Brodney’s InterceptionAnalysts Buying Into Browns’ Playoff Chances…With Caution

Time to take our weekly look at what the analysts and writers out there are saying about our beloved Brownies, along with a look at the various power rankings. Coming after a nothing short of stunning victory in week 11 in Baltimore, the overall mood continues to be quite positive. Granted, the questions about the defense still exist, and as long as this team has the league’s worst defense, there will be plenty of doubters out there. It’s only natural to question this team’s ability to be consistent winners when they’re struggling to stop even an offense as sick and inefficient as Baltimore’s. But, I don’t want to sound like a broken record, so let’s get to the analysis.

First off, looking at the power rankings, the team has moved up on most people’s lists, continuing their run in the top 10. The first one we’ll look at is Matt Mosley’s Hashmarks power rankings. Mosley, the one who had the Browns ranked at #32 to begin the season now has the team up to #8, just one spot behind Pittsburgh and three spots ahead of Wild Card competitor Tennessee.

Jason Cole and Charles Robinson have their Yahoo! Sports Power Rankings up, and they have the Browns moving in different directions, believe it or not. Jason Cole actually dropped the Browns down a slot from #6 to #7, but he still has them ranked above Robinson. Robinson moved the Browns up a spot from #9 to #8. Neither one offered any analysis for the Browns this week, but to be fair, the reason for Cole’s dropping of the Browns was because he moved Jacksonville back ahead of the Browns. At 7-3 and fighting the Colts for the AFC South, it’s hard to argue too much with that one.

Next, we have the ESPN.com Power Rankings. Here, the Browns made their way back into the top 10 after dropping out last week. Mike McAllister writes,

“Yet the biggest surprise team resides in the AFC. The Browns have jumped 23 spots since the preseason when they were ranked 31st (and, actually, the Browns were dead-last when our voters were polled just before the season). Just one game back of the Steelers in the AFC North, the Browns still have a shot at their first division crown since 1989. But the Steelers own the tiebreaker by virtue of their two head-to-head wins this season, so Cleveland will need to win the division outright.”

In the rankings, the Browns moved up 3 spots, going all the way from #11 to #8, with their writeup saying:

“Say what you will about the gods of football smiling on the Browns. But it helped to have Josh Cribbs. He had 306 return yards and forced a fumble on punt coverage. “Our 12th man on offense,” Jamal Lewis told the Plain Dealer.”

Next up we have the CBS Sportsline Power Rankings. Like the ESPN poll, the Browns also moved up 3 spots here, but at a slot one spot lower. They went from #12 to #9. Pete Prisco writes,

“Speaking of great coaching jobs, what about Romeo Crennel? He has done a heck of a job. This team has a playoff look.”

The Fox Sports Power Rankings are also smiling on the Browns, moving them up one spot from #10 to #9, saying:

“Who would have ever believed that 11 weeks into the NFL season, the Cleveland Browns would be 6-4 and in the thick of the AFC playoff picture? Certainly not me. Cleveland got another solid day out of quarterback Derek Anderson (24-38, 274 yards, TD) and running back Jamal Lewis (92 yards, TD) and dynamic play from special team heroes Phil Dawson and Josh Cribbs. From here on out, Cleveland plays Houston, Arizona, the Jets, Buffalo, Cincinnati, and woeful San Francisco. Those are all winnable games. An NBA Finals appearance, an ALCS appearance, and now a potential playoff run? Not a bad year for Cleveland sports.”

Finally, we end with our own Cleveland Sports Authority Power Rankings:

01. New England Patriots
02. Dallas Cowboys
03. Green Bay Packers
04. Pittsburgh Steelers
05. Indianapolis Colts
06. New York Football Giants
07. Jacksonville Jaguars
08. Cleveland Browns
09. Tennessee Titans
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Next up, a look at what some of the various analysts and writers around the league are saying about Cleveland. First, though, one last look back at the field goal call last week, as this was a subject that seemed to be on a lot of the writers’ minds. Don Banks for SI.com wrote,

“The NFL has another potential officiating mess on its hands with this one, even though justice was served in the sense that Cleveland didn’t lose a game due to a needless loophole in the replay system. Field goals are not reviewable under current league rules, but you can bet there will be a hue and cry from around the NFL that they should be in light of Sunday’s events.”

Banks added later in the article,

“However the NFL cleans this one up, I promise you this: It’ll be far neater than the debacle the league would have had on its hands if Dawson’s kick had stood as a miss when the entire football-watching world saw it clear the crossbar by a foot or so via replay. Can you imagine the storm of controversy that would have raged if the officials hadn’t eventually gotten it right, and Cleveland was denied the right to play into overtime? All of us talking heads would have been screaming heads this week. The Browns would have understandably played the aggrieved martyrs and the story would have lived on no matter how Cleveland’s playoff bid unfolded one way or another.”

That’s an interesting point to consider. We’ll never know how the fate of the Browns season might have been different had the “bottle throwing” game of 2001 gone the other way. Granted, this isn’t an exact comparison because the refs got the call on the field correct after the replay review, but the fact remained that you can’t review a play after another play has been run. The Browns went on to finish 7-9 that season, but they were 6-6 going into that game, and who knows how they might have finished had they won that game. But as it stood, they ended up losing 5 of their last 6 that year. You could argue that play deflated the whole season (along with the crazy OT loss to the Bears). In the same manner, perhaps this win will be looked back upon as the one that propelled the team into their final playoff push.

Finally, a look at some blurbs and analysis written about the Browns this week. James C. Black of Yahoo! Sports wrote about the win over Baltimore,

“Not only did the Browns avoid choking away a second straight divisional road win, but they made up a game in the AFC North in the process. And while so much emphasis will be placed on Dawson’s kick and the controversial “non-review,” not to be overshadowed was Joshua Cribbs‘ 39-yard kickoff return which gave the Browns the ball at their own 43-yard line.”

