There. I said it publicly.
Believe me, it feels as weird to say it as it probably feels for you to read it. It has been anything but easy, and the huge majority of the fan base has one of the strangest love-hate relationships with the team that you couldn't possibly understand unless you are one yourself. Some of you may have heard the joke about a Browns fan who parks his car at a meter and leaves two tickets to a Browns game on his dashboard, then returns an hour later to discover someone smashed the windshield and left two more. Last year, I begin to wonder if there were any divorce attorneys who specialize in separation between fans and teams. After all, the Browns are the only team in the NFL to have won five games or fewer for each of the last five seasons. In other words, no other NFL club has been as bad as them over that stretch. What's fun about that?
That's why I'm usually the first person to predict a 4-12 finish before the first ball is even snapped in preseason. Year after year, I'll hate everything about the roster, the coaching staff, the front office, the ... whatever. The end result is always me nodding maniacally as I predictably watch another train wreck of a season unfold week by week. It's been like watching the same awful movie over and over again on TV, only I can't change the channel.
As far as fantasy options? Please. Fuhgettaboutit. Teams that lose that often usually struggle to score points and therefore offer a scant few players worth starting on your fantasy roster, unless your league rewards ineptitude. I'll implore anyone I come across to keep any and all Browns far away from their roster.
This season, however, is a little different. I'm quietly optimistic for the first time in an eternity for one primary reason. The Browns went 5-11 or worse for five straight years, but in 2007, they went 10-6 and just barely missed out on the AFC wild card. And guess who was the offensive coordinator in Cleveland in '07?
Yep. Rod Chudzinski.
If you take a look at Chud's history, he just has a knack for making offenses tick. Check out these stats from when he coached the Browns offense in 2007:
- Jamal Lewis, near the tail end of his career, ran for 1,304 yards and nine TDs while catching 30 passes for 248 yards and a score.
Suffice to say, those were career years for some of those guys. I won't embarass them by posting how much their numbers regressed in future seasons.
So, why am I telling you all this? Mostly because I believe Brandon Weeden is an underrated fantasy option. Last year's gameplanning in Cleveland really did not put their players in position to achieve success. Instead of utilizing the individual talents of the offense by just letting them do what they did best, Pat Shurmur tried to hammer square pegs into round holes and force them to adapt to his system instead of the other way around. This year, I'm expecting to see Weeden drop back into the shotgun more and watch the Browns run an up-tempo offense. If Josh Gordon can keep his head straight after coming back from his two-game suspension, Weeden matching Anderson's 2007 numbers is very realistic. If someone offered you that kind of production from a QB who is going undrafted in a fair percentage of leagues, wouldn't you take it? Keep Weeden on your radar. When all is said and done, he's going to outperform some big-name quarterbacks who are drafted way ahead of him.
I really don't ask for a lot from anyone in life. But in exchange for the Weeden tip, I will ask for a shoulder to cry on when the Browns get within touching distance of the playoffs this season before suffering a late season-derailing and soul-crushing loss. Deal?
Help wanted in New England
Don't worry though, Brady still has a reliable set of tight ends who can make plays!
Except he doesn't anymore. At least, not for some time. Aaron Hernandez is no longer in the league, and Rob Gronkowski's return date is still in the dark as he continues recovery from multiple surgeries. And the Pats don't have the kind of running game on which the offense can lean if the passing game doesn't click.
This is the year I think we start seeing a real regression from Brady. He and the Patriots offense have worked their way out of personnel jams before, but producing another 4,000-yard, 30-plus-TD season with this much uncertainty would really border on the miraculous. Not to mention, and I seem to be the only one who ever mentions this ... Brady will celebrate his 36th birthday this weekend. Father Time's grip will begin to get tighter on Brady's collar.
» Patrick Willis is dealing with a hand fracture and is set to have an X-Ray on it today. Even though Willis' tackle totals have taken a dive for the last two eyars, he's still a central figure in Vic Fangio's defense. Willis' speed was a big reason the Niners had the fourth-best run defense in the league last season (94.2 ypg). Unfortunately for the Niners, CB Chris Culliver was carted off the practice field after suffering an injury to his left knee on Thursday. Not good. There are so many players picking up injuries this camp that I'm wondering what animals are left to "drop" after all the flies check out.
The more important question to ask yourself is whether they can, and I don't think Cutler is quick enough of a runner to do it effectively. I still do think, however, Marc Trestman's playcalling is going to make Matt Forte a much better fantasy option for 2013 in just about every conceivable league format. Zone read or not.