AFCN status report. //Browns+projections

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As we rejoin Zara, he is still surfing rainbows.

Here is part two of the the AFC North breakdown from Zarathustra.  Part one is here.  We join the author we were left him:  housed in a saline-infused sensory deprivation chamber and in a remarkably cogent REM state.


She (Melisandre) vanished as did her environment in its entirety.  I was once again staring into total whiteness.  Then a silhouette appeared.  As it drew closer I recognized the gait of a man but with bird-like features.

“Thoth!  You have returned! I’m so happy to see you again.”

The silhouette drew closer still and I realized that it was not Thoth after all.  “No. Not Thoth.”  It was Big Bird from TV’s Sesame Street.  “I’ve spoken to Thoth though, and I’m am deeply troubled by your apparently bigoted view of the world.  Look at me.  I’m yellow.  I don’t have the body of man.  I look nothing like Thoth.  But you just see me as another bird.  I should be offended, but actually I just pity you.”

“No, no, no. . .. I know you look nothing like Thoth.  It was just that before you came into clear view–“

“Whatever,” Big Bird interrupted, “I really don’t have time to get into a whole thing with you.  That’s not what I’m here for.”

“What are you here for?  The Browns I hope.”

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Who knew Snuffy was a Browns fan?

“No.  I am here only to introduce you to my friend.  Where are you Snuffy?”

Big Bird’s imaginary friend Snuffaluffagus sauntered into view.  “Hello Zara,” he greeted me with his slow almost melancholy drawl, “Big Bird tells me that you want to know about the Browns.”

“I do indeed Snuffy.  I do indeed.  The Browns of Cleveland though.  The new Browns.  Not the team that fled to Baltimore.”

“But of course.  I’m actually a huge fan.  There is nothing better that rooting for a winning team and it seems like the Browns never lose.”

“Oh boy.”  I took a deep breath.  “I don’t think we are talking about the same team Snuffy.”

“Yes he is Zara,” Big Bird interjected.  “You see, Snuffaluffagus is my imaginary friend and he dwells in the Land of Imagination.  He is a huge Browns fan and in the Land of Imagination the Browns are the most celebrated franchise in all of sport.”

“That is very nice Big Bird, but I’m afraid it does me no good.  I need to know of the Browns in my realm.”

“I know.  I know.” Big Bird smiled with enthusiasm. “That is why Snuffy here.  You see the coordinates of the Land of Imagination are aligning with your realm.  Snuffy’s Browns will soon be your Browns as well.  But I will let him tell you about it.”

“Come on Zara, hop on.” Snuffy invited me to hop on his back.  I needed some assistance from Big Bird to mount the brown muppet pachyderm hybrid.  Snuffy and I rode off into the whiteness, leaving Big Bird behind, until we encountered a rainbow.

“Have you ever ridden a rainbow Zara?”

“Why no Snuffy.  I don’t believe I have.”

“You are going to love it.”

Weeeee!  We slid down the rainbow into a sea of gumdrops.  Take that Coach Cowher!

“Ok Zara, now that we have entered this world of magic let me tell you about how magnets work.”

“Huh?  Um Snuffy. . . .you were going to tell me about the Browns.”

“I know,” Snuffy chuckled, “who the hell cares about magnets?  Let me tell you about the Browns.”


Re-signed: CB Joe Haden, C Alex Mack.
Veteran additions: WR Nate Burleson, LB Karlos Dansby, TE Jim Dray, WR Andrew Hawkins, G Paul McQuistan, RB Ben Tate, DB Isaiah Trufant, SS Donte Whitner.
Veteran subtractions: WR Davone Bess, QB Jason Campbell, G Oniel Cousins, DE Paul Hazel, LB D’Qwell Jackson, G Shawn Lauvao, WR Greg Little, RB Willis McGahee, WR Brian Tyms, SS T.J. Ward, QB Brandon Weeden, RB Fozzy Whittaker & LB Quentin Groves & S Jamoris Slaughter.
Draft picks: 1a-Justin Gilbert (CB), 1b-Johnny Manziel (QB), 2-Joel Bitonio (OT), 3a-Chris Kirksey (OLB), 3b-Terrance West (RB), 4-Pierre Desir (CB).

Grade B+

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Blunt force hoodie.

There really isn’t much to say here that wasn’t said better before by our host and the many astute commenters over the past few months.  Chud seemed to be a nice guy and a decent coach and it may have been unjust that he was let go, but my confidence in Mike Pettine dwarfs any positive feelings I had toward Chud.  Jim O’Neill will assist in running Pettine’s defense and while there may be some similarities to last year’s 3-4 with multiple fronts to this year’s 3-4 with multiple fronts I believe they are in better hands this year.  I’m a fan of Norv (and Chud) as offensive minds and much of the failures on the offensive side of the ball were due to a shall we say less than ideal qb situation and Edwin Baker being the best of a litany of substandard running backs, so to say Kyle Shanahan is an upgrade might not be fair; but he is probably one the league’s best young offensive minds so it isn’t a downgrade either.

