The Playoffs???

Cleveland Browns fans have gotten the taste again - the taste of playoff football - and we all want more. Bernie takes a look the challenges the team will face as it looks to return to the post-season, and offers his prediction on whether they can do it again.

One thing my background in business has taught me is to always think with your head, not with your heart.

It's a sometimes cold and calculated practice but when making decisions in the business world, it's a pattern that must be followed.

So, you're wondering what I'm getting at right?

Here's the deal:

The Browns are going to have a difficult time making the playoffs this year.


Believe me, my heart bleeds brown and orange and it pains me to say that and I hope I'm wrong. But, I don't think I will be. The numbers just don't add up.

I've made a career out of numbers adding up. As a matter of fact, I've made two careers out of numbers adding up. Yes, I know that sometimes emotion can turn and a team can ride it to glory, but there are many obstacles in the Browns' way this year.

Obstacle #1

The schedule is brutal. It's tougher than my old buddies Baab, Farren, Fike, Williams and Risien.

The Browns open with the Indianapolis Colts. Peyton Manning threw for 4,200 yards last year. Wide receiver Marvin Harrison caught passes for nearly 1,800 yards and have I mentioned running back Edgerrin James?

If this is a litmus test for the Browns' defense, the turf at the stadium could go up in flames.

Three of the four games after the opener are on the road, in places like Baltimore, San Francisco and Pittsburgh. I hate to say it, but the Browns have lost 13 out of their last 15 games against the Steelers, including six games in a row.

In Week Six, the Browns host the AFC Champion Oakland Raiders, led by the MVP of the AFC, quarterback Rich Gannon. Wide receiver Jerry Rice isn't getting any younger, but he's no worse for the wear. The future Hall of Famer caught nearly 100 passes for 1,200 yards a year ago. Having an offensive genius like Marc Trestman as their coordinator makes this challenge more difficult.

Anybody who's been around the NFL will tell you that the games that are played in November and December are the most important. In the final two months of the season, the Browns play three teams, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Steelers and the St. Louis Rams, all of whom are picked by many to win their respective divisions.

The Browns must hope that the AFC North gets beat up and they are able to sneak in as champion of the North with an 8-8 record.

Obstacle #2

The defense. It's so young and so inexperienced. I know, I told you in a previous column to trust in Butch and trust his evaluation of the players he's put in place on that defense. I believe that... BUT... fact remains it will take this unit time to grow, time to mature and time to find their confidence. The schedule will not allow the luxury of time.

Not when cornerbacks Anthony Henry and Daylon McCutcheon have to line up and cover Indy's Harrison, Oakland's Rice, Pittsburgh's Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward, the 49ers Terrell Owens and San Diego's David Boston. I haven't even mentioned the Rams Torry Holt and Issac Bruce or Denver's Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey. There are more than a few All-Pros in that group.

Are McCutcheon and Henry ready to be the cover corners that they'll have to be to allow an all-out attack by the Browns' defense line and linebackers? A team can't blitz if they don't have the corners to cover.

Remember, the three starting linebackers have a grand total of 36 career tackles. Butch loves the potential here but potential isn't going to stop Marshall Faulk, Edgerrin James, Priest Holmes and LaDainian Tomlinson. Those four running backs gained 5,240 yards in 2002.

When you break it all down, the Browns' defense faces a series of enormous challenges. Don't count out the attrition factor. Depth will become a determiner as the season takes its toll on the starters.

Obstacle #3

Winning at home. In order to be a playoff team, you have to win at home. The Browns have simply been unable to do that. Last year, they won three of eight games at home and made the playoffs. The team was 6-2 on the road. I see that as an aberration. You can't count on that kind of road performance to repeat itself.

The stadium used to be a place opposing teams feared. In the four years the Browns have been back, their home record is 8 wins and 24 losses. That isn't going to get it done.


I know we all had high hopes for the coming year. The return to the playoffs last year made us thirst for the sweet taste of success that we've often savored in Cleveland. However, with the many obstacles in the Browns' path this year, playing in January might be a long shot.

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