June 29, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Browns commentary: Lots of ifs, but Browns could go 7-9

If quarterback Brandon Weeden plays like a top-12 NFL quarterback …

If running back Trent Richardson doesn’t miss a game and isn’t slowed by injuries, like he was last year …

If receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron fulfill their potential …

If the defense avoids giving up the big play while simultaneously harassing the quarterback into mistakes …

If the special teams manage to again be among the league’s best despite replacing the kicker, punter, returner and best cover man …

If the Browns go 3-3 in the brutal AFC North …

… the Browns could go 10-6 and be relevant in the NFL for the first time since 2007.

Of course, that’s a long list of ifs. And they’re all huge. And they’re why the Browns won’t go 10-6 or contend for the playoffs.

For the league’s best teams, staying healthy is the only important variable on the list and the ceiling is 12 or 13 wins and a trip to the Super Bowl.

In case you’ve forgotten, the Browns aren’t there yet.

They made progress in the first offseason under CEO Joe Banner, general manager Michael Lombardi and coach Rob Chudzinski, but it’s impossible to tell if it’ll show up in the win-loss column.

The defense’s front seven is much better than a year ago, but the secondary is weaker. Veteran receiver Davone Bess is an upgrade in the slot, but tight end and running back have less depth. Travis Benjamin will step right in for Joshua Cribbs as punt returner, but the rest of the special teams is a giant question mark.

The Browns are a flawed team with serious questions at receiver, tight end, cornerback and kicker. And that’s assuming Weeden is as good as I think he is.

But the Browns will be better this year, and the record will reflect that.

Weeden will establish himself as a legitimate starter, as long as he gets support from Richardson and the receivers. Coordinator Norv Turner will help Weeden and the play-calling, and the offense will score 24 points a game. Coordinator Ray Horton’s defense will make a lot of big plays while giving up its share. The special teams will be the cause of a loss.

And the Browns will go 7-9.

Still not contention, but much closer.

Contact Scott Petrak at (440) 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @scottpetrak.