Lane: Getting out of the gate quickly will provide a confidence boost to this relatively young Browns team. Facing a Cincinnati team without the experienced Carson Palmer under center in week one and Indianapolis likely without Peyton Manning in week two, the Browns could face the optimum opportunity. The potential of winning early in the season as the team gains an identity under head coach Pat Shurmur could set a trend which returns the Browns to being a competitive team.
Establishing threats in the passing game early will lead the offense in becoming an unpredictable unit. Remaining healthy and the development of the youth on both sides of the ball is a necessity for continued improvement. Under the direction of Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert, the roster is being built through the draft and key acquisitions.
The perfect scenario would lead the Browns to good health and development of key positional players. Coupled with a potentially mild schedule, the perfect storm for the Browns could be in the making. An 8-8 record is not out of the question, with some positive developments, this Browns team could be a surprise player.
Fred: The Browns will take advantage of their perceived easier early season schedule — helped by Peyton Manning's absence in Week 2 and the NFC West — and get off to a better than .500 record through over half the season. By staying relatively injury-free to the starting units, Pat Shurmur's offensive philosophy coalesces remarkably with Colt McCoy and the offense doesn't resemble Brian Daboll's offense the last two years.
Veteran defensive coordinator Dick Jauron works miracles with a load of rookie and second-year players and keeps the Browns in games to allow McCoy and the offense to have a chance to win. The Browns have nearly no depth , but Jauron finds a way to keep the group together.
DK: New head coach Pat Shurmur proves to be the final piece of team president Mike Holmgren's master rebuilding plan. With Shurmur calling the offensive plays, the Browns take advantage of a weak schedule and jump out to a solid September start. Leading the way is the return of a power running game – fueled by Peyton Hillis and complemented by Colt McCoy's mastery of a conservative passing attack. Tight ends Evan Moore and Ben Watson prove to be primary targets, while rookie Greg Little emerges as the season progresses.
Defensively, players are asked to think less and play more, which results in fewer blown coverages and an overall sense of consistency. Rookies Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard help to solidify the team's run defense, while second year players Joe Haden and T.J. Ward further develop into future Pro Bowlers. Veterans such as D'Qwell Jackson, Scott Fujita and Sheldon Brown remain healthy and Dick Jauron's experience transforms the Browns' defense into a top 15 unit.
Don: Without jumping too far ahead — really, don't look at December's schedule just yet — the Browns take advantage of a roster growing in talent coupled with a relatively easy schedule. The schedule, and the avoidance of major injuries, helps the Browns stay competitive and win games at an uncommon frequency.
Confident and healthy, the Browns enter the aforementioned month of December with a winning record. Unfortunately, two games against Baltimore and two games against Pittsburgh in the Browns' final five games doesn't garner the greatest results. Still, best case scenario, the Browns establish the Pat Shurmur era with nine wins.
And while we're dealing with "best case scenarios" the Atlanta Falcons stumble to a 4-12 season. (Remember, the Browns own the Falcons' 2012 first-round draft pick. Each week, the two most important teams will be the Browns and whoever is playing Atlanta.)
Barry: Luck. Balls are tipped into the hands of receivers, three-hundred pound defensive tackles fall harmlessly to the turf rather than landing on your running back's ankle. It means more to the outcome of pro football games than most imagine.
And luck is with the Browns this year, particularly in the injury department. We're talking 2000 Baltimore Ravens-no-one-gets-hurt-other-than-a-bad-second-year-wide-receiver luck. Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty both stay healthy and form a one-two combo that wipes Jim Kiick's name from the memories of the 23,600 people who still remember the 1972 Dolphins. Greg Little blooms and keeps post-TD excessive celebrations to an Sportcenter-acceptable level. Most importantly, the Browns veteran starting linebackers stay healthy, helping to cover the youth of the line in front of them and the thinness of the defensive backfield behind them.
With a productive running attack, and protection from offensive line studs Joe Thomas and Alex Mack compensating for a rookie left guard, the west coast offense can flourish, with Colt McCoy spreading passes out to tight ends, running backs, and stretching the field with Little and Massaquoi. The team rolls to a 5-1 record through an easy early schedule, and is sitting at 7-4 when faced with their rough closing schedule. Thanks to injuries and felony arrests depleting the rosters of their AFC North rivals, the Browns win three of the last five to finish at 10-6 and earn their second playoff berth of the expansion era.
And then I woke up.
In the coming days check back to the OBR for more 2011 season predictions including the worst case scenario for the 2011 Browns, which overblown offseason/preseason story will eventually prove meaningless, the level of optimism during the stretch of games in December and the playoff field and the Browns' final record.