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Hawkins: emerging first option?

At the outset of free agency Julian Edelman was one of my top targets.  Not only do I believe he has the makings of a premier slot receiver, but he also has developmental history with Hoyer and relatively reasonable contract demands.  Perhaps this would have gone differently if the Browns shared my commitment to Hoyer as the starting qb this year.  Nevertheless, Hawkins was a nice signing.  I don’t think that he will ever be the successful “slot” receiver that can be such a tremendous asset in moving the chains, but he should be a valuable weapon that can be used creatively if he stays healthy.  I don’t put much stock in OTA performance, but he has supposedly impressed so far so there’s that.  Mack is back and if McQuistan doesn’t start he at least provides much needed depth on the line.  Tate has something to prove –and an incentive-laden contact– so should be a monumental upgrade at running back.  The Gordon suspension could reasonably be considered as a subtraction –the team knew about it before the draft (and it almost should have been expected anyway).  Of the trio of Austin, Burleson, and Bennett maybe one of them ends up as a decent option.  Let’s be honest though, even that pretty humble expectation may be unrealistic.  Burleson is older and has a broken arm; Bennett at his best has never been more than solid and that is unlikely to change at this point; Austin isn’t that old and has been quite successful in the past but the injuries are adding up at this point.

I was against re-signing Ward as he was an oft-injured borderline bust up to his 2013 contract year.  Prior to free agency I preferred targeting Whitner –though that was partially based on an expectation that he would come cheaper which turned out not to be the case.  Nevertheless, I still prefer Whitner’s leadership and ability to be (slightly) better in coverage.  Dansby might be somewhat long in the tooth, but thank God DQ is gone.  He seemed like a nice guy and never had much surrounding talent, but he has to be one of the most overrated Browns of the expansion era.

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A neck beard that Phil Taylor could love.

Regarding the draft, how could you not love adding the Buffalo 2015 first to move back five spots?  That was tremendous value.  I wouldn’t have been that upset if they had reached and taken Gilbert at four had they kept the pick.  We will come back to JFF in a moment.  Prior to the draft mgbode made a very compelling case for Bitonio.  A versatile lineman with a nasty streak, who dominated a top ten pick in Barr, and grew up training in MMA –hence, nice footwork.  Sounds like a second round steal.  Kirskey might have been a reach, but he is athletic, versatile, and supposedly a very hard worker.  No complaints here.  Terrance West has nice size, nifty feet, and appears well-suited for the one-cut runs that are the foundation of the Shanahan offense.  If nothing else he provides much needed depth at tailback.  Forget about today’s pass-happy league, you could have made an excellent argument 40 years ago that a defense should be on a foundation of cornerbacks.  In fact, Al Davis made this argument. Mike Pettine’s defensive philosophy is based on it, so hell yes you take a big development corner like Pierre Desir in the fourth, especially if some assessed him with a second round grade.

I was quite frustrated with the media and fan reception to the Ray Farmer hire.  The default response was jubilation and it was based on nothing other than his being a personable guy and a snazzy dresser.  There was simply no way to ascertain his personnel record absent a lot of assumptions and maybe a deck of tarot cards if one was skilled in such practice.  This was in stark contrast to the arrival of his predecessor which was met with at best agitation.  Rather than bounce between these two polarities I wish that the default opinion in these matters were more neutral, not completely devoid of opinion mind you, just a little more patience in rendering stark judgements.  I approached his tenure with what I believe to have been a healthy skepticism — admittedly based in part in reaction to the aforementioned celebration.  This offseason has left me quite impressed and I am now firmly a believer.  The above free-agent acquisitions, trades, and draft picks merit him an A+++ in my book.

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Hey! Lowell Spinners!  Been there!

That is however not whole of the offseason.  Too much was made of them neglecting the receiver position given their knowledge of the forthcoming Gordon suspension.  I am of the opinion that it is not necessary to attempt to plug every roster hole in the draft as it is a fool’s errand.  Every team has holes.  The draft should be about obtaining good/great players.  That appears to be a plenty difficult endeavor in and of itself.  Introducing further complexity by attempting to also meet the needs of your roster would seem to pretty dramatically increase the probability of picking the wrong player.  Moreover, you have a quarterback in Hoyer who appears to be pretty damn good pre-snap and has proven excellent with his ball placement.  These qualities can help turn average receivers into valuable offensive weapons.  But with all of that said, even if  Hoyer were the quarterback they should have done something else at receiver.  Hawkins and Benjamin could be fun; and maybe Miles Austin becomes the Miles Austin of a few years ago, but it looks like far too much pressure is being placed on Jordan Cameron, who only last year developed into a viable weapon.  There is no real reason to think that last season was a fluke.  It’s just less than ideal for your entire passing offense to be reliant on a tight end with only one season of proven success.

