The start of the new season is finally here. After months of nothing but lockout conjecture and talks about how to share the wealth of billions of dollars (while managing to not completely alienate fans), the NFL is back and the players are ready for some football.
The Cleveland Browns open at home today against the Cincinnati Bengals, a team in slight disarray, but moving forward with a core of young players. Much like the Browns, the Bengals look to build through the draft, the only true way to compete in the AFC North.
It might only be the first game of the season, but a win against the Bengals would mean plenty to the Browns and their fans. Far too often has this organization failed to meet expectations or stumbled early before finding their footing. The Browns are young, yes, but have enough players in place to compete with any team and should be expected to win against teams like the Bengals, especially at home.
Let’s face it – at first glance, this is not a particularly tough schedule for the 2011 Browns. That won’t mean much as the season wears on, but it would serve them well to get off to a good start and set the tone for next week’s match-up against the vulnerable Indianapolis Colts, who don’t know how long they’ll be without Peyton Manning.
More so, this is quarterback Colt McCoy’s first go-around as the true starter of the new West Coast offense. He looked impressive throughout most of the preseason, but it’s always different once the games start counting in the standings. Will Peyton Hillis build on his Madden-cover worthy season? Does the young secondary take another step forward in 2011? There are questions littered all over this roster, but that doesn’t take away from the swelling optimism so many are feeling as the result of the direction in which the front office has this team heading.
It’s important for so many reasons that the Browns take care of the Bengals at home today – it’s a game that can set the tone for this entire season and beyond. Think of it this way: the Browns have won only one season opener since their return in 1999. If they want to change the culture and attitude of the team, that’s the place to start.
Are the Browns a team that will finally take care of business, or is that possibility further away than we anticipated? Either way, the best part of it all is that we get to find out today.