The first four or five weeks of the NFL season are the hardest to figure out. It takes a while to see who the surprisingly good teams are, and who the surprisingly bad teams are.
Betting against the spread and managing your fantasy team gets much easier as the season goes on and we learn. Teams’ schedules vary so greatly from one year to the next that half the league is never what it appears to be.
This year has been no different. Through the first five weeks we’ve learned the Buffalo Bills aren’t bad, the Philadelphia Eagles are, Peter King was silly in picking the Atlanta Falcons to make the Super Bowl, and the whole world was right in picking the Detroit Lions to break out.
The Browns’ bye week gave us a chance to sit back and watch, and now the NFL is starting to take shape.
Based on what their opponents have done, what do we think of the Browns now?Week 4: Browns 13 – Titans 31
This one isn’t sitting very well. Tennessee is playing with a new quarterback and coaching staff just like the Browns, and they just waltzed into Cleveland and blew the Browns off their own dance floor. Then last week, they played the Steelers in Pittsburgh and were utterly crushed, 38-17. The Steelers had Ben Roethlisberger in a boot, James Harrison out, and an offensive line in shambles, and they’re still that much better than the Titans team that beat the Browns?
Maybe, but sometimes games get out of hand. The Browns gave up two huge plays in their match against the Titans and that tilted the game out of whack. The same could have happened in Pittsburgh.
With the score 7-3 early in the second quarter, the Steelers successfully executed a fake punt which led to 33-yard gain, and a touchdown two plays later. That made it 14-3, and soon it was 28-3. Just like you can’t blame the Browns for having Colt McCoy pass 61 times in a lopsided loss, you can’t blame the Titans for having no answers down 28-3 on the road. Sometimes the game just doesn’t go your way.
But we did learn two things. One, the Titans aren’t all that and a bag of chips. They’re not bad, but they’re not really good either. They’re just okay, and the Steelers kill okay teams.
Second thing we learned, or better yet remembered, is the Steelers are jerks.
Every player on the team tries to embody that identity. They are James Harrison and Hines Ward. They were up 14 points with 2:30 left in the game and still threw a 40-yard touchdown to Mike Wallace to run up the score.
This game was more about the Steelers proving to themselves they’re still bullies than it was about the Titans just being okay. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, the Browns need players like that too.
Week 3: Browns 17 – Dolphins 16
The Miami Dolphins are coming off their bye week, and like the Browns, off-field drama took center stage. They placed quarterback Chad Henne on IR for the season with a separated shoulder.
Then, they had to publicly announce their head coach Tony Sparano would NOT be fired. No team has ever released a statement saying they wouldn’t fire their coach and then not fire their coach anyway.
- Brad Childress was fired even after Zygi Wilf publically said he was safe.
- Jerry Jones said the same thing about Wade Philips.
And Childress and Phillips didn’t even make it to the end of the season, underscoring just how meaningless a public declaration of job security can be. Not only that, but the Dolphins got caught offering Jim Harbaugh a job last year before cutting ties with Sparano, which they then chickened out of after Harbaugh turned them down. How embarrassing.
The Dolphins have to face Tom Brady twice a year and they haven’t been able to get behind a franchise passer like that since Dan Marino left 12 years ago. Their coach is toast. Brian Daboll is their offensive coordinator. They traded for Reggie Bush and benched him after three games. They are 0-4.
Everyone on that team knows this is an Andrew Luck situation. Tony Romo is playing with a punctured lung, Roethlisberger’s got a broken ankle, but the Dolphins can Henne for the season as soon as he gets a scratch on his non-throwing shoulder?
They might as well release a statement saying they had planned to tank it all along. Miami fans wouldn’t care, they don’t care about sports in the first place. There’s no pressure to not suck. The Dolphins are in the perfect situation.
That being said, the Browns’ win against them wasn’t a quality one, but it wasn’t that bad either. The Dolphins might be the worst team in the league but the Browns still had to survive their death rattle. They were desperate and that victory, highlighted by Colt McCoy’s only impressive moment of the season so far, is what reduced the Dolphins to what they are now.
Week 2: Browns 27- Colts 19
When the Browns were in Indianapolis three weeks ago, Kerry Collins was the starting quarterback. Since then, like Chad Henne, he’s been benched with a phantom injury simply because the team couldn’t stand the sight of him anymore. The Colts are saying Collins suffered a “concussion,” so they can blamelessly throw Curtis Painter out there. For your reference, here’s a list of concussion symptoms from WebMD.com:
- Not thinking clearly
- Feeling slowed down
- Not being able to concentrate or remember new information
- Fuzzy or blurry vision
- Balance problems
- Feeling tired or having no energy
Kerry Collins is 50 years old, so I basically just typed out his scouting report. You can’t tell me he just started exhibiting these symptoms two weeks ago. He was awful, and it’s safe to say the Browns caught the Colts at just the right time. If the two teams played right now do the Browns still win?
