It might be premature to think the Browns might be poised to make a run at a playoff spot in 2015. The Browns have a difficult schedule ahead of them, but the Browns were 6–3 and 7–4 in 2014 and in the playoff hunt until the wheels fell off the wagon.
With that said, if the Browns can accomplish these five things, they might have a chance to continue playing in January.
1.Efficient quarterback play — The Browns need a quarterback who doesn’t turn the ball over. Brian Hoyer was that guy for the first half of the season but not in the second half of the season, which led to him being replaced. Hoyer threw 10 touchdowns and just four interceptions in the first nine games and the Browns were 6–3. He had two touchdown passes and nine interceptions the rest of the season.
Whether it’s Josh McCown, Johnny Manziel, Thad Lewis or Connor Shaw, the quarterback needs to be efficient in their play to give the Browns any chance to be serious contenders in the playoff hunt.
2.Strong running game — The Browns want to control the clock and shorten the game by running the ball. They are counting on the fact that the return of Alex Mack will bolster the rushing attack to get back to what it was in 2014 before Mack went down. The Browns were among the league leaders and were averaging about 140 yards a game before Mack was injured.
The return of Mack and the addition of Cameron Erving to the line along with rookie Duke Johnson to the backfield should only increase the running game’s production.
3.Strong defense — The Browns are trying to build a dominant defense and it starts up front. The 32nd rushing defense from 2014 will not lend itself to being a dominant defense and that is why the Browns spent two high draft picks to add run stoppers Danny Shelton and Xavier Cooper. Former Pro Bowl defensive lineman Randy Starks was signed, as well to help shore up the running game.
If the Browns can stop the run and get after the quarterback with the additions of Nate Orchard and possibly Armonty Bryant to go along with Barkevious Mingo, Paul Kruger and Scott Solomon, they will put themselves in position to win.
4.Ball Hawking Defense — For the Browns to be a dominant defense, they need to force turnovers. The secondary should be strong with three returning Pro Bowl players back from last year’s team to go along with unrestricted free agent signee Tramon Williams. The depth is strong with an expected much improved Justin Gilbert and K’Waun Williams to battle for playing time along with Pierre Desir.
Tashaun Gipson finished second in the NFL with six interceptions, despite missing the final five games with a knee injury. Gipson has shown a knack for finding the football as he has 11 interceptions in the past two seasons, second only to Richard Sherman.
The Browns finished tied for ninth in the NFL at plus 6 in take-away/give-away ratio. The defense took the ball away from their opponent 29 times, including 21 interceptions. Joe Haden added three interceptions and Tramon Williams has the ability to find the football, as well.
5.Win the division — The surest way to the playoffs is to win the AFC North. Although the other three teams in the division have been to the playoffs consistently in recent years, none of the other three teams are dominant. The Browns have to have a winning record within the division as the six games make up close to 38 percent of the schedule.
The Browns proved they could beat Pittsburgh and Cincinnati as they had dominant wins over both division opponents last year. However, they lost both games against Baltimore and finished 2–4 in the division, which will not cut it. A 4–2 or 5–1 record in the division will go a long way toward controlling their own destiny.
Home field advantage — The Browns need to make FirstEnergy Stadium a true advantage. In 2014, the Browns started 4–1 at home, but dropped the final three home games in losses to the Texans, Colts and Bengals.