Until the Cleveland Browns prove it on the field, there will be many throughout the fan and media landscape who assume they will remain in the cellar of the NFL. The last 18 years offer no cogent argument against those who want to see results before they offer praise because the current front office seems like they’re rolling in the right direction. Even optimistic Browns fans can admit that in 2017, the Browns seem to be close to the bottom. So, as the light at the end of the tunnel appears brighter (and closer) than it was in 2016, ESPN’s Football Power Index ranked the Browns as tied for the 31st-best team, which is the worst in the NFL.
ESPN figures out their FPI rankings by merging three different areas involving sports: betting, opinion, and date. Let’s take a look at the full rankings:
The Browns aren’t favored in any game in 2017. In a continuation of their rebuilding mode, Cleveland seems to have the highest ceiling that they’ve had in quite some time after an impressive offseason where they have revamped and solidified their offensive line, added a handful of prospects in the draft, and seem to be getting some high praise from others across the league.
They may not shock the world quite yet, but the Browns should still improve on their dismal 2016 season, which is a step in the right direction. Head coach Hue Jackson’s ability to develop players will play a key role in just how good this team can be in the near future, while they continue to build both through the draft and free agency. There’s a reason why the Browns’ front office was ranked fourth-best in the league this offseason, and it’s not because of their current performance on the field.
The Dawg Pound has been patient (though understandably restless) and continues to wait on a competitive -let alone winning- football team. A playoff contender that competes for Super Bowls year in and year out seems ridiculous to even dream about despite the positive direction from Berea. So, it is important that even if the 2017 season is yet another losing one, the Browns need to be a competitive team to help reinvigorate the Dawg Pound.
If the Browns want to become relevant, they must first compete to win the AFC North division. Here’s what FPI had to say about their division:
The AFC North is once again set to be a tough division, with only the Browns not projected to finish .500 or better. The Steelers are the preseason favorite to take the division for a second straight year, with the Ravens and Bengals fighting for second place. If the division title race comes down to the final week of the season, take note that Pittsburgh faces Cleveland for the third consecutive season, while the Ravens will host the Bengals in what our projections suggest could determine a wild-card berth.
It has been said numerous times since 1999, but 2017 is the time for a bit more patience, Browns fans. This time, maybe it will pay off.