And of course Hoyer may not be the quarterback.  If you look at the JFF pick in vacuum it is hard to criticize.  A dynamic college quarterback that some projected to go far earlier was available at 22 and the team only gave up an extra third rounder to get him.  The only risk in such a scenario is that you maybe wasted an extra first and extra third round pick.  You don’t won’t to miss on such picks, but if you hit on your other picks it ends up not being that big of a loss.  And this would be true if they had taken say Teddy Bridgewater or any other qb with the pick.  Personally, I prefer Teddy to JFF, but understand he is far from a sure thing.  If Teddy can’t beat out Hoyer nobody much cares and after a few years he is gone with little fanfare, no different than with Brandon Weeden and to a lesser degree Brady Quinn — there was of course a segment of fans and some media who were pretty, pretty infatuated with Brady though.

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Oblig.

JFF is an entirely different animal.  He possesses the potential to completely undermine the direction of the franchise.  I will preface this by saying I am not one that has any problem at all with how he spends his time or if he is unapologetic in doing so.  Good for him I say.  Soak it all in.  But his presence not only creates a local media circus, but a national one.  Such phenomena do not go away and it is arguable whether or not they are even manageable.  I for one say that they aren’t.  This doesn’t matter so much if he is able to clearly beat out Hoyer in training camp.  If he doesn’t though you have a quarterback controversy, which is fantastic for business not only if you are a local sports talk show host, but also — as we have seen quite clearly so far — if you have a national sports media empire.  Will all of this relent if Hoyer clearly beats out Manziel in training camp?  Of course not.  An important thing to remember that I think sometimes we as fans forget is that players are fans too.  They consume sports media as much as, and likely more than, most fans.  Do you think said players are disinterested neutral observers?  Or do they have opinions like any other fan?  What happens when players start picking sides?  Does that impact the locker room dynamic?  Josh Gordon was lobbying for JFF to start before the team even drafted him.  Would he remain silent if he were on the team?  Hell, he couldn’t resist getting involved in the Irving/Waiters controversy with the Cavs.  It is hard to develop a winning, team oriented culture if you strangle it in its infancy with a quarterback controversy.

But maybe JFF does clearly win the job.  What happens if he struggles?  Contrary to what many would tell you, it has happened — see LSU or Mizzou.  I have no doubt that initially he would say all the right things and repeat all of the boring rehearsed cliches they all say in such situations –work harder, stay confident, blahblahblah.  Let us not forget that JFF is not only good FOR business if you are ESPN or the Plain Dealer or WKRN or whatever, but that he is a business himself.  A brand.  A great brand.  If his star fizzles he loses serious money.  How long before there are leaks that the team’s struggles aren’t his fault?  That only if they had some receivers … or if the coaches wouldn’t be so conservative.

There is no denying Manziel has a magical quality and if it translates to Sundays this will have proven to be a good pick.  But maybe some of those blind throws get picked off without Mike Evans there to grab them… Maybe he gets caught more often then not when he is dancing around ten yards behind the line of scrimmage….

Hopefully it all works out, but if it doesn’t it will end up costing them a helluva lot more than the 22nd pick in the draft.


When Snuffaluffagus finished his assessment of the Browns he looked off into the distance with a touch of despair.  “It’s okay Snuffy.  I’m sure Johnny will be just fine.”

“No. It’s not that.  …  It is that it is time for you to leave.”

“What?  I love it here.  I never want to go back.  I want to stay here and surf rainbows with you.  I don’t want to return to all of that stress, all of that responsibility.  It’s such a drag.  Those things bring me down man.”

“I know.  But you must return.  In fact, the very reason you must return is the responsibility and the stress and very much because it does bring you down.”

“Whatchu talkin bout Snuffy?”

“Listen Zara,” Snuffy drawled, “this place seems great –and it is– but it suffers so much in comparison to your physical plane of existence.  There are countless beings here and in other realms who are desperate to enter your realm, to be human.  Even those omnipotent beings from earlier.  They too long to experience a physical body on earth, to dance and to love and to make love, even to suffer and experience the heartache of a love lost.  To be human is magical in and of itself.  There are millions everyday that leave your realm so very desperate to stay.  Yet you take it all for granted.  You get so lost in the magic that you forget it is even magic, that it is all a grand illusion.  That you are not even you or at least who you think you are.”

“So… this is getting kind of heavy Snuffy.”

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When you reach the top of the Penrose stairs, all will be revealed.

