Expert NFL Handicapping: Possibility of Cleveland Browns Winless Season
We are getting into impressive, potentially historical territory here for the Cleveland Browns. Just one team - the 2008 Detroit Lions - have run the table, managing to lose every game they played. It's hard to be that bad in the NFL. A lot of truly awful teams still have managed to trip into a win, so the Lions should really and truly be proud of what they did. At the time it was painful, but it was a true feat.
Now, with 11 losses to their credit, we have to ask - is this Cleveland team capable of joining the Lions in history forever? Can they bring some meaning to this truly pathetic season? There are a lot of reasons to like Cleveland's chances - mediocre coaching, a lack of talent, key injuries, and so on. But two factors are more important than any in pursuit of this record - the quarterback and the schedule. Let's take a look at each:
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Quarterback: Thirty. That is the number of starting quarterbacks the Browns have had since returning to the NFL in 1999. That's about 1.7 unique starters per year. This year both Deshone Kizer and Kevin Hogan have started, so they are keeping pace with history. So, do they have a quarterback? Tough question. On one hand, Kizer is actually improving. Well, that's not really true. The truth is that he was the furthest from awful last time out than he has been all year - he threw for 268 yards at a rate of 8.65 yards per attempt. That's a very legitimate YPA. Now, it only came against the Bengals, so there is a significant asterisk beside the result. And he still only completed 58.1 percent of his passes, so he isn't the most accurate QB. And he didn't throw a TD in that game, so he still only has five scores and 14 picks.
Kizer has absolutely no help around him, but he has only shown flashes of goodness. And here's the thing - he only showed flashes in college, too. And there is so much working against Kizer and his mental state the rest of this year. It's very popular to bash Kizer in the media and to talk about all of the good quarterbacks that they could have had instead of him - Goff, Wentz, Watson and so on. That has to weigh on him. And the media and fans are talking constantly about the next QB draft pick for the Browns this year. When all you hear is that you are a disappointment and that people are ready to replace you it's hard to overcome that at the best of times - never mind when you are a young, shaky player with no help. And while the return of Josh Gordon could be seen as potentially a boost to the team's offense, he's a massive distraction for the team and will be extremely rusty. If Kizer was to build on the momentum of last week's performance, it could be cause for concern for us. I am fairly confident, though, that when it comes to the search for perfection that Kizer is our man.
Schedule: I'll admit that this concerns me. This schedule is far from the toughest it could be. A trip to the Chargers next is probably a loss because L.A. is executing well and working to get back into the playoff picture. But the things get more manageable. They have two home games. First up is Green Bay, which is far from a great team if Brett Hundley is still playing - which he likely will be in two weeks. Then it's Baltimore. The Ravens are in the playoff race right now, but that has much more to do with the pathetic state of the AFC than anything. They have won more games than most would guess by looking at their roster on paper, but they still aren't a great team and could easily lose on any given day. Then a trip to Chicago is on tap, which is scary because the Bears and Mitch Trubisky aren't a particularly stellar team right now. And finally they play at Pittsburgh. We can't really know what to expect with that one. The Steelers are obviously a dramatically better team - one that is going to be a top two team in the AFC. If they need this game then they will crush the Browns lifeless. They could easily have the top seed clinched by this point, though, or could be locked into the second seed. If they have nothing to play for then their core stars aren't likely to play a lot, and that makes the game less of a lock.
So, the only game that feels like a sure loss is the Chargers - that gets them to 0-12. But from there it's far less certain. Cleveland is still capable of losing, and will likely be the underdog in each remaining game, but it's not a clear path. They are going to want this record or they could easily stumble and wind up winning.
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