After the Browns dealt Trent Richardson -- to Indianapolis for a first-round pick in 2014 -- the outrage on Twitter was palpable. The Browns were "tanking" and "giving up" and Joe Banner was selling this team down the river after promising success this season.
Hogwash, poppycock, etc.
Even Mike Holmgren got in on that dogpile. But -- in large part thanks to the ineptitude of the previous regime -- the Browns weren't winning anything in 2013. I went on record saying their ceiling was 9-7 -- and we were talking absolute ceiling here -- and even that outcome a) required Norv Turner backing up a dump truck's worth of his offensive pixie dust and pouring it on Brandon Weeden in addition to b) everything breaking right for Cleveland in 2013.
Two weeks into the season and it's clear that's not happening. The defense is improved. With Jabaal Sheard, Phil Taylor, Desmond Bryant, D'Qwell Jackson, Paul Kruger, Barkevious Mingo and Joe Haden as building blocks there's the start of something really good there.
But the offense remains a disaster and it's quite obvious the one-two punch of T-Rich and Weeden -- Holmgren's two first-round picks from the 2012 NFL Draft -- aren't the future. Blowing that up doesn't make Banner some slumlord who doesn't care about Browns fans. It makes him a realist.
Building a team around a running back doesn't work. Banner knows that. And so should everyone else who steps foot into the Browns facility:
Enlarge that picture and you'll see the words "CHAMPIONSHIP LEVEL QB" in big, bold letters. Everyone gets this right? You must have a high-level quarterback to succeed in the NFL these days.
It's bad news that the Browns are stuck with Weeden and Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell but it's good news that Banner and Mike Lombardi understand the No. 1 most important part of roster construction in today's NFL.
Yes, 2013 is going to stink for you, Browns fans. You're looking at a nightmare season that will produce little in the way of winning. But it could very well result in finding the quarterback of the future. Either Cleveland's going to finish with a bad enough record to land someone like Teddy Bridgewater or Brett Hundley will climb draft boards or the Browns will be able to package picks to move up and grab someone they want. This is a deep quarterback draft.
Besides, the realistic best-case scenario for the Browns was something like 6-10 anyway. That's not "winning." That's being "barely bearable" and it would've resulted in a top-10 draft pick anyway.
It's not tanking when you weren't going to be good in the first place. The reallocation of assets in this instance will ultimately be a major benefit for Cleveland if they land the right quarterback. Half the job is getting in position to acquire said signal caller. At least the Browns are there.
GIANTS (+1½) at Panthers: If you look at our picks page, I currently have the Panthers selected there. That pick's getting changed, even though I think Carolina is certainly capable of winning this game. My initial reaction was that I kind of liked the Panthers since the Giants were too obvious. But that's the thing. They're not too obvious, they're just a better-coached team. New York has issues, sure. But this Carolina staff gives away games like they are Joe Banks suit salesmen. Buy one terrible fourth-and-short call, get three free!
Texans at RAVENS (+2½): Is this a sucker game? The Ravens are the defending world champs, they're 1-1, they're at home and they're nearly a field goal dog? Road chalk is 3-6 on the season so far and it's not like the Texans have cruised in their first two games this year ...
The @HoustonTexans are just the 2nd team since the AFL/NFL merger in 1970 to win their 1st two games of the year on the game's final play— trey wingo (@wingoz) September 20, 2013
RAMS (+4½) at Cowboys: Two smart football dudes -- Andy Benoit and Greg Bedard -- teamed up over at MMQB to create a new defensive statistic based off of film study called "Pressure Points." Basically the gist is to weight sacks in a way that more properly values them. If, say, Robert Quinn smokes, say, Tyron Smith and destroys Tony Romo that sack is worth 1.25 points. If Quinn picks up a coverage sack on Romo because the Rams secondary played well, that's worth just .75 points. It'll certainly take some refinement before anyone starts using it as a layman-style basis for discussing pass rushers. I would also like to see it in some historical context to figure out if it ends up being accurate. But right now their system has the best pass rusher in the NFL through two weeks and that's spot on, so we'll lend it some credence.
Packers at BENGALS (+2½): One of these teams is going to be 1-2, which doesn't seem remotely fair. I would also like to issue a friendly annual reminder to everyone that you should really make sure to watch as much of Aaron Rodgers as possible. The systematic destruction of the Redskins in Week 2 was football's equivalent of Playboy. (Artsy and whatnot.) It's something we take for granted because of the quarterbacks in this game. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are legends. But Rodgers does things differently than they do -- he is truly gifted physically the way many quarterbacks never will be. He's extremely smart about his approach to the game but has a cannon for an arm and can stick throws where most human beings can't.
CARDINALS (+7½) at Saints: For some reason I was thinking about Dontari Poe giving up BBQ in order to lose weight and get better at football. It's obviously working for him as he has 3½ sacks in three games now vs. five sacks in his entire college career. But it couldn't have been easy, you know? Dude went to college at Memphis and plays in Kansas City. That got me thinking: What NFL city would be the hardest to lose weight in? Originally I was positive New Orleans would be No. 1 in a landslide but the more I thought about it, the more Green Bay really stands out. It's a lot colder there which means you're sweating less and not exactly leaving the house to exercise as much. Maybe. My unofficial NFL Fatty Rankings: Green Bay, New Orleans, Chicago, Buffalo, Pittsburgh.
