC North, where all three rivals have been playoff mainstays. Baltimore was headed for a down year, even before placing a ridiculous 18 players on I.R. Cincinnati will win the division this year while Pittsburgh is in the hunt for a wildcard spot, so next season won’t come easy for six of Cleveland’s games. They will face so-so divisions next year in the AFC East and the NFC East, with San Diego and Tennessee as likely opponents for also finishing at the bottom of their divisions.

After watching Cleveland move on from Brian Hoyer to Josh McCown, and drafting Manziel, do not be surprised if they make some calls about Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin, and Nick Foles. Last offseason they were in the mix with Philadelphia to acquire Sam Bradford, and at this point in time, he’s scheduled to become a free agent. To be honest, I don’t buy John DiFelippo as the right offensive coordinator to turn the offense around. Plus, who knows if Pettine is going to stick around after Black Monday?

With possible changes on the coaching staff and under center, it sure makes it difficult to predict a change of fortune for the Browns. If I combine the pros and cons between the 2014 and 2015 Browns, and assuming that Manziel is the guy, I have them pegged between 4 and 7 wins and not making the jump. As I normally do, I will be rooting for the underdog to have a surprise season.