“Well who are you Zarathustra?  What are you?  Forgetting the controversial aspect of what you call a soul, what are you?  Are you your body?  Your five senses?  Are you your instincts?  Your intuition?  Are you your memories?  Are you the narrative you’ve constructed to connect those memories?  Are you what other people project back to you about who they think you are?  Are you your thoughts?  Hmmm.  Yes.  Your thoughts.  The illusion.  They have deluded you into believing they are the entirety of who you are when they are merely one part of this very rich human experience.  When you return try to observe your thoughts then you will begin to recognize them for what they are.  Rather than think, try to listen to your thoughts occasionally.  If you practice this enough I promise the stress and the responsibilities won’t be such a drag.  You will recognize them as they are.  Don’t resist them, experience them and remember it is all part of the magic of being human in that single moment and that moment alone.  There is no place else to be and no other way things are supposed to be.”

“Wasn’t this supposed to about football?”

“Farewell Zarathustra.  It is time to leave.  Go and love your family and never take a moment for granted.  You will of course, but don’t beat yourself up over it.”

“No Snuffy, don’t go!  I will miss you!  And I will miss Big Bird and the ancient Egyptian deity Thoth and the red woman and even that demon Bill Cowher.”

“Don’t worry Zara.  We will always be with you.  All of us.  We will always be together.”

And with those words everything vanished and I was again alone floating in the darkness.  Snuffaluffagus’ words began to resonate.  It was time to exit the floatation tank and return to my family.  When I opened the door and emerged from the tank I was disoriented by the assault on my senses.  As I gathered my bearings it began to dawn on me just how long I had been gone.  I realized it had been days for sure.  I washed off slimy salt water and wandered the house.  It was empty.  Not just of toddlers and babies, but my wife and my dog too.  And what the hell happened to all of the furniture?  It was gone as well.  We must have been robbed.  I headed to the kitchen.  I was starving.  I hoped that the miscreants who had robbed me of all of my belongings and possibly kidnapped my family didn’t pooh bear the fridge too.

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Just once Fox Sports — give me Mike Judge on one mic and Billy West on the other.

There was a note stuck to the refrigerator door.  I pulled it off, the magnet falling to the floor.  Shit, was this a ransom?  Thankfully it wasn’t a ransom note.  It was from my wife.  Apparently she was  tired of my nonsense and took the kids and planned to divorce me.  My immediate reaction was relief.  I would be able to enjoy this upcoming football season after all, without any distraction.  But then Snuffy’s words echoed in my mind.  Had I taken them for granted?  Was there anything in this life I didn’t take for granted?  Oh my god.  What have I done?

I was startled by a knocking on the front door. I answered and there was a skinny fella in an ill-fitting brown suit with a big beak nose and a dated feathered coiffe.

“What can I help you with?” I queried.

He was puzzled.  “How can you help me? How can I help you?”

“Huh?”

He handed me a large manilla envelope.  “You forgot this.”

“Forgot what?  What is this?”

He did not answer and stood there in silence for a beat and then suddenly raced away at a full sprint.


How queer, I thought. I opened the envelope.  It was a projected ranking of the teams of the AFC North.  It read:

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AFCN second toughest division? Yah. Could be.

The NFC West is without a doubt the best division in football.  I believe that this year the AFC North will prove to be the second best division.  I can see any of these teams winning the division and any of them finishing last.  Part of this is just the nature of a league where most of the divisions are up for grabs.  Nevertheless I think this one will be the class of the conference and potentially three teams make the playoffs.  Every team should have a good to very good defense and all should have very strong running games.  The Steelers and Ravens have very good quarterbacks and say what you will about Andy Dalton but he is perfectly average and has started a playoff game in each of his first three years in the league.  The jury is still be out on the candidates for the Browns starting qb job.  Either of the Browns quarterbacks should be at least as effective as Dalton.  Tomlin and Harbaugh are proven winners with Superbowl rings.  They have been with their respective teams for years now and a down year means 8-8.  Marvin Lewis may not be considered in the top tier of coaches but he has led his team to the playoffs –with Andy Dalton as quarterback– for three straight years.  This is no small accomplishment in a league whose rules are designed to try to prevent such things from happening.  There is much to like about Mike Pettine and he shows much promise, but he is still unproven at this point.

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I really need more time to believe in this guy.

All these teams play the AFC and NFC South divisions.  The AFC South looks to be pretty clearly the worst in football and in the NFC South last year’s champs look poised to tumble back to earth; the Saints should be plenty good but are no longer the juggernaut they once were; the Falcons still have plenty of issues and may not be able to bounce back to their old form; the Bucs may take a leap but their quarterback is still Josh McCown –sans Trestman– or Mike Glennon.  There are potentially a lot wins in those divisions for the teams in the North from those two divisions.  The Saints are probably the only legitimate Superbowl contender form the whole.  (One thing to keep in mind that I discovered in researching this:  three of the four North teams will be playing with rest when they face the Saints — the Bengals off their bye in New Orleans; the following week they host the Ravens coming off of their bye; the next week?  They travel to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers off of their bye; only the Browns play them with a normal week’s rest.)