Painter is 0-2 as a starter, but he’s played in a Sunday night game and a Monday night game against tough opponents scheduled around Peyton Manning, not him. He’s got a good arm and can put points on the board. Still, he lost to the equally banged up but adjusting Kansas City Chiefs at home last week.
Four weeks ago, the Colts didn’t know what to make of the NFL season either. Their nut-ball owner, Jim Irsay, was holding on to a delusional scenario where Peyton Manning would just return by mid-season good as new, and help them slip into the playoffs. Now reality is setting in. At 0-5, and with a tough schedule ahead, the Colts are starting to resemble the Dolphins.
Like in Miami, their fans aren’t starving hysterics fans like we are. They’ve been getting fat on Peyton Manning playoff runs for the past ten years. The guy played in 208 consecutive games, and then when he finally gets injured, the Colts can just chalk it up to the lockout and one off-year that will lead to Luck, and another ten years of glory. The Browns could never pull that off.
Thus, the Browns have beaten an 0-4 team and an 0-5 team with great excuses to lose every game the rest of the way on purpose.
Week 1: Browns 17 – Bengals 27
Now, this game in retrospect is getting easier to swallow. Cincinnati was tabbed early as one of the worst teams in the league, so when the Browns lost to them at home on an embarrassing quick snap touchdown, things looked bad. Well now, the Bengals are 3-2 and have the top overall defense in the league.
Remember, the NFL is a mystery those first few weeks. The Browns’ always lose their season opener, and still, we’re never ready for it. Last year, we looked at the schedule and saw two horrible teams in Kansas City and Tampa Bay and thought the Browns should start 2-0. They lost both, and Kansas City and Tampa each wound up winning ten games.
This year it’s the Bengals turn to surprise. They handed the Buffalo Bills their only loss of the season and have a future superstar in A.J. Green.
Andy Dalton has looked decent so far and it will be interesting to see if he can keep this up. He’s certainly competent, but he’s benefiting from how little the league knows about him. You see this all the time with developmental quarterbacks like Trent Edwards, Charlie Frye, David Garrard, Chad Henne, Kevin Kolb, Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy, and such. They get off to hot starts and make some athletic plays early that get people excited, then the league figures them out.
Dalton actually has weapons though, so in defense of McCoy, his job is easier. Jump ball to A.J. Green is not the same as jump ball to Mohamed Massaquoi.
And that’s what’s so funny about Browns fans’ aversion to the Bengals. Our embarrassment over this loss stems from some misguided superiority we feel over them. We call them the Bungals. We laugh at their owner refusing to trade Carson Palmer out of spite. We poke fun at their penny-pinching organization, and the assortment of criminals and clowns on their roster. It’s like we just need to believe we are better than somebody, anybody, and the Bengals are an easy target.
Never mind the Browns’ record against them over the last ten years is 8-13. Never mind the Browns are on their third head coach since the Bengals hired Marvin Lewis back in 2003. And they have weapons because they draft weapons every year. They don’t trade down, they don’t flush entire drafts down the toilet, they don’t constantly change coaches and clean house.
They might not be the Steelers or the Green Bay Packers, but who is? Browns fans are never going to find peace until we just accept we’re not better than anyone, and realize no win comes easy.
Mike Lombardi of the NFL Network, who nailed the Bengals as being a sleeper team in the preseason, recently wrote:
“Back in the early ’90s, I worked for the Browns and we lost badly to the Bengals in Cincinnati. Getting on the team bus with a disgusted look on my face, I sat next to Nick Saban, our defensive coordinator. Saban said to me, don’t be pissed off; until we all accept that they are better than we are, and stop acting like we are the better team, we will never beat them. Saban was so right. That advice is the same advice I have for the current Browns — the Bengals are the better team and until you come to grips with that fact, nothing will change. The Browns acted shocked they lost to the Bengals last weekend. In reality, they should just admit they are not as good.”
Remember, loving a struggling team is poetic. Can Bengals fans say that, with their team holding the longest current television blackout streak in the NFL?
See, there I go again.
Anyway, I wonder what we’ll learn this week in Oakland.