Lane: The Browns miss the playoffs due to a final month of playing strong opponents. After a great start to the season, the Browns level out in becoming an 8-8 team.
Fred: The Browns will finish with just a game or two better record than what it was in 2010. However, it will be the way they play and with the key players who emerge, that will indicate that the Browns have a chance to contend for a playoff berth in 2012. Final record: 7-9.
DK: For those familiar with my work, I usually disdain the overuse of statistics in analyzing a football team. Far too often, numbers unfortunately overshadow the actual human element of football. However, when trying to project a potential playoff field, one simple stat always has to be observed.
Simply put, teams who protect their quarterbacks usually make the playoffs.
In 2010, all quarterbacks leading playoff teams enjoyed relatively healthy seasons, with the slight exceptions of Michael Vick, Matt Hasselbeck and Aaron Rodgers. In 2011, expect this trend to continue, along with the simple realization that experienced teams will outperform the rest of the league – especially given the shortened offseason.
Having said all this, Peyton Manning's health jeopardizes both the Colts' playoff chances and the cholesterol levels of greater Indianapolis. Let's swap Indy for Houston in the AFC, keep the remaining five 2010 playoff teams, and then wait for the inevitable Vick and Jay Cutler injuries in Philadelphia and Chicago. Throw in Sam Bradford and the Rams, Tony Romo's Cowboys and a surprise run by the Vikings and half of the NFC's playoff field is turned over.
In the end, consistency – and relative boredom – reign. In a shocker, the Packers beat the Steelers yet again.
But more importantly, the Browns start strong, wobble in between and fade fast. 6-10.
Don: As you all painfully remember, the Browns won five games last season. Yet of the 11 losses, there were more than a handful of times when a play here or a break there and the Browns come out victors.
That's the beauty of the NFL. Even on team as with as little talent as the 2010 Browns, they could have produced a much better record than 5-11.
This season? The schedule is in the Browns favor. The injures need to be avoided, but if that's the case, 9-7 is within reach. It won't be good enough for a playoff spot, but it will be good enough to act as another positive stepping stone for a franchise finally moving in the right direction.
Editor's note: Read the previous four installments of The OBR's 2011 season predictions:
Part One: Best Case Scenario for the 2011 Browns