1.  Baltimore Ravens 11-5

Rebuilding their roster amidst a Superbowl hangover last year, the Ravens still managed to finish 8-8 and controlled their own destiny as late as week 16.  They were 3-5 coming off the loss in Cleveland on November 3rd and responded by winning five of six — the lone loss was 23-20 in overtime at Chicago.  They controlled their own destiny by week 16 and then melted down, but it was to two playoff teams — Patriots (a revenge game from the previous conference championship) and at the Bengals.

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Jimmy Smith on the up.

The defense was solid, and while they lost some decent players they should be better this year.  Jimmy Smith is finally emerging as a quality corner and Ladarius Webb will be a full year removed from injury.  Matt Elam is no longer a rookie and will be allowed to play his more natural position as a strong safety.  As stated above, there may be too much pressure on Terrence Brooks to deliver at free safety. Up front they have built depth.  Dumervil will lead the pass rush and if Terrell Suggs can stay healthy he should at least be decent creating pressure.

On offense, Ray has a lot of miles, but is still young.  Maybe he has fallen off the same cliff that many running backs before him have and he will just never be the same guy.  It is possible though that the line was just as responsible for the anemic running game as Bernard Pierce was decent as rookie the year before and was godawful last year as well. Zuttah should help and maybe Kubiak and his zone blocking scheme rejuvenates the rushing attack.  My guess is that it does.  I consider myself a Flacco fan, but he was asked to do way too much last year.  The additions of Smith and Daniels to go along with Torrey Smith, Dennis Pitta and possibly a resurgent running game should allow the defense to capitalize by staying fresh on the sidelines while the offense moves the chains.

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The latest Miami cradle inductee, John Harbaugh.

John Harbaugh is 62-34 spanning his six season career.  Last year at 8-8 was his worst and the only year they failed to make the playoffs.  The previous years they managed at least one playoff win each year, appearing in the conference championship in three of the five years, and, of course, winning it all once.  Would you really want to wager that that this guy, with an improved team, is going to be sitting at home in January for a second year in row?

2.  Steelers 10-6

Last season the Steelers started out a quite shitty 2-6.  They were long overdue for a clunker of a year with their aging roster.  It even looked like maybe Browns were passing them by.  They of course proceeded to win  six of eight — the losses were 22-20 at Baltimore Thanksgiving night (best game of the year?) and 34-28 to the visiting Dolphins where they celebrated Antonio Brown’s game-tying touchdown with no time left only to see it (correctly) called back.

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In addition to DeCastro and Pouncey, Mike Adams might be ready to break out.

This year’s team is better than that team that finished so strong last year. On offense, Pouncey is back and the improving DeCastro next to him. I like Le’veon Bell a lot and Blount will make a terrific running back, with new-age h-back hopefully all over the place. I think they will have an absolutely devastating running game.

Big Ben isn’t in the elite conversation anymore — and likely won’t be returning to said conversation this year considering the receivers he has to work with — but he is still plenty good enough and should excel in the no-huddle they will apparently be operating out of more often this year.

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Big year for Jarvis Jones coming up.

The front seven has gotten younger the past few years.  They will need Jarvis Jones, Shazier, and Tuitt to live up to expectations, which may be asking a lot.  The secondary doesn’t look so great on paper with diminishing players like Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu still needing to play roles.  Even still, last year they finished 9th in opponent passing yards.  That is hardly an advanced stat, but it’s something.  Looking back at it throughout the years, how often have the Steelers corners left something to be desired on paper, but still managed to be good enough when it mattered?

I am a Tomlin fan.  Over the past couple years though I’ve lost some confidence in his ability on game day.  Game days are not what makes Tomlin so good though.  It is during the week.  As a Browns fan I have seen plenty of shitty starts like the Steelers last year, but I’ve yet to see them respond like the Steelers did.  Why?  Talent?  No.  They have/had plenty of holes.  The difference is the locker room.  The culture.  That starts with the coach.

3.  Browns 8-8

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How will Cameron fare when he becomes ‘that guy you won’t let beat you?’

We won’t rehash last year as everyone is quite familiar with how everything played out.  It is not that relevant anyway as there is another new coaching staff.  The off season was already covered.  This is a promising young team that has added some key veterans and looks to finally have the right coach.  I expect them to competitive every week and to be in playoff contention well in to December.  But, as mentioned above, the JFF media circus could undermine everything.  And even if not, the passing game will need more than Jordan Cameron as it is very possible the veteran receivers they have brought the past few weeks will not pan out.

Moreover, if we look at the schedule we see a tough opener at Pittsburgh, followed by a home game vs a tough Saints team — although it should be said, one that struggles outdoors and on the road — then Baltimore at home and a week four bye.  Could they enter October 0-3?  I’m not saying they will, but it is a definitely a possibility.  If they did, that would mean needing to go 8-5 the rest of the way to avoid another losing season.  Plus, how much does it suck to have your bye in week four?  I’m sure everyone will be happy for the rest, but wouldn’t it be much more valuable later in the season when everyone is banged up?  If they were to start 0-3 maybe it could provide a very valuable opportunity to press reset on the season.

