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Reasonable expectation-setting for 2018 Browns: While We’re Waiting

The 2018 regular season kicks off for the Cleveland Browns in 122 days. For these next 2,931 hours, optimism will be high. It always is during this time of the year! The Browns can’t be in last place!

Following a 1-31 record over the last two seasons, however, my mind is wandering toward the topic of possibly reasonable expectations for the coming season. Hue Jackson seemed to barely survive into his third season as the Browns head coach. What kind of improvement – and good lord, there’s only improvement to come from this – is necessary for his job security to be more stable entering 2019?

I recall first thinking about the 2018 Browns record with Pat McManamon’s ESPN.com game-by-game predictions back on April 19, just before the draft. The former Akron Beacon Journal reporter predicted a hot start for the Browns – 4-2 with wins over the first two division opponents (Week 1 vs. Pittsburgh and Week 5 vs. Baltimore). But then, the bottom fell out en route to a 5-11 finish.

Yet, I guess context is vital, sadly so. In 19 seasons since returning in 1999, the Browns have just five campaigns of six-plus wins. There are only two in the last 11 seasons: 7-9 in 2014, 10-6 in 2007, 6-10 in 2005, 9-7 in 2002 and 7-9 in 2001. That’s it. There’s the one 0-16 record, one 1-15 record, one 2-14 record (in 1999), two 3-13 records, five 4-12 marks and four 5-11 records.

It’s also important to note, as Pro Football Talk did pretty scientifically, that ESPN writers (McManamon included) projected 289 wins out of a possible 256 wins in a regular season. But, a 5-11 projected record would be quite impressive, relatively, for the Browns! It’d be better than the median record since the return in 1999. It’d be 500 percent more wins than the last two years! It’d be 125 percent more than the last three! Most people would probably love to see such improvement.

Following the draft, I saw even more optimistic predictions. ESPN.com’s Todd McShay wrote a 2019 mock draft on May 3 (warning: ESPN Insider subscriber content). In his article, he cited Football Outsiders’ mean projections and pegged the Browns with the No. 11 draft pick! Picking that low is quite the rarity!

Mike Clay, a fantasy writer for ESPN.com, also shared his projections on Twitter which paint an optimistic picture for the upcoming Browns roster:

The projection systems vary wildly for some of the Browns’ AFC North foes in the Baltimore Ravens (projected to have No. 5 draft pick in 2019 by Clay; No. 21 by Football Outsiders) and Bengals (No. 7 pick by Clay; No. 12 by Football Outsiders). To me, the struggles of both these teams and the Browns’ ability to perhaps split or even go 3-1 against them would be the lead barometer of upcoming success.

Vegas, on the other hand, is not as rosy. According to CG Sportsbook, the Browns are favorites in only two of 15 games on the books (Week 17 not included): Week 3 vs. Jets and Week 16 vs. Cincinnati. If the Browns win three games or less … it’s incredibly difficult to imagine Hue Jackson walking into a third season in Berea.

This leads me to my baseline expectation: 5-11. Yes, five is a gigantic improvement! But this team has improved. The secondary is loads better (just read this Pro Football Focus article BEFORE the Denzel Ward selection). The combination of Jarvis Landry and Tyrod Taylor should stabilize the offense with a set of consistent moving-the-chain plays. Expectations are high, and deservedly so, for Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah.

If the Browns are 4-12 or worse, then Hue will be a wanted man in Northeast Ohio. Anything 6-10 or better and it’s one of the top seasons in two decades of abysmal professional football and Hue’s job is likely assuredly safe. At 5-11, the process is gathering speed and things are content. Hue’s job security may still be at 50-50, but that’s as it should be from the preceding two seasons, anyway. The real playoff hopes then must arrive in 2019.

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Now, for some stray thoughts around the sports world, associated with a bunch of links:

This Zach Lowe piece on Kyle Korver and Kevin Love’s offensive wizardry was so entertaining and so fun. It’s like the whole Indiana Pacers series messiness never happened!

Kudos to Matt Moore for owning up to his badly missed prediction on the Cavs-Raptors series. I really, really enjoy Matt’s writing (despite the craziness that is often displayed on his Twitter account).

Do people realize that Brian Windhorst lives in Omaha? There was even a 2016 Omaha.com article about it! This came up in conversation with friends this week and they were stunned. I thought it was common knowledge.

Let me be the 50,000th person to yell at Andrew Marchand’s rant about Katie Nolan’s salary at ESPN. I greatly enjoyed Garbage Time. ESPN’s usage of Nolan just seems so odd.

Have you read Ta-Nehesi Coates on Kanye West? It’s absolutely phenomenal writing from one of the best writers of our generation on one of the most fascinating celebrities of our generation.

So, when do we hear officially about HBO’s Hard Knocks? As Awful Announcing wrote last month, the Browns seem like a very natural fit. Let’s just all will this into happening, OK?

And finally: I’m off to London in two weeks. Do you have any must-do suggestions for my first trip out there? Share some thoughts with me on Twitter at @JacobLRosen.