The Cleveland Browns finished the 2014 campaign with an overall record of 7-9. While it wasn’t good enough to avoid the basement of the AFC North for a 4th consecutive season, their 7-wins were the most they have posted since going 10-6 in 2007, which remains the only time in the last 12 years that they have finished .500 or better.

Cleveland actually started the season a very respectable 7-4, with wins over both the Steelers and Bengals inside the division. They would then revert to their old form and close out the year with 5 straight losses. One big positive from last year, aside from the strong start, was the fact that 4 of their 9 losses came by 4-points or less.

Heading into their 2nd season under head coach Mike Pettine, the Browns are hoping to surprise in the loaded AFC North and finish at or above .500, but it seems just as likely they decline and go back to winning 4-5 games.

Last Season
AFC North
Record
ATS Record
Home ATS
Road ATS
Over/Under
4th
7-9
9-5-2
4-3-1
5-2-1
5-11
Offense Rank
Defense Rank
Turnover Margin
Points For
Points Against
23rd
23rd
+6
18.7
21.1
2015 Roster Changes
Draft Picks
Danny Shelton (NT), Cameron Erving (C), Nate Orchard (DE), Duke Johnson (RB), Xavier Cooper (DT), Ibraheim Campbell (SS), Vince Mayle (WR), Charles Gaines (CB), Malcolm Johnson (TE), Randall Telfer (TE), Hayes Pullard (ILB), Ifo Ikpre-Olomu (CB)
Additions
Randy Starks (DT), Tramon Williams (CB), Dwayne Bowe (WR), Josh McCown (QB), Rob Housler (TE), Brian Hartline (WR), Thad Lewis (QB)
Losses
Jordan Cameron (TE), Jabaal Sheard (OLB), Buster Skrine (CB), Ahtyba Rubin (NT), Brian Hoyer (QB), Miles Austin (WR), Jim Leonhard (FS)
2015 Schedule & Odds
Week Opponent Spread Win Chance
1 @ Jets +2 0.47
2 Titans -4.5 0.67
3 Raiders -4.5 0.67
4 @ Chargers +6 0.29
5 @ Ravens +7 0.25
6 Broncos +4.5 0.33
7 @ Rams +6 0.29
8 Cardinals +3 0.41
9 @ Bengals +6 0.29
10 @ Steelers +7.5 0.22
11 BYE
12 Ravens +3 0.41
13 Bengals +2 0.47
14 49ers +2.5 0.45
15 @ Seahawks +10.5 0.14
16 @ Chiefs +5.5 0.31
17 Steelers +3 0.41
Estimated Wins: 6.13
Roster Breakdown

If Cleveland is going to take that next step, they must figure out a way to jump start one of the worst offenses in the league. Last year the Browns ranked 23rd in total offense (324.6 ypg) and 27th in scoring (18.7 ppg).

It doesn’t seem likely that will be the case, as the Browns will be relying on either Josh McCown, who was added in free agency, or Johnny Manziel as their starting quarterback. McCown was a big disappointment last year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, helping them plummet to the worst record in the league. He at least figures to be a better option than Manziel, who looked completely lost in his 2 starts as a rookie.

Part of the problem is that regardless of who wins the job, they will have to make due with arguably the worst receiving corps in the league. Cleveland lost talented tight end Jordan Cameron in free agency and talented wide out Josh Gordon is suspended for the year. The Browns top two weapons on the outside will be veteran free agent pickups Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline, neither of which figures to do much of anything. The only legit threat they have is slot receiver Andrew Hawkins, though there is some hope that 2nd-year wide out Taylor Gabriel will emerge as a big time playmaker. As for tight end, it’s hard telling who will emerge out of a weak cast. Things are so bad, they brought in Terrelle Pryor to play wide receiver.

