NFL Preview- Cleveland Browns
Moving on in our NFL Preview, we reach the Northeastern part of Ohio and the Cleveland Browns. For a second year in a row, the Browns have a new coaching staff. They also have one of the biggest storylines heading into the season. Is Johnny Manziel the answer in Cleveland, or will Brian Hoyer prove that his three wins before tearing his ACL a year ago was all the proof the he is the quarterback of the future. Will the Browns be able to contend for either the division or a playoff spot this year or anytime soon?
The major question in Cleveland is who is going to be the starting QB? Will it be the veteran Brian Hoyer who was 3-0 as the starter last year before tearing his ACL? Or will the charismatic rookie Johnny Manziel take the reins? The offense was humming last year during the three games Hoyer was the starter, but his health is a question that remains. In Manziel, Browns' fans hope to have found the QB that will take them to the promised land. Will the front office and coaching staff rush to name Manziel the starter to please the fans, who are buying up Manziel jerseys by the boatload. The Browns have a better shot to make a playoff run with Hoyer under center. Manziel may be the future, but the Browns could wait on that future to start later.
The Browns signed Ben Tate in free agency to be their starting running back, but their isn't any proven depth behind him. At wide receiver, they added veterans Nate Burleson and Miles Austin to add depth and possibly lead the air attack. They may need to lead if Josh Gordon is suspended for a year-- as most expect to be the case-- after his second positive test for drugs. The defense has been among the better defenses in the NFL, and will be so again this year.
Let's break down their 2014 season with each both Hoyer and Manziel as the starter:
Week 1- Cleveland travels to Pittsburgh to open the season. With Hoyer under center, the Browns take care of business over an aging Steelers defense. With Manziel, rookie mistakes help the Steelers to a tough win. With Hoyer, 1-0. Manziel, 0-1.
Week 2- The Browns host the dangerous New Orleans Saints for their home opener. They lose either way, but almost pull the upset with Hoyer in command. Not so much with Manziel facing the rush of the Rob Ryan-led Saints defense. Hoyer, 1-1. Manziel, 0-2.
Week 3- They now face the Ravens at home. A tough close match with Hoyer but not a winner. The Ravens defense capitalizes on Manziel mistakes and gets an easy win. Hoyer, 1-2. Manziel 0-3.
Week 4- An early bye week to give the coaching staff a chance to decide if they should change the QB.
Week 5- Cleveland heads to Nashville to take on the Titans. The Browns take care of business with Hoyer as the man. They stay close, but struggle with Manziel. Hoyer, 2-2. Manziel, 0-4.
Week 6- With Hoyer the Browns earn the sweep of the Steelers. Fewer mistakes as he begins to show growth, and the Browns split with the Steelers with Manziel under center. Hoyer, 3-2. Manziel, 1-4.
Week 7- Cleveland wins either QB at Jacksonville. Big blowout with Hoyer. Manziel makes a few more explosive plays than Jaguars' rookie QB Blake Bortles. Hoyer, 4-2. Manziel, 2-4.
Week 8- The Browns next host the Oakland Raiders. The somewhat steady hand of Matt Schaub at QB and running duo of Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden give the Raiders a tough win. Hoyer, 4-3. Manziel, 2-5.
Week 9- The Browns get to their halfway point at home against the up-and-coming Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A very close, back-and-forth game that could either way. Hoyer, 5-3. Manziel, 2-6.
Week 10- Cleveland goes to Cincinnati next and the tough Bengals defense. The Bengals are heading a fourth-straight playoff berth; the Browns are trying to get to that point. Hoyer, 5-4. Manziel, 2-7.
Week 11- The Browns head back home for the Texans, who have growing pains of their own. Hoyer, 6-4. Manziel, 3-7.
Week 12- They travel to Atlanta and the potentially dangerous Falcons attack of Matt Ryan to Julio Jones/Roddy White (depending on the health of all). Hoyer, 7-4. Manziel, 3-8.
Week 13- They head to Buffalo and their last fairly easy opponent on the schedule. Hoyer, 8-4. Manziel, 4-8.
Week 14- Home against the Colts and a very tough Andrew Luck-led attack. Hoyer, 8-5. Manziel, 4-9.
Week 15- Home against the Bengals will see the Browns get swept in the series no matter who is under center, but the game will closely contested. Hoyer, 8-6. Manziel, 4-10.
Week 16- The Browns close out their last two games on the road. First up is the Carolina Panthers and a killer defense. Hoyer, 8-7. Manziel, 4-11.
Week 17- The Browns close out against the Ravens. The Ravens are fighting for a playoff spot, the Browns at this point are eliminated from contention with Hoyer and looking for a top draft spot with Manziel. Hoyer, 8-8. Manziel, 4-12.
The Browns can go anywhere from potentially reaching 9-7 with Hoyer under center to losing 12 or 13 games with the growing pains of the rookie Manziel under center. The coaches and front office have to decide if they want to fight for a playoff spot now or build for the future and sacrifice the present.