CBS Sportsline examined the strengths of this team in the wake over the big win. According to Clark Judge,

“Cleveland is where it is because of Derek Anderson, Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow and big plays at the right time by a defense that Sunday produced a season-high six sacks and returned an interception a franchise-record 100 yards for a score.

But they’re there because of Cribbs, too. Look at the league’s top teams returning kickoffs. Cleveland is numero uno at 33.9, and they’re there because of one guy.”

Writing in the Arizona Republic about the surprising season for the Browns, Bob McManaman says,

“Don’t ask how or why, but the team that traded its starting quarterback after the first game of the year and has kept the prized face of the future on the sideline won another game Sunday.

The Browns, who we thought might be in winless Miami’s shoes, given their youth and perceived lack of star power, are 6-4, nipping at the heels of the Steelers and talking about the playoffs after their remarkable, 33-30 overtime victory in Baltimore. “

Jeff Biletnikoff makes an interesting point that I wholeheartedly agree with for the Brown and Orange Report on Scout.com, saying:

“I guarantee that the 1999-2006 versions of the team lose all three of the games that were just played. Ok, maybe 2002’s squad might have had a glimmer of hope but I don’t see it. We haven’t had an offense like this since the 1980’s and it’s all been a super effort on offense that’s allowed the Browns to do what they’ve done.

The Browns now head into a part of their schedule where all games are winnable and they’ve got a legitimate shot at the playoffs because they went 2-1 in a stretch of games that included the Steelers and Ravens on the road and the Seahawks at home.”

The Scouts, Inc. analysts had plenty to say about the Browns as well in their weekly chats for ESPN.com. First up, in the winners chat, Keith Kidd talks about the Browns playoff chances, saying:

Jay (NC): Keith do you see the Browns making the playoffs? It was pretty clear we were the better team, just didn’t play our best. I also think our defense is really improving on a weekly basis. 4 sacks last week, 6 this week, interceptions, touchdowns etc. If that continues and our offense gets back on track will we not be tough to beat from here on out?

SportsNation Keith Kidd: Jey, I do see them being a possible Wild Card team. Tjis team may be able to win the North, since the Steelers dropped the ball yesterday. There is no quit in this team, and a lot of credit has to go to Romeo for instilling this in them. I mean outside of the Colts the Browns were the only team who were competitive with the Pats.

Matt Williamson tackled some Browns questions about potentail Pro Bowl players on the team:

Robert (Monrovia, Ca): Is it possible the Browns have six Pro Bowlers (Anderson, Edwards, Winslow, Steinbach, Thomas, Cribbs)?

SportsNation Matt Williamson: Would you take Anderson over Big Ben? I wouldn’t. Peyton and Brady are in and that only leaves one AFC spot. I would vote for the other five though.

Williamson also discussed DA’s “struggles” in the last few games, saying:

mike (cle): Are we starting to see the real Derek Anderson, or is this what happens to good QBs when they play good Ds?

SportsNation Matt Williamson: Both. Most of his numbers have come against bad defenses, but the “Real DA” is a solid to above average signal caller who fits this O well. He needs that OL and those weapons. But when things are right for him, he is tough.

He also sized up Joe Thomas’s Offensive Rookie of the Year chances now, saying:

Jay (NC): Matt does Joe Thomas win OROY now? Is he getting credit in league talk/circles because he’s not getting enough in the nat’l media. He’s already a pro bowler. Who would you take in the AFC over him? Not many.

SportsNation Matt Williamson: Not many at all. Not many in the entire NFL over Thomas at LT. Still, not sure that Peterson doesn’t win it-even if he doesn’t step on the field again this year. What he did was really amazing.

Doug Kretz answered a question that I have been asking lately:

Jason (Cleveland): What do you think about the maturation of Kamerion Wimbley? I know people say he’s been “doubled”, but watch the film, he hasn’t been. Why would a second year player struggle so much?

SportsNation Doug Kretz: I don’t think it’s a matter of teams doubling him as much as it is offenses figuring him out.. The O linemen study their opponents and look for keys to show what kind of pass rush he is going to use, what kind of techniques he likes to use to play the run, etc.. He needs to develop more moves, techniques, etc..

Aaron Schatz of Baseball Prospectus (yes, a baseball site, but they do football analysis as well) held a chat on the Prospectus site this week (paid membership required to read), and he made a similar point to the one I made last week regarding the second guessing of the Browns’ draft that’s been going on. He says:

costa24 (Montreal): It’s an argument being made a lot in light of the ESPN Re-draft article. Given the choice again, in light of both their brilliant performances, do the Browns pick Thomas again? (I vote yes)

Aaron Schatz: Yes. I don’t buy this “every team wishes they had taken Adrian Peterson” argument. It’s the worst kind of 20-20 hindsight. Nobody was saying that Peterson should go higher than third, and most people weren’t saying that he should go higher than fourth. Oakland wanted to take a quarterback. Calvin Johnson was supposed to be the second coming of Randy Moss. Joe Thomas is having an excellent season at a more important position, a position that also has a longer average career lifespan. It isn’t until you get to Tampa Bay that you have a team where many people thought Peterson was the right choice, and they should be kicking themselves.

All in all, this has been yet another week of Browns optimism. Looking ahead to Week 12, we have a very win-able game at home against the Houston Texans. Lets hope the team can ride this optimistic momentum into the game on Sunday and start a new winning streak. I will be out of town for the holiday this weekend, but I will try my best to get a Week 12 Preview up later in the week. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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