Every team thinks it can make the playoffs once the NFL season kicks off. After all, not much was expected of the Indianapolis Colts, Washington Redskins or Minnesota Vikings last year, and they all got in the postseason. So I'm sure both the Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns, who kick off their 2013 seasons against one another, think they can crash the playoffs this year. In my opinion, a realistic goal is probably a .500 record.
Miami finished 7-9 a year ago in Joe Philbin's first year as a head coach. Seven wins is also pretty good for most rookie quarterbacks, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson notwithstanding. Ryan Tannehill, the No. 8 pick in the 2012 draft, had his typical rookie up-and-downs but showed some good signs while completing 58.3 percent of his passes for 3,294 yards, 12 touchdowns and 13 picks. That's made even more impressive in that Miami had one of the worst receiving groups in the NFL. That unit can't help but be better after giving big bucks to Steelers free-agent burner Mike Wallace. Did Miami overpay? No doubt, but it had to. Miami also lost its biggest playmaker in running back Reggie Bush as well as Tannehill's blind-side protector, left tackle Jake Long. The Fins made a bold move in the draft as well, trading up to grab Oregon pass-rusher Dion Jordan.
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Cleveland finished 5-11 last year, the Browns' fifth straight season with five wins or fewer. New Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam overhauled the front office and coaching staff. The Browns hired Mike Lombardi, who worked for Cleveland in the mid-1990s before the team moved to Baltimore and spent the past five years with the NFL Network, as the general manager. It wasn't a popular move in Cleveland. The team also didn't excite the fan base by hiring Rob Chudzinski as coach when some bigger names like Jon Gruden and Nick Saban were being bandied about. Chudzinski spent the past two seasons as Carolina's offensive coordinator. This is his third stint with Cleveland; he was the offensive coordinator under the failed Romeo Crennel regime. You'd think the new owner would want a fresh start.
One move that did look wise was hiring former Chargers head coach Norv Turner as offensive coordinator. Turner has proven he can be a successful coordinator if not a head coach. Turner has his work cut out for him as Cleveland ranked among the bottom four teams in the league in scoring, total offense, touchdowns and touchdown percentage the past two seasons.
Dolphins at Browns Betting Story Lines
Sometimes it's easy to remember that there was a fifth full-time rookie starting quarterback last year in Cleveland's Brandon Weeden. He threw for 3,385 yards, which was more than Griffin III, Tannehill and Wilson. He completed 57.4 percent of his passes with 14 TDs and 17 picks. Theoretically, the strong-armed Weeden should be much better suited to Turner's vertical passing game than the West Coast offense that was in place a season ago. Still, the guy will be 30 in October, so he's clearly not the future. I expect the Browns to draft a QB early in the 2014 draft.
What the Browns do have in place for the future is a stud running back in second-year pro Trent Richardson. He rushed for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns on 267 carries but seemed to be always battling injuries. And now he's got a shin injury that will have him out until likely after training camp starts. The Browns say they aren't worried. Cleveland has one of the best offensive lines in football, but other than Richardson and rising receiver Josh Gordon there's not much to be excited about. Defensively, Cleveland was No. 28 overall and No. 24 in points allowed. No. 6 overall pick Barkevious Mingo could be a beast in the new 3-4 scheme.
So who replaces Bush as the Dolphins' featured back? It probably will be a bit by committee, but the leader in the clubhouse to get the most carries is 2012 fourth-round pick Lamar Miller. The former Hurricane had 51 carries for 250 yards and one touchdown in a limited role last year. His yards per carry were better than Bush or 2011 second-round pick Daniel Thomas. Still, Thomas as well as rookie Mike Gillislee will get their touches. Really the key is Wallace spreading the field. He might be the fastest receiver in the league. He was great in 2011 with 72 catches for 1,193 yards and eight scores in 2011 but caught 64 balls for 836 yards a year ago in a contract season. That might be concerning. Miami receivers were last in the NFL with just three touchdown receptions in 2012, and that number will go up.
Miami's defense was No. 21 overall but a very good No. 7 in points allowed last year. The team somewhat surprisingly let linebacker Karlos Dansby go but signed linebacker Dannell Ellerbe away from Baltimore and brought in former Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes. Ellerbe finished second last season on the Super Bowl champs in tackles (89) and sacks (4.5). Grimes is a very good corner when healthy, but he hasn't been since 2010.
Dolphins at Browns NFL Week 1 Betting Odds and Trends
At BetOnline, the Dolphins are one-point favorites with the total at 39.5. It's the smallest spread of Week 1 and tied for the lowest total. Miami was 8-8 ATS last year (3-5 on road) and 5-11 “over/under” (2-6 on road). Cleveland was 8-7-1 ATS (5-3 at home) and 6-10 O/U (3-5 at home). The Dolphins were road favorites once last year but lost at Indianapolis. That started a stretch of the Dolphins failing to cover their final four road games.
Dolphins at Browns Picks and Week 1 Betting Predictions
Miami and Cleveland last faced off in Week 3 of 2011 in Ohio, with the Browns winning, 17-16. Really nothing to go on there since the starting quarterbacks were Chad Henne and Colt McCoy. The Fins closed 3-3 in 2012, including an upset of Seattle and well-played losses against New England and San Francisco. Cleveland also closed 3-3 but didn't look good in finishing with three straight losses, albeit against good competition. Neither club excites me, but I like that the Browns are getting home points. Take them and the under in what could be the ugliest Week 1 game.
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