CHARGERS (+3½) at Titans: Has Kenny Britt lost his mind? He tweeted out some aggressive stuff about the Titans this past week, complaining that he hadn't gotten a new contract from Tennessee. It would be one thing if Britt was upset he didn't get a new deal and the Titans were just ignoring him. But his situation is borderline laughable. Britt has caught seven touchdowns in the past three years. Meanwhile, he has been arrested EIGHT times since being drafted by the Titans in 2009. Britt has suffered major injuries and can't stay on the field. He was drafted by another coach. The Titans have used two high picks on receivers -- Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter -- since the new coaching staff arrived. He's lucky he's still on the roster.
Buccaneers at PATRIOTS (-7½): It's really crazy just how badly the Patriots have struggled to throw down the field, isn't it? And not just this year, although that's clearly a problem as Kirk Goldsberry of Grantland points out:
It has been an issue for New England ever since Randy Moss left, really (although Rob Gronkowski helps quite a bit I suppose). What's odd is that they haven't really dumped as many draft picks into wideouts as people tend to believe. In fact, New England has only selected five wideouts in the fourth round or earlier since the 2005 draft.
Two of those guys -- Josh Boyce and Aaron Dobson -- were taken in the 2013 draft so it's not completely fair (at all) to use them in stereotyping Bill Belichick's failings to land a wideout: Chad Jackson (2006, 36th overall, was warned against him, Greg Jennings taken at 52nd), Brandon Tate (2007, 83rd overall, Mike Wallace selected immediately afterward at 84th) and Taylor Price (2010, 90th, Mike Williams went 101st) are daggers because they washed out badly and talented players were taken soon thereafter.
Oddly enough, the Pats did draft Julian Edelman, though he was a seventh-round pick in 2009.
BROWNS (+6½) at Vikings: OK, not to harp on the Browns but why does Mike Holmgren get to tell the story about wanting to trade his entire draft class to the Colts for the right to grab Andrew Luck and in the same breath rip the Browns for acquiring first-round picks? Surely he has to be aware that the more first-round picks you have the better chance you can trade for a franchise quarterback. (See: Robert Griffin III.)
Anyway, I was messing around P-F-R earlier and looking at draft classes and, as I noted in my original Holmgren post, the 2012 haul for the Browns was a real stinker:
So what quarterbacks would you trade for this class? If you called the Jaguars or Raiders and said "Hey, would you like this group of players we drafted in exchange for your No. 1 pick in 2014," both those teams would laugh at you.
LIONS (-2½) at Redskins: You know how I keep saying that Reggie Bush is the key to the Lions offense? (And if you didn't know now you know that I've been saying that.) This became really evident Sunday when the Lions were waltzing away from the Cardinals until Bush went down. They produced 90 total yards after that. It's crazy just how dependent this offense is on a pass-catching back. Which makes me think that Detroit, as much as I dislike taking road chalk here, can roll if Bush plays. If he doesn't consider my pick flipped.
Falcons at DOLPHINS (-2½): Changing picks on this one for a couple reasons. One, I'm going to reluctantly hop aboard the Dolphins bandwagon. I think they're an AFC wild-card contender when looking at the teams involved. Specifically for this week I'm just terrified of picking the Falcons. Atlanta was fine last week against the Rams, but that was at home. Now Matt Ryan's going to be playing without Sam Baker blocking up front, which could equate to a really long day. Even if he's able to get the ball out quickly, all of his weapons are banged up. The Falcons are limping into this game badly and the environment -- home opener, in Miami, hot as hell -- isn't exactly friendly either.
Colts at 49ers (-10½): Part of me thinks that Jim Harbaugh loves Andrew Luck and will take it easy on his former protégé on Sunday. The other part of me remembers that Jim Harbaugh is an insane person and hates losing and following a loss he usually ends up dominating someone. After a loss or tie (and not counting season openers since those aren't linked) Harbaugh's 49ers teams have averaged 24 points per game.
You don't want to be against Jim Harbaugh after a loss:
Rush Yards Allowed
Pass Yards Allowed
2011, Week 3
2011, Week 13
2011, Week 15
@ New York Jets
2012, Week 4
2012, Week 7
2012, Week 11
2012, Week 14
2012, Week 17
The craziest number? Harbaugh's teams have given up a total of 50 points after a loss (or tie) since he took over. Be warned, Andrew. Be warned.
Jaguars at SEAHAWKS (-19½): The Jaguars and I are officially divorced (apologies in advance to the 50 percent of my family members who live in Duval). For the first two weeks of the season I picked them against the spread. They scored a single touchdown. I don't care if they score 19 touchdowns on the Seahawks in Seattle this weekend. You won't see me taking them against the spread until the phrase "Odds on Drafting Teddy Bridgewater -1000" is involved.
BEARS (-2½) at Steelers: Fun fact: for the first time, the Steelers and Ravens are both home underdogs on the same day this coming Sunday. The Ravens haven't been a franchise for 10,000 years like the Steelers but they've still been around for a long time. And teams are typically underdogs at home once or twice a year barring a truly dominant season. It's crazy to think that they haven't managed to cross paths.
RAIDERS (+15½) at Broncos: The Ryan Clady injury is going to be fascinating to watch unfold. Bill Polian, who I'm not 100 percent in agreement with most of the time but who knows many things about Peyton Manning, said recently that he believes the left tackle position is critical for the Broncos' offense. Polian says Peyton puts his left tackle on an island and then dictates matchups after that. The Raiders -- somehow -- lead the league in sacks. I'm not projecting the Raiders to win this game by any stretch of the imagination. Manning is 12-4 all time on MNF. But it seems like too many people are jumping on the favorite side of these massive lines. Someone has to surprise and not cover, right?
Yes, I just advised you to pick the Raiders. It's OK. The bounceback has begun.
Week 3: 1-0
Last Week: 8-8
2013 Season: 12-21