Cleveland does have a trio of capable running backs in Terrance West, Isaiah Crowell and 3rd round rookie Duke Johnson. All 3 figure to see plenty of snaps, as Pettine likes to mix it up out of the backfield. All 3 will also be running behind a talented offensive line that has two elite players at their position in left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack. They also used a 1st round pick on Florida State’s Cameron Irving, who will compete for a starting spot at right guard or right tackle. The problem is that due to zero threat of a passing attack, opposing defenses are going to stack the box and do whatever they can to take away their ability to run the football.

Considering the offense doesn’t figure to score a whole lot of points, at least not on a consistent basis, the Browns are going to have to rely on their defense to keep them in games. Cleveland ranked a respectable 9th in the league in scoring defense, giving up just 21.1 ppg, but were 23rd in total defense (366.1 ypg).

Their weakness was without question their ability to stop the run, which ranked last in the league allowing 141.6 ypg. Knowing that they had to improve their run defense, Cleveland used one of their two 1st round picks on Washington nose tackle Danny Shelton. They also brought in veteran 3-4 defensive end Randy Starks. Both Shelton and Starks are upgrades over what they had. Desmond Bryant will start at the other defensive end spot, though he’s better suited to come off the bench as a pass rush specialist.

At linebacker the Browns got productive seasons out of both outside linebacker Paul Kruger (11 sacks) and inside linebacker Karlos Dansby. These two will be the leaders of the unit again in 2015, though they are hoping to get improved play out of 2nd-year inside linebacker Chris Kirksey and 3rd-year outside linebacker Barkebious Mingo. Added the mix at outside linebacker will be 2nd round rookie Nate Orchard.

Without a doubt, the strength of the Browns defense is their secondary, which features two elite talents in corner Joe Haden and free safety Tashaun Gipson. The unit also returns savy veteran strong safety Donte Whitner and have added in veteran corner Tramon Williams to start opposite of Haden until 2014 1st round pick Justin Gilbert gets his head on straight.

Future Odds
Regular Season Win Total
to Win the AFC
to Win Super Bowl L
6
55 to 1
210 to 1
Odds Courtesty of 5Dimes
Projections

As promising as the Browns defense may look on paper, you can’t win many games in the NFL if your offense can’t stay on the field. Unless McCown comes out of nowhere and plays at an extremely high level, Cleveland is going to struggle to score enough points to be taken seriously in a division that features 3 legit playoff contenders in the Bengals, Ravens and Steelers.

With the AFC North having to play both the AFC West and NFC West this season, it’s really hard to see the Browns improving, or even matching, last year’s 7-wins. To have any chance of doing so, they must take advantage of a weak schedule to start the year, which features a road game against the Jets and two home matchups against the Titans and Raiders. From Week 4 on, the schedule is absolutely brutal. The Browns are expected to be underdogs in 14 of their 16 games.

I do think Cleveland’s defense will allow them to pull off a couple of upsets, but even that’s no sure thing. I have the Browns going 5-11 and easily holding down the basement of the AFC North. Oddsmakers have their win total at 6, which I think is way too high given the division they play in and the schedule they were dealt in 2015.

AFC North Finish
Division Record
Overall Record
Win Total Prediction
4th
1-5
5-11
UNDER 6
Browns 10-Year Recap
Year W L Playoffs Coach Win Total
2014 7 9 Pettine 6.5
2013 4 12 Chudzinski 6.5
2012 5 11 Shurmur 5.5
2011 4 12 Shurmur 6.5
2010 5 11 Mangini 5.5
2009 5 11 Mangini 7
2008 4 12 Crennel 8
2007 10 6 Crennel 5.5
2006 4 12 Crennel 6.5
2005 6 10 Crennel 5

Roger Cohen

Roger Cohen
DawgPoundDaily.com

Why the Browns might get 6 wins

  • Defense scores a touchdown or the equivalent per game
  • RB’s average 100+ ypg and minimize fumbles
  • Rehabbed Johnny scrambles for some last minute heroics

Why the Browns won’t get 6 wins

  • McCown is who we thought he was
  • Worn down defense fades every 4Q
  • FG kickers blow 3 games
More NFL Predictions