I think Browns fans will feel really good about this team all year and will be super-excited going into 2015, but I also think it may take a year to put it all together.

4.  Bengals 6-10

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There is an …

The Bengals were 11-5 last year.  Let’s take a look at those five losses. At Chicago–24-21; at Cleveland 17-6; at Miami 22-20 OT; at Baltimore 20-17 OT; and at Pittsburgh 30-20.  Andy Dalton is not a championship quarterback and is bad against good teams, but even considering that they were right there in every game.  He is certainly not the primary reason for the team’s success the last three years, but how much of a detriment has he really been if they were still able to make the playoffs every year?

The defense has obviously led the way.  They were 4th in opponent yards per play; 3rd in opponent third down conversion percentage; 1st in opponent first downs per play; 5th in opponent points per game; and 4th in opponent yards per game.

And as mentioned previously, the offense being second in the league in time of possession should definitely share some of the credit for the defense’s performance.  Mike Zimmer is gone, but will he really be missed that much?  After all, Marvin Lewis is a defensive coach and Guenther has been with the team so there is continuity.  And even if there is a little drop off in the absence of Zimmer the defense should still be plenty good enough.

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… of hilarious …

They do have a first place schedule, meaning the will have New England again this year only in New England — and there won’t likely be a damn monsoon if Brady takes the field in the final minute attempting a comeback; and will host the Broncos. In 2011 and 2012 the Bengals finished their home schedule even at 4-4 both years. In 2013 they were undefeated. In 2014 they are likely to regress.

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… Andy Dalton animated gifs.

The real problem for the Bengals this year I think will be belief.  The last few years they were an ascending team and last year they certainly considered themselves Superbowl caliber, but after a third straight first round exit they know just how far away they are.  Every year, every team faces adversity and the best teams overcome it with talent certainly, but also with confidence and a belief, the type of belief in your team and its destiny that can carry you through close games.  Once that goes, it is gone–see last year’s Houston Texans.  Yes, the Texans had some bad breaks, but they were never the same after donning those letterman jackets up to New England for that playoff game.  They had been a team on the rise and that was going to be the game where they were going take the next step.  And they got pasted.  The following year they earned the first pick in the draft.  The Bengals are this year’s Texans.  It will not be a just small step backwards, but likely a cataclysmic tumble. I am being quite generous in placing them at 6-10.


That was interesting and all, but I now felt like I had a better perspective of my place in this world and it just didn’t seem as important.  Not compared to the fact that I had lost my family and was  now all alone.  For the first time in my life I felt despair.  Then I noticed that on the backside of the final page was a post-it note that read, “Remember Zara, you’ll never be alone.  We’ll always be together.”

That’s right.  I had forgotten.  Snuffy said we would always be together.  All of us.

At that moment the red woman appeared with a beaming smile.  She sang:

We go together
Like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong
Remembered forever
As shoo-bop sha wadda wadda yippity boom de boom
Chang chang changitty chang sha-bop
That’s the way it should be
Wah-oooh, yeah!

we_go_togetherThen demon Bill Cowher appeared.  He too with a big slobbering smile and singing:

We’re one of a kind
Like dip da-dip da-dip doo-wop da doo-bee doo
Our names are signed
Boogedy boogedy boogedy boogedy
Shooby doo-wop she-bop
Chang chang changitty chang sha-bop
We’ll always be like one, wa-wa-wa-waaah

He and the red woman joined arms in a choreographed dance.  Then Big Bird and Snuffy and Thoth appeared and joined the dance.  Then Bill Cowher broke off from the dance and sang again.

Rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong
Shoo-bop sha wadda wadda yippity boom de boom
Chang chang changitty chang sha-bop
Dip da-dip da-dip doo-wop da doo-bee doo
Boogedy boogedy boogedy boogedy
Shoo-be doo-wop she-bop
Sha-na-na-na-na-na-na-na yippity dip de doo

By this point the whole arrangement had migrated outside to my driveway. They piled into a shiny red 1948 Ford convertible, singing in unison:

We’re for each other
Like a wop ba-ba lu-bop and wop bam boom
Just like my brother is
Sha-na-na-na-na-na-na-na yippity dip de doom
Chang chang chanitty chang sha-bop
We’ll always be together
Wha oooh, yeah!
We’ll always be together
We’ll always be together
We’ll always be together

The car pulled away and actually lifted off the ground and started to fly away. All my friends looked back me and waved as the car flew off into the distance.  We’ll always be together.


.

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  • Mad_Elf

    I’d just like to toss in that this article (which is in no way, shape or form too long) was the perfect cherry on top of what has been one sweet lil’ series. Hats off to all involved. It’s this kind of stuff that keeps real sports journalism alive and well and worth coming back for. Well done, lads!

    Also, suck it.

