6. Cleveland Browns
Head Coach: Rob Chudzinski
2012 Record: 5-11
2012 Offense: 302 points scored, 24th in points, 25th in yards (19th passing, 24th rushing)
2012 Defense: 368 points allowed, 19th in points, 23rd in yards (25th passing, 19th rushing)
Head Coach Rob Chudzinski , LB Paul Kruger, CB Kevin Barnes, DE Desmond Bryant, QB Jason Campbell, QB Brian Hoyer, WR Davone Bess, WR David Nelson, TE Kellen Davis, K Shayne Graham, LB Quentin Groves, CB Chris Owens, RB Dion Lewis, DE Barkevious Mingo, CB Leon McFadden
WR Josh Cribbs, K Phil Dawson, LB Scott Fujita, RB Brandon Jackson, WR Mohammed Massaquoi, LB Kaluka Maiava, DB Usuma Young, DB Sheldon Brown, TE Alex Smith, S Ray Ventrone, TE Ben Watson, DE Frostee Rucker
Why 2013 will be better
The Browns placed an off-season emphasis on defense, signing free agent linebacker Paul Kruger away from Baltimore. Kruger and D’Qwell Jackson now form the backbone of a solid linebacking corps, providing no rush for the Browns to work rookie Mingo into the rotation. The switch to a 3-4 front will see Desmond Bryant, Phil Taylor, and Ahtyba Rubin playing with their hands on the ground. On offense the Browns have improved their receiving corps, where the Browns are counting on castoffs Bess and Nelson to complement Josh Gordon, who will miss the first two games of the season for a drug policy violation (and seems to be one mistake away from losing a year), and Greg Little. Both Bess and Nelson are capable receivers, with Bess catching 61 passes in 2012 and Nelson accomplishing the same in 2011 before an injury made his miss all but one game last season.
Why 2013 will be worse
The Browns have not resolved the quarterback position, with a second year starter on a short leash in Weeden, a journeyman veteran who has started seven games over the past two seasons in Campbell, and a former Tom Brady backup who has started one NFL game in Hoyer. Suddenly the decision not to trade up for RGIII begs another glance. Trent Richardson had a mixed rookie season with 950 yards all 11 touchdowns, but a net of only 3.6 yards per carry. He is a durable back, but the offense on the whole simply lacks a lot of pop, and averaging more than last year’s 18.9 points per game is going to be a challenge. On the defensive side, the secondary has seen significant change, and Joe Haden anchors a unit that probably won’t scare too many teams. Rookie corner Leon McFadden appears set to start opposite Haden, while the safeties will be second year man Tashaun Gipson and TJ Ward.
There is something to be said for bringing in Norv Turner to be the offensive coordinator. Turner seems better suited to this role than that of head coach, and if anyone is going to get Weeden playing well enough to make the Browns compete it will be Turner. Adding weapons at receiver doesn’t hurt, and having a solid offensive line gives the Browns the potential to surprise some teams. On the other side of the ball, switching to a 3-4 with an improved linebacking corps gives defensive coordinator Ray Horton the weapons he needs to try and disrupt opposing offenses. If the Browns can apply consistent quarterback pressure, they may be able to offset any concerns that exist in the secondary. The Browns appear capable of winning anywhere from 4 to 9 games this season, but I’ll place the over/under at 7. Consider it a good first step in banishing the “Factory of Sadness” moniker that is now the team’s unofficial slogan.