Today the 2014 season kicks off for the Cleveland Browns when they travel to Pittsburgh to play their AFC North rival Steelers. Any Browns fans out there feeling good about this one? No, me neither. But let’s dig in a little anyway.
The Browns kick off their season with – stop me if you’ve heard this one before – a new head coach, new offensive and defensive philosophies, and a new opening day starting quarterback. I won’t waste your time recounting how many times in the past this has happened. Browns fans are already aware of this. Let’s move forward.
The first three weeks of the NFL can be weird. Why? Well, because the preseason sucks.
The preseason is only a chance for some guys to prove they should be on an NFL roster, as well as an opportunity to run some basic plays, so players can get used to playing at full speed. But teams don’t run anything beyond basic plays because they don’t want to tip their hands on what they intend to do during the regular season. They don’t run complicated plays because they don’t want opponents to have video of how a play sets up and breaks down.
So once the season begins, teams start executing these plays for the first time against an opponent. It takes a few weeks to get the kinks worked out of the plays and for opponents to get a look at those plays in order to identify them.
So for about the first three weeks of every season, you will see some crazy upsets and blowouts.
So what about today’s game for your beloved Browns? They are currently a touchdown underdog. Can they pull off an upset? In Pittsburgh?
The Steelers are an average team, at best. While they have one of the game’s best at QB (yes that hurt to type) in Ben Roethlisberger, the rest of the team has question marks. Could they make the playoffs? Hey, I put nothing past this organization. They should have been terrible last year, and indeed for the first half of the season, they were. But in the final week, they were still eligible for the playoffs. Maybe that says something about the AFC as well as the Steelers, but facts are facts.
While I hate this team, I love this organization. They don’t come out with a 5-year rebuilding plan, a la Mike Holmgren. They give it their best shot every season. And they will this season, too. But they probably won’t finish better than 8-8; probably 7-9.
But if the Browns finished 7-9, I’d run outside and make snow angels in the front yard wearing nothing but my underwear.
The Steelers may be no better than average, but the Browns aren’t even that. Not even if everything goes right. Sorry, fans. I want them to be, I really want them to be. I hate the losing as much as anyone. Not only the losing, but the constant 3-and-outs and the field goals. When the Browns line up for a field goal, I want to run into oncoming traffic.
So I expect the Steelers to win and I expect them to cover.
If I ask myself, “Who’s most likely to be prepared for a season opener? Pittsburgh or Cleveland?” I have to go Pittsburgh. Based on history, and based on the fact that their coach and system has been in place for years. Less trial and error.
There’s only two ways I see the Browns winning this game:
1) if they have some gadget plays that payoff, plays no one has had a chance to see. (Think of the Minnesota Vikings game last year, Hoyer’s first as the starter.) A fake field goal, an end around, the Statue of Liberty, whatever.
2) If Roethlisberger gets hurt.
I won’t disclose which one I am hoping for.
No, I don’t think Johnny Manziel will have any impact on this game. Yes, I think you’ll see him at least once just to put it in opponent’s heads that they have to prepare for one more thing.
I guess it’s only right to predict a final score. I’ll say Steelers 20, Browns 6.
But, my fellow Browns fans, I hope I’m wrong.
I’ll be tweeting throughout the game. My Twitter handle is @rjprimo. Let’s go Browns.