  • Pingback: No signs point to Manziel starting week one. - Kanick()

  • i didnt get to dig into to the meat of this great piece (and feel badly for having stepped on it with the World Cup post.. but hey, World Cup). So here’s some comments.

    1. >>>confidence in Mike Pettine dwarfs any positive feelings I had toward Chud.>>>
    Agreed. Ditto that on ONeill over Horton. Horton talked aggressive attacking hybrid defense; with Pettine-ONeill I think we’ll actually see some.

    2. re: Hawkins over Edelman, I’m liking what I’m seeing/hearing about Hawkins. If youre going to be a short receiver you must be able to get your release at LOS. here is evidence that Hawkins can do this. http://youtu.be/wF7ZlsZJVsI

    3. I should be more interested in seeing Tate than West but I’m not: I’m really excited about the prospect of Terrence West.

    4. After years of trying and failing to insert random WRs into offenses, Josh Gordon last year made me buy in that WR is a position where talent trumps system. If this were last year I’d be spinning a yarn about Austin-Burleson-Bennett being just fine (and in fact I did just that, kinda, with a Greg Little post). A true stud WR is a major impact on wins and so our WR corps shapes up pretty poorly meh. I think Mike Evans was who Farmer wanted and yeah sure Gilbert is a great consolation prize but missing Evans was a miss.

    5. I sure would like to know why Quentin Groves was released. I smell off-field shenanigans as the driver. Agreed on DQ is an over-rated Brown of the expansion era. ILB still seems shaky even with the Kirksey kool-aid I’m drinking.

    6. Tall cornerbacks. That is all.

    7. >>>Ray Farmer hire. The default response was jubilation … I wish that the default opinion in these matters were more neutral, not completely devoid of opinion mind you, just a little more patience in rendering stark judgements.>>>
    On Farmer, I didn’t catch the same cheerleading but to the extent that there was nothing tangible to base an opinion on… yes, it was over the top. My issue with the local reportage isn’t bouncing between polarities.. it’s that they’re usually flat wrong. I remember MKC waving pompoms for demonstrably bad OC Pat Shurmur; I remember a lot of loving for the Mingo pick and not a hint of criticism for passing on Buffalo’s trade back offer nor for overstocking the already strong d-front. Really really simple analysis is just not happening in CLE media.

    8. >>>I am of the opinion that it is not necessary to attempt to plug every roster hole in the draft as it is a fool’s errand.>>>
    Well said. For the record my thing with Banner’s draft last year wasn’t that they didn’t attempt to plug EVERY roster hole, it was that they didn’t attempt to plug ANY holes. Really mind-boggling. Seemed cynically designed to buy that regime time, i.e., rebuilds take at least three years so you can’t eval us until then.

    9. >>>JFF is an entirely different animal. He possesses the potential to completely undermine the direction of the franchise. … Will all of this relent if Hoyer clearly beats out Manziel in training camp? Of course not.>>>
    He does have that potential but yet see Pettine/Farmer as the strong enough to manage social media shitstorms. They managed to pull off the draft without tipping their hands in spite of incessant bludgeoning (OMG SAMMY WATKINS!!!). Everything I’ve seen from camp says Hoyer is light years ahead of Manziel. And frankly, most of what I’ve read between the lines says Manziel doesn’t look very good. It might not relent immediately post-camp but it will relent when they’re 3-0 going into the bye.

    10. 3-0 going into the bye? You’re high Kanick. Welp what if you didn’t know the names of the teams and I told you team one was 8-8 last year; team two was 4-4 on the road (losing last three road games); and team three was 8-8 (2-6 away from home). That’s some middle of the pack football teams. It’s not way out there to see them as beat-able.

  • actovegin1armstrong

    “in a remarkably cogent REM state.” Really jk?

    This is not my beautiful house
    This is not my beautiful wife
    Time is not holding up
    Time is an asterisk
    Here comes the twister
    Same as it ever was
    Same as it ever was

  • bupalos

    Dammit. Even the dude that (apparently) gobbles shrooms by the fistful only has us for 8-8?

    I think this year is nearly impossible to predict. We’ve got a ferrari but maybe no driver. If one of these QB’s grows into the roll quickly, West and Tate go Byner/Mack, and somehow this WR dogpile spits out something worthwhile or Gordon finds another note from his “doctor,’ I could see them 11-5 and being very dangerous in the playoffs (as D-stacked teams always are.) If none of that happens, 5-11 is just as attainable. The great thing is that both the floor and ceiling are at the highest level I can remember since the return.

    • re: ferraris/drivers.. i’m building an andy dalton hilarious gif gallery and it fulfills all expectations.

      if we can moderate our goals to ‘three straight playoff appearances’ (no wins mind you), then this is a useful proof point that the driver isn’t the end all.

