The League

Jim McCormick
Blitz Magazine Publisher

Jim McCormick

The editor and publisher of Blitz Magazine

Cleveland Doesn't Rock

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Let's be honest.

None of us had Atlanta making the playoffs last year. Not even a late-August lunch this past summer between Mike Smith, Matt Ryan and Arthur Blank could have ended with the zeal and optimism that last year's surprisingly triumphant campaign did.

Point being that the NFL's enduring value and popularity is closely tied to our shared inability to truly predict and project what lies ahead. Power lies in unpredictability. Just ask a bookie (or a fantasy football nerd).

The NFL specifically augmented the way they schedule nationally televised games for this very reason. From the horse's mouth - "flexible scheduling ensured quality matchups on Sunday night and gave surprise teams a chance to play their way onto primetime." Translation - we had no idea that Atlanta was either competent and/or worthy of national attention.

This season the Falcons must pay the price for their up-start '08 effort with a tough early docket that has them hosting quality foes in Miami and Carolina in the first two weeks followed by a perilous visit to New England to close out September. But it seems, even in this hazy pre-draft climate, that the Falcons have a legitimate enough of a foundation to exit September with contention still a realistic goal.

Cleveland? That's a different story.

Let's remember that Cleveland's 2007 season mirrored last year's resuscitation in the Georgia Dome. It was the year that Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow II finally lived up to their considerable talents, price tags and hype. With Derek Anderson's ascent to respectably that season it seemed that things in Cleveland were finally on a positive course after years of struggling since regaining their NFL membership. But a tougher schedule last season and a rash of injuries and underwhelming play across the board compelled ownership to clean house on every level of the team. So much so that I wouldn't be surprised if the Browns' ball boys got the pink slip.

With a new coach, GM, the trade of Winslow, Donte Stallworth's very serious legal situation and the apparent looming trade of
Edwards to the Giants, it's once again a fresh start for a franchise that hasn't gotten it right since the early '90s. These new-look Browns enter the 2009 season bearing what is, in my opinion, the most brutal September in the league. New coach and former genius Eric Mangini faces a first 100 days in office that seem nearly as treacherous and caustic as our President's have been.

To start the season, Cleveland takes their (as of this writing) receiver-less offense against the improving and already stout Vikings' defense while their maligned defense hosts this Adrian Peterson guy and a seemingly enhanced Minnesota passing offense. In Week 2, sitting at an assumed 0-1, the Browns travel to Denver to take on an equally retooled but vastly more talented Broncos team in what is a battle of Belichick disciples. If Denver's greatest weakness is their sieve of a defense, then Cleveland's likely anemic offense seems equally incapable of capitalizing. In Week 3 the winless Browns visit Baltimore in a battle of the current and former Cleveland franchises, with the former Browns being a far superior collection of talent. A winless September isn't just a possibility for Cleveland, but a likely result in a league that we can agree often offers unlikely results.

Maybe it's an easy conclusion to have made that the Cleveland Browns aren't that great at professional football lately, but after perusing the new schedule it does seem like an unusually brutal early stretch for a team already in a striated division that hosts two playoff caliber foes in Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

Expect some somber, and hopefully entertaining, Mangini press conferences come early October. 

By Jim McCormick  |  April 15, 2009; 7:06 PM ET  | Category:  Adrian Peterson , Atlanta Falcons , Baltimore Ravens , Carolina Panthers , Cleveland Browns , Denver Broncos , Fantasy Football , Minnesota Vikings , NFL , New England Patriots Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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