Browns-Bengals Preview

So, here’s your shot, Johnny. You get three games and this first one is a must-win. Good luck.

The prospect hung over the Cleveland Browns ever since that fateful Thursday evening last May. And now Sunday it is reality: Johnny Manziel will start at quarterback for the Browns.

At this point, after all the JFF T-shirts have been printed and sold, the money signs signaled and intense debates held, it can either turn into a spectacular failure or unbelievable success. Trust me, it won’t end up somewhere in the middle.

So, here’s your shot, Johnny. You get three games and this first one is a must-win. Good luck.

Unlike other ceremonial first starts for Failed Browns Quarterbacks Past — Couch, Frye, Quinn, McCoy, Weeden — the Browns have a good team. At 7-6 they are still in the hunt in the crowded AFC North. It may take three wins and a miracle for the Browns to get in the playoffs, but it’s December and this team is playing meaningful football.

What kind of football will Manziel play? No one has any idea and that’s why Sunday is must see TV.

Barring the small chance Manziel plays lights out, the Browns go 3-0 and make the playoffs, the offseason debate will commence. Is three games enough of a sample size? Did Manziel do enough to show he is the quarterback for the foreseeable future? What is this guy’s ceiling?

At least the team won’t be searching for a new coach. (Maybe.)

Manziel is an athletic freak. He did unbelievable things in college and the Browns are banking on him translating it to the professional level.

On one end of the spectrum you have Robert Griffin III. Also a Heisman Trophy winner who was lights out in college, he flamed out quickly with the Washington Redskins. An unbelievable rookie year saw too many bumps and bruises and coupled with his reported resistance to work on his weaknesses, he now appears to be on his way out of D.C.

Meanwhile, you have Russell Wilson who was unheralded in college, but came to Seattle, earned the start right away and in two years he was a Super Bowl winning quarterback. Wilson doesn’t dazzle in the passing game but is just enough of a threat running the balL When he runs, he is also adept at avoiding contact. That combination makes him a tough quarterback to defend.

So where on the spectrum does Manziel reside? Maybe he won’t be comparable to either quarterback. Maybe this will be an epic failure. Maybe this is finally the franchise quarterback the Browns have so desperately needed.

All those maybes are what makes this so intriguing.

The off-the-field noise that surrounds Manziel won’t matter if he performs in these final three games. If he does and the Browns do well, those off-the-field things are “quirky.” If he doesn’t play well, suddenly those off-the-field issues become “problems” or “concerns” for the Browns moving forward.

With two first-round picks in the 2015 NFL Draft and some good quarterbacks coming out of college, perhaps three games are enough of Manziel Mania for the Browns.

Manziel’s athleticism instantly adds another weapon to a Browns offense that is slowly accumulating playmakers. In recent weeks the offense has grinded to a halt thanks to a poor running game coupled with poor decisions by Brian Hoyer.

These are must-win games for the Browns beginning with a team they dismantled earlier this season on the road.

Since that win it hasn’t been pretty and the offensive production, especially from Hoyer, has been on a downward spiral. We saw how Hoyer responded to the challenge last week. He failed.

Can Johnny avoid a similar fate?

If he does, look out NFL. He will quickly be a player who talks the talk, walks the walk and is hated by 31 teams, but beloved by Browns fans.

If he doesn’t, well, we know the drill: Keep calm and draft on.

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