    • zarathustra

      I agree with 11-5 as a realistic ceiling–although about 20 teams have that ceiling. I’m actually really optimistic about them. It’s just that I’m too chicken to to predict six more wins for a team with a rookie coach and mishmash of over-the-hill and short receivers. I also think that the floor is higher. All of my Johnny nightmares would have to come true for this team to win less than seven games.

  • Dave Kolonich

    What’s been fascinating (at least to me) is the complete absence of any talk regarding Pettine’s potential as an in-game head coach. As of now, no one has any earthly idea if he’s going to be the next Andy Reid or Jim Schwartz in terms of burning early timeouts and wilting late in games. While he’s certainly done a nice job with the PR aspect of the job, there is an equal chance he’s the next Jim Caldwell or Chud – vacantly staring into the abyss as his coordinators try to out Norv the opponent.

    I think this uncertainty – plus the unknown of Brian Hoyer (he of the 2.3 games of football last year) is a far weightier obstacle to success than the trash reporting of Manziel being a 20-year old. Also, I’m puzzled that so few people have realized just how pointless the 2013 draft has become.

    Of course, I hope Pettine is the answer – along with Hoyer or Manziel or who cares. It’s possible this team can make a run – but pretty much everything has to go right for a lot of people who have never done it before.

    • mgbode

      My personal opinion is that in-game coaching is largely over-rated and the in-week coaching is far, far, far more important. Yes, a HC needs to manage the game as well, but what he does during the week is what sets it all up.

      Also, there is no way to know how Pettine will coach in-game until we get to the games.

      • Dave Kolonich

        That’s the point.

  • mgbode

    As an overzealous follower of all things Jim Henson, I must correct the spelling of Sir Aloysius Snuffleupagus first and foremost. It is a common error and I have seen it spelled as you have above even on Jim Henson websites, but it is most definitely the supposed to be the psuedo-French with a Latin ending looking name. Okay, now that it is out of the way, I’ll read the rest.

    • damn spell-check.

    • zarathustra

      I thought so. That is the way I always pronounced it. I just typed snuffa into Google and went with the first auto-complete option. What kind of world are we bequeathing to our children if you cannnot type a few letters into a search engine and receive accurate answers to all of life’s questions?

  • maxfnmloans

    Wow…what kind of mushrooms were on that pizza I ate last night?

    These last two posts were incredibly creative and entertaining. I mean, wow. Great read. It had a beat, I could dance to it, I’ll give it an 85.

  • Zara and I debated how to slice this up and in the end settled on two parts instead of three. Know this is a big read but there was something about a teased a part three post that felt page-hit-seeking… and screw it, I wanted to know how he ranked the division.

    • mgbode

      ah, I think too many websites care too much about limiting article lengths. i just kept it up and went back to it throughout the morning. great, fabulous read (and, as a funny aside, plays perfectly in with Jacob’s WWW post this morning on WFNY).

      only real disagreement is that if one believes that Pettine is the right coach, then one must believe that JFF-circus is inconsequential for the same reasoning as pointed out about Tomlin. the best coach manages the locker room and makes that foo-foo media stuff meaningless.

      well, that and I’m going with the Browns to win the division (mostly because it’s the first time in 10years that I can say that with a straight face and at least give legitimate reasons on why it could happen).

      • right. browns are totally winning the division but i appreciate zara’s measured restraint. i also love that only among us girls is 8-8 considered measured restraint.. i bet most wags put us a six wins. we’ll get into to all that.

        but one wrinkle zara added, i hadn’t considered: the AFCN as the second toughest division? it really just might be. the other obvious choice is the AFCW but i’m with bluedog in thinking the chiefs take a step back and the raiders just have too many holes (and a suspect coach).

        • mgbode

          agree that KC is taking a regression step, Oakland isn’t ready and add that SD is too up & down.

          the candidates for 2nd toughest division: NFCN, NFCS, AFCN

          NFCN seems most logical. Bears & Packers are staples. Minny did good as Zimmer was a good hire, they have lots of talent on that team. Lions are an extremely dangerous “worst” team for any division with that offense.

          NFCS needs TB & ATL to rebound w/o Carolina falling off a cliff. Valid arguments can be made in any direction for those 3 clubs.

          AFCN really depends on Cinci’s fall (how far) and Clevelands rise (how high). Baltimore & Pitt should be within 2 games of .500 in some direction. But, let’s say the whole AFCN ends up between 6-10 and 10-6 as I suspect. Can it really lay claim to 2nd toughest without a dominant team amongst them?

          • zarathustra

            I absolutely agree about the nfc north. The NFC south I’m not so sure about. The saints will be good and the bucs will be better. I’m just not sure about Atlanta and Carolina has the potential to fall apart. We shall see.
            It’s all a bit silly any way. We aren’t even to training camp yet. How many teams will be submarined by injuries before the season even begins.

          • mgbode

            yes, the NFCS needs alot to go right to take that claim. just noting it is a possibility.

            and, completely agree as injuries can easily shape a big part of the picture (or that unheralded UDFA star).