Cleveland is picked by some to be a surprise team in the AFC and by others like Skip Bayless and Andrew Perloff to finish bottom of the barrel. Can the Browns defy expectation? And if not who else is likely to be the AFC’s surprise team?
The reasons against the Browns: A questionable offensive line, a quarterback who doesn’t have a cannon for an arm, a young team, no number one receiver, and a lack of depth.
On the plus side the Browns have the easiest schedule in the NFL. After a week 2 trip to Indianapolis Cleveland does not face another team that’s been a consistent winner until they face Baltimore Dec 4. Schedule is THE biggest reason most surprise teams have such good seasons. Honestly I wish this schedule came next year or the year after that. Then the Browns would be poised to have a real surprise season.
I think the Number 1 receiver criticism is overrated. If Colt McCoy can play QB at this level and if Pat Shurmur can dial up good game plans, that will have more of an impact on the passing attack. The league is riddled with sub .500 teams who have great receivers. Meanwhile the Patriots can jetison Randy Moss and still lead the league in points scored.
What will hold back Cleveland will be their youth and lack of depth. But even with that their schedule is the best weapon they have right now.
Other teams who might be a surprise in the AFC:
Cincinnati: A favorite pick of Bayless and Perloff. But it all hinges on a rookie QB and rookie QBs struggle without a lot of help. Cincy might be better than they were last year but that wouldn’t be enough. Look how dominate the Jets were in Mark Sanchez’s first year. Their schedule isn’t as soft as the Browns. They have Denver and Buffalo on the schedule with their improved defenses and they face Baltimore and Pittsburgh much earlier than Cleveland does.
Denver: Speaking of Denver, Chris Collinsworth offered the Broncos up as a possible AFC surprise. Well ole’ Chris probably didn’t look at their schedule, Green Bay, Detroit, Chicago, Minnesota, the Jets, Pats. Let’s not forget that everyone in their conference beat up on the Broncos last season.
Tennessee: The Titans have a better schedule than Denver but no where near as soft as Cleveland’s. Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and New Orleans will be big speed bumps for Matt Hasslebeck and Chris Johnson.
Buffalo: I like the new defense the Bills have. But their schedule does them no favors. The NFC East, Giants, Eagles and Cowboys, along with 4 contests against the Pats and the Jets. Throw in a game against the Chargers and Buffalo has 8 games against teams that could finish in the top 10.