BEREA—The Browns embark on their 2015 season on Sunday against the New York Jets, thus it’s time to give our prognosis for the year. The Browns are in the second year of their latest regime that resulted in a 7-9 season with Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine in control.
The biggest question going into the season is the 2014 version of the Browns closer to the team that started the season 7-4 or closer to the team that finished the season 0-5?
In 2015, it is imperative that the Browns get off to a fast start if they plan to have a successful season. Overall, the Browns have the ninth toughest schedule in the NFL with opponents having a combined record of 138-116-2 (.543). In the NFL, teams that start the season 2-0 have made the playoffs 37.5 percent of the time, while teams that have gotten off to a 3-0 start have made the playoffs 75 percent of the time since 1990.
Contrast that to teams that start 0-2 have only made the playoffs 11.6 percent of the time.The Browns first three opponents had a combined record of 9-39 in 2014 for a winning percentage of just .237.
For the second-straight year, the Browns will start on the road. It is well documented that the Browns have lost 10 consecutive season openers. The last time the Browns won their opening game was a 20-3 victory over the Ravens in 2004. The Browns will open on the road for only the third time in 17 seasons since the franchise returned in 1999. Getting off to a slow start has set the tone for the Browns having losing seasons in all but two seasons since ’99. The Browns have lost both of their opening games on the road. They lost to Tampa Bay in 2010 and 30-27 to the Steelers last season.
Here is a synopsis of the first three games:
GAME ONE—Sept. 13 at New York Jets—2014 record: 4-12
The Jets were just 4-12 last season and have a new head coach in Todd Bowles. The Jets have Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback after Geno Smith had his jaw broken by a teammate in training camp.
Mike Pettine will return to play the Jets where he was the defensive coordinator form 2009-12 under Rex Ryan.
A win over the Jets would give the Browns a jumpstart on the season in what looks like a very winnable game.
GAME TWO—Sept. 20 Tennessee Titans at FirstEnergy Stadium—2014 record: 2-14
The Browns home opener will be against a team that is starting rookie Marcus Mariota, which will be just his second NFL game. The Browns defeated the Titans on the road last season with a dramatic record-breaking comeback and could start the season 2-0 with a home-opening win.
GAME THREE—Sept. 27 Oakland Raiders at FirstEnergy Stadium—2014 record: 3-13
The Browns third game is, once again, another very winnable game with the Raiders having a new coach in Jack Del Rio and a second-year quarterback in Derek Carr. The Raiders appear to be gathering a lot of up-and-coming talent, but the Browns are catching them early in the season and at home.
After the first three games, the Browns go on the road to play the San Diego Chargers, who were 9-7 in 2014. In fact, after the opening three games, the Browns have only two games against opponents with non-winning records in 2014. They play the Rams (6-10) on Oct. 25 in St. Louis and the 49ers (8-8) on Dec. 13 at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The first three games will be the Browns best chance to get off to a fast start. If the Browns can grab at least two wins in those first three games, anything can happen in the NFL. Teams gain confidence and momentum and that can carry them to a winning season.
The Browns were 6-3 and 7-4 in 2014 because they had efficient play out of the quarterback. In the second half of the season, the touchdown to interception ratio went upside down and contributed to their spiral downward. If Josh McCown can play efficiently and keep the Browns in games, they will win some of the close games. If he turns the ball over as he did in Tampa Bay last year, the results will be predictable.
The Browns defense should be better than it was in 2014, but the offense has to help them and keep them off the field by being able to run the ball to use the clock. If not, the defense will eventually wear down in games and as the season goes on.
With that being said, the six games in the AFC North will determine the Browns fate. If they split in the division, they could post a record of 8-8 or even go as high as 9-7. However, if they win two or less in the division, their record will be closer to 6-10 or 7-9. The Browns could be a better team in 2015 but finish with a lesser record.
SEASON PREDICTION: 6-10
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