Nine games into the 2014 NFL season, the Cleveland Browns and first-year head coach Mike Pettine were 6-3. Unfortunately, they were still the Browns and faltered down the stretch. Cleveland finished the season at 7-9, once again out of playoff contention. The seven wins were the most since 2007 when the Browns went 10-6. Pettine continues to build the franchise and will have to work his magic in 2015 if Cleveland is to finish anywhere but the cellar of the AFC North. That being said, sportsbooks aren't giving Browns fans much hope listing the squad as 100/1 longshots in NFL odds to win the Super Bowl, 40/1 underdogs to win the AFC Conference and +900 in AFC North predictions.
Quarterback Brian Hoyer started 13 games and threw for 3,326 yards. He is now a Houston Texan. The Johnny Manziel circus lasted much of his entire rookie season culminating with two miserable starts late in the season. The former Heisman Trophy winner will try to remain out of the spotlight in year two. The Cleveland Browns signed Josh McCown to come in and start at quarterback and take some of the pressure off of Manziel. McCown had a rough go last year in Tampa Bay, but Pettine is hoping that the 12-year NFL veteran looks more like the QB that filled in admirably for Jay Cutler in Chicago in 2013.
In addition to Hoyer, the Browns lost a pretty productive tight end in Jordan Cameron, nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin, and CB Buster Skrine. The losses are nothing that Pettine and company cannot overcome. The Browns acquired a formidable pair of wide receivers in the free agent market in former Chief Dwaine Bowe and former Dolphin Brian Hartline. Those two, along with last year’s leading receiver Andrew Hawkins, give McCown a solid cast of targets. Pettine, a former defensive coordinator in the league, is slowly developing a team built around its defense. He’s got bonafide talent in outside linebackers Paul Kruger (11 sacks) and Barkevious Mingo.
If last year’s first-round draft pick Justin Gilbert lives up to his potential, the Browns would have one of the better pairs of cornerbacks in the league. Two-time Pro Bowler Joe Haden is the other. Cleveland drafted Danny Shelton to replace Rubin at nose tackle. Shelton’s addition should help the Browns defend the run. The team finished dead last in the league for rushing defense last season. If Pettine’s defense can get better at defending the run, Cleveland may have a shot at defying the NFL odds and getting out of the 2015 AFC North basement. While they will undoubtedly be better than they were in 2014, it is still a little early to consider the Browns a playoff contender.
Browns Update (9/8/15): Cleveland are now +10000 favorites in Super Bowl predictions, +5000 to win the AFC Conference and +1200 to win the AFC North.