BEREA—The Browns are fortunate that they play the Seahawks, Chiefs and Steelers in the final three games.
The Browns final three opponents are currently all 8-5 and all fighting for playoff berths. The Browns at 3-10 are trying to avoid having the worst record in the NFL—that is unless they want the first pick in the draft.
Mike Pettine has said on more than one occasion this week that the Browns are going to go to Seattle and “cut it loose”. When asked what he meant by that, Pettine responded:
“It’s the attitude,” he said. “We’re not going up there to curl up in a ball. We’re going up there to compete. I thought our guys showed that this past Sunday. When you talk about where our season had gotten to and losing seven in a row – Sunday’s game, two teams in very similar situations – I thought you saw one team that wanted to be out there, wanted to compete and wanted to win a football game.
“I don’t know that I sensed that same attitude from the other side,” he said. “I’m proud of our guys, the way they came out. The message from the coaches on that can only go so far that we’re going to get our guys mentally ready to play. I think that was more of a sign of our veteran leadership and brought those young guys along. The focus, the energy, very few mental mistakes – we only missed two tackles in the game, which I think is a low for the season; penalty wise, it was one of our better games in that sense. We’re just not going to go up there and just put in a day. As I stressed to the team, that starts (Wednesday) with how we prepare, how we practice.”
When the season started, not many thought the Browns were headed for a playoff season as the schedule looked formidable on paper. It appears we were a bit optimistic picking the Browns to be 6-10 as to accomplish that mark the Browns would have to win out.
If the Browns were to play beleaguered and depleted teams like the 49ers to close out the season, there might be a sense of ‘fools gold’ akin to the final year of Eric Mangini when the Browns won their final four games after a 1-11 start to finish 5-11.
The four-game winning streak saved Mangini’s job, but didn’t propel the Browns to greater heights as the Browns finished 5-11 once again in 2010. The Browns final four games in 2009 were the Steelers (9-7), Chiefs (4-12) , Raiders (5-11) and Jaguars (7-9). The Steelers game was won with a bit of ‘smoke and mirrors’ by using Josh Cribbs out of the ‘wildcat’ for most of the game. The final two games were against downtrodden teams.
By playing playoff caliber teams with two on the road in the upcoming weeks, this will be a true test to see what the Browns have in Johnny Manziel, as well as some of the other younger players. Everyone feels good about the dominating performance against the 49ers—rushing the ball and stopping the run—but the Seahawks, Chiefs and Steelers are not the 49ers.
If the Browns play competitively or even win in the final weeks, it will be a clearer picture of what the team has and where it might be heading. If the Browns get blown out, it will also be a clearer picture of where the Browns truly stand and appropriate decisions need to be made.
The Browns need to come to a conclusion as to the future of Manziel. The Browns either have to commit to him as the franchise quarterback or move on from him. In our opinion, Manziel cannot be brought back in 2016 in a backup role. His presence is too much of a distraction to the rest of the team as a backup.
Barring injury, playing Manziel the final three games is also a positive. Manziel will either show that he is going to be able to be a solid NFL starting quarterback or he will show that he will be inconsistent and unable to handle the duties of the job—both on and off the field.
Having a top pick in the upcoming draft, the Browns have to know if they’re going to build around Manziel or if they are going to draft another quarterback at the top of the draft.
Another big topic is who will be leading the Browns? Will it continue to be the tandem of Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine? Will one go and the other stay?
Hopefully, these final three games will show clearly where the Browns stand as they prepare for 2016 and beyond.