Here we go again, Cleveland Browns fans.
It's another NFL season and also another Browns reboot. The theme of most of the Cleveland previews I've read over the past several days is that the Browns are headed in the right direction, but also that they'll struggle to find wins in 2013. What else is new? I've seen this movie before, and I know how it ends; with the Browns ending the season with a losing record, and my father asking me if Cleveland will ever even return to the playoffs let alone win something before he dies. There's real hope that the Browns are much better off now than they were last September.
It's the hope that kills you. Ask anybody who has followed Cleveland sports for any significant amount of time about that.
2013 Cleveland Browns season preview: No excuses
The justification behind drafting then 28-year old Brandon Weeden in 2012 was that he would, due to his age, be ready for the big time quicker than would your standard rookie quarterback. That didn't happen. Weeden, outside of a handful of moments, mostly looked like your average rookie QB playing in a lackluster offense in his first year, and some even speculated that the new regime wouldn't give him the starting gig.
It was easy last fall to blame Weeden's poor play on coaching and/or the fact that the team's offense wasn't suited for the big-armed vertical passer. That won't be the case this time around. Weeden is the type of quarterback new offensive coordinator Norv Turner loves, and you can bet that Turner is going to let Weeden take more risks on a weekly basis than what we saw a year ago. Weeden also has true weapons in Greg Little (if he can hold onto the football), Josh Gordon (once he returns from suspension in Week 3), the lightning-quick Travis Benjamin and tight end Jordan Cameron, who had somewhat of a breakout preseason.
There's no putting it lightly. It's now or never time for Weeden. So which will it be?
2013 Cleveland Browns season preview: The big question
It's maybe the most-talked about topic regarding the 2013 Browns. The team's offense is set to focus around running back Trent Richardson, a punishing runner who, when playing, is good for no fewer than 30 touches a game. The guy does it all. He good in short yardage situations. He can break away for big runs. He's got great hands, and not just for a running back.
Richardson has to find a way to keep from breaking down. His laundry list of health problems in 2012 reads like a team injury report. He had knee surgery before the season, he played with broken ribs, and he was ultimately sidelined for good because of an ankle injury. Indications are that he's 100 percent going into Week 1. With Dion Lewis, who looked very good in preseason appearances, lost for the season because of a broken fibula, the rushing attack will live and die with Richardson. There's no question that he has the talent to deal with the workload. Now he has to show that he can survive an entire NFL season.
2013 Cleveland Browns season preview: Schedule
New head coach Rob Chudzinski could find himself on a short leash if the Browns are again hanging around five wins at the end of the season. Cleveland has a very weak schedule, one that starts out with a winnable home game against the Miami Dolphins. Add in the fact that the Baltimore Ravens will be going through a Super Bowl hangover, that the Pittsburgh Steelers are not as strong as they've been in recent years, and that the Cincinnati Bengals remain an unproven commodity until they silence their critics, and the thought of Cleveland flirting with a .500 record doesn't seem all that crazy.
Imagine that the Browns manage to go 2-4 in division play. From there, they would need just four home wins and two road victories, at the Kansas City Chiefs and at the New York Jets (both are lousy), and it's 8-8 for Cleveland. It may be easier said than done for that roster, but it's also hardly a dream scenario.
Prediction: The truth of the matter is that I've been burned too many times to go what I would consider to be all-in on the Browns. They'll be better than they were in 2012. Just not that much better. I have them going 7-9.