There’s a lot of big talk and high hopes in Cleveland these days, some of it justified, some of it a bit over the top.
The Browns can feel good that they have competed and overcome a slew of trouble, including the loss of their discovered quarterback and starting three in total. Coach Rob Chudzinski is instilling a new attitude, and doing it well. And there is definitely a different feel to the team.
But as for being primetime ready ... that still has to be accomplished, and proven.
What’s left for the Browns? Here’s a look:
At Cincinnati: Much will be learned about the Bengals when they play Baltimore this weekend. Either way, they will be a dangerous team at home, one that should not be shrugged away. Lose and they’ll need to beat the Browns, win and they’ll need to continue establishing themselves. Losing defensive tackle Geno Atkins is brutal, but the Bengals still have an excellent offense and one of the league’s better defenses. This game is far from easy, and given the Browns beat the Bengals once this season is a strong lean to Cincinnati.
Pittsburgh: The Steelers are reeling, with a struggling defense, no offensive line and a coach who sounds good in the midst of a tirade. If the Browns are to truly establish themselves, this is a must win against a team that set the standard in recent years for treating the Browns like a kid brother.
Jacksonville: Lose this game and all the cred that’s been built disappears.
At New England: The Browns defense is good, but to think it’s easy to make Tom Brady struggle is to ignore reality. Brady is too good, too smart. And it’s also tough to think that Bill Belichick will not make life difficult for Jason Campbell.
Chicago: Another tough game. Jay Cutler will be healthy again and the Bears have a sound running game and some big, strong, dangerous receivers to go with an always-aggressive defense.
At Jets: Who knows where the Jets will be at this point of the season? Right now they’re hanging around with a rookie quarterback. If the same is true in December the Jets will have as much to play for as the Browns.
At Pittsburgh: If the Browns need to win this game in Pittsburgh, there will be no team happier to keep them out of a playoff spot than the Steelers.
Going through by category ...
Clearly winnable: Jacksonville
Possibly winnable: Pittsburgh twice.
Lean to lose: Bears
Strong lean to lose: New England, Cincinnati.
Which means if all goes perfectly and the Browns win they games they should and win the toss-up, they could finish 8-8. Steal another one along the way and they’re 9-7 and in the hunt.
But lose one that appears winnable and it could just as easily be 7-9. Consider: Is it ever wise to assume the Browns will beat Pittsburgh twice in a season. And consider: Injuries keep happening.
Expectations have been raised, which is good. But a 7-9 finish seems a lot more realistic than 9-7.
And if that happens, nobody should be disappointed. Because the Browns would have taken positive strides.
It’s been years, after all, that this discussion could even take place.