Kop's Korner: Upset special, the Browns will win the AFC North
A year after losing 94 games, the Indians have flipped the script winning 92 games in 2013 to qualify for the MLB playoffs (even though the run was short-lived). That magic has trickled from Progressive Field to FirstEnergy Field, as the Browns are 2-2 and sit atop the AFC North along with the Bengals and Ravens.
It was just two weeks ago yesterday, Cleveland (0-2 at the time) apparently mailed it in with its sights set on the 2014 season. The Browns dealt second-year running back Trent Richardson to the Colts for a first-round pick, and later in the week, benched starting quarterback Brandon Weeden (Also a 2012 first-round pick) for Brian Hoyer.
Just as Browns fans lost all hope, the team pulled them right back in. Cleveland showed its faithful fan base it was in fact playing for this year. Since the Richardson deal, the Browns have won two straight games propelling them into first place in their division.
From what I've seen, I'm convinced…The Browns WILL WIN the AFC North.
I assure you this isn't a side effect from my Breaking Bad hangover. So what changed?
After posting just 16 points in their first two contests with Weeden under center (both loses), Hoyer has sparked new life into the Cleveland offense. The Browns have scored 48 total points in their wins against the Vikings and Bengals.
Here's how the two quarterbacks stack up in 2013:
Hoyer - 590 YDS, 5 TD's, 3 INT's, 83.2 QBR (ranked Top 12 in passing in weeks three and four)
Weeden - 516 YDS, TD, 3 INT's, 62.0 QBR
Enough about Hoyer, he's simply taking advantage of the weapons around him.
The Browns offense has become tougher to stop since wide receiver Josh Gordon returned to the field in week three (served a two-game suspension), paired with the emergence of tight end Jordan Cameron.
In Hoyer's first start, the Michigan State product hooked up with Gordon 10 times for 146 yards and a score, following that up with 71 yards on four receptions in week four. Gordon is a down-field threat with great speed, and opens up the middle of the field for Cameron, where the tight end has flourished.
Without a doubt, this season the 6-foot-5 Cameron is the second best at his position (behind Jimmy Graham) hauling in 30 balls for 360 yards and five touchdowns.
Even though the rushing attack has been sub-par, not to worry the NFL is a passing league. The Browns have enough fire power through the air, and paired with it's stout defense, this team is a serious contender to win the AFC North crown.
Here's how the Cleveland "D" ranks:
Total Defense - 3rd
Run Defense - 4th
Pass Defense - 9th
Sacks Per Game - 3rd (Tie)
This bunch reminds me of another under-rated group that had a top defense, and an offense that was "good enough." The 2009 and 2010 New York Jets. In both years those teams advanced to the AFC Championship game.
AFC North Heading South
Typically, I count the Browns out before the season because of the division's reputation. This year the North just doesn't look as tough as in year's past.
The Steelers are all but out of the race at 0-4, and to me the Ravens schedule is too challenging for Baltimore to overcome.
So that leaves the Bengals, whom the Browns just beat this past week (second meeting @ CIN 11/17). Going through their schedule I see Cincinnati finishing at 9-7 and no better than 10-6.
Now that the bar is set, let's see how Cleveland will stack up.
Browns Remaining Schedule for 2013
Games in Bold are predicted wins
@ Green Bay
@ Kansas City
@ New England
@ NY Jets
I predict the Browns will win eight of their remaining 12 games to finish 10-6 locking up the division title.
Since I don't see the Steelers as much of a threat now and especially in the second half of the season, Cleveland's toughest tests will come against the Lions and Bears (both 3-1) who are tied for the NFC North lead.
Both these games will be played in Cleveland, which will help a lot.
Week 6 vs Detroit
This is the tougher of the two games I've highlighted. The Lions pass rush will challenge the Browns offensively, but Hoyer and company will have their shots against a weak Detroit secondary.
Outside of Calvin Johnson, the Lions do not impress with their receiving corps. Corner back Joe Haden has more than enough talent to handle Megatron. Meanwhile the Browns fourth-ranked run defense will slow down running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, but the key will be stopping that duo in the passing game.
I see this contest as a trap game for Detroit coming off two tough games against Chicago and Green Bay, and a match up with Cincinnati in week seven. The Browns come out on top 24-20.
Week 15 vs Chicago
Through the first quarter of the season the Bears, under first-year head coach Marc Trestman, are certainly more impressive than I thought they would be in 2013. But I'll take the Browns in this battle. That tough Cleveland "D" will give Jay Cutler fits in their home finale, creating more than enough turnovers to give the offense the boost it needs to prevail against Chicago.
Home field advantage will come up big here as the Browns run away with this one late in a 34-17 win.
It's not going to be easy, but the stage is set for a Browns to win the AFC North for the first time since I was born, aka 1989. So Cleveland fans get ready, because I'm telling you there's a chance.