Monday, September 15, 2014

The moral dilemma of watching football

Sometimes when I find myself still awake at night, I will scour YouTube for long videos that will hopefully be interesting enough to distract me from the fact that I can't sleep. A few months ago, I clicked on this lecture that Malcolm Gladwell gave in 2013 at the University of Pennsylvania, without knowing what it was about. (It's over an hour long, so you don't have to watch it right at this moment. But I suggest that you do at some point.)

During this lecture, Gladwell discussed the risks associated with playing football. He talked about the link between getting hit in the head repeatedly and the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is the disease that likely caused Junior Seau to commit suicide in 2012. And he told the story of another player, less famous than Seau, who likely suffered from CTE, and committed suicide in 2010. His name was Owen Thomas, and he had been a collegiate player at the same university where Gladwell now gave this lecture three years later. (This was obviously a controversial tactic for Gladwell to use, and you can read the school newspaper's account of it all here.)

To Gladwell, this is a straightforward issue. We know that playing football is bad for a person's brain. We don't necessarily know how bad, or if anything can be done to mitigate the impact, or how pervasive a disease like CTE actually is. But it's pretty clear that football was responsible for the premature deaths of Seau, Thomas, and others. If not for "tradition" (and, of course, money), an institution like the University of Pennsylvania would never sponsor something that was known to potentially cause serious brain injuries. No academic institution would.

As more time passes, we're getting an even better idea of just how bad the problem is. This is from Friday's New York Times:
The National Football League, which for years disputed evidence that its players had a high rate of severe brain damage, has stated in federal court documents that it expects nearly a third of retired players to develop long-term cognitive problems and that the conditions are likely to emerge at “notably younger ages” than in the general population.
One out of every three players. It's one thing for professional players, who are well-compensated, to assume such a risk. It's quite another for a college to subject its own students to those risks, without fairly compensating them, or providing them with any long-term medical care, all while the coaches and the athletic directors and the university presidents bathe in pools of money.

So it would seem that college football is a morally corrupt enterprise.

But what about the NFL? Can the health risks assumed by the players be justified by their salaries? Maybe. I honestly don't have a good answer to that question.

What we've learned over the last couple of weeks, though, is that the NFL has a whole other set of moral failings. They're soft on players who beat up women (and it's not just Ray Rice) and players who beat up their kids. These issues were discussed on television by a former player who just had a statue built in his honor despite his involvement in a double murder 14 years ago. The owner of my favorite team allegedly made some of his money by defrauding his own customers.

All of this has led some to suggest that it's time for reasonable people to boycott football. I must admit that the part of my brain that is able to think about things in a logical manner finds this argument compelling. Whether we're talking about the NCAA or the NFL, supporting these entities that are run by corrupt men who are making millions of dollars off of athletes who are risking their own lives feels morally wrong.

And yet...

I was at Ohio Stadium on Saturday, along with 104,403 other people, to watch Ohio State destroy Kent State. And it was awesome. On Sunday, I drank beer and sat on my coach with some friends and watched the Browns pull off an improbable win against the Saints. It, too, was awesome.

I love football. I love the camaraderie that comes with sharing a communal experience with thousands of other people. I love thinking about and discussing the extensive strategy that goes into every single play. I love that it gives me something to do on weekends in the fall.

No matter how much the logical part of my brain thinks that I should give up football, I'm not sure that I ever could. And I don't think that this country ever will. Emotion is always a stronger pull than logic. For better or worse, this uniquely American sport is part of who we are, and it's here to stay.

That doesn't mean, though, that we shouldn't think very critically about the issues that surround this game. Ignoring them won't make them go away. And acknowledging those moral questions is not, on its own, a justification that should allow us to be comfortable with giving more of our money to the NCAA or the NFL. But that acknowledgment is at least where we have to start.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why the Cavs won’t win a title this year, or next year

Since I am not a normal contributor to this site, I feel like a slight introduction is in order. My name is Ryan Spruill and I am from Dayton, Ohio, but I have always been a Cavaliers fan. I went to school at the University of Toledo, where I was fortunate to meet Chris Donovan, and after graduating, went on to receive my MBA at Wright State University.

So, at around noon Friday, I was sitting at my office in Cincinnati, Ohio, when I heard a sound of disappointment. At my office, ESPN is always on, so I was a bit curious. To my surprise, I found out that LeBron James had decided to come back home. I was very excited, not because he was coming home, but because of the fact that this puts the Cavs right back on the brink of a championship.

Obviously, my mind was racing because they are clearly a very good team with LeBron on the team, along with young talent in Kyrie Irving and others. Irving has improved each year that he has been with the team, although this past year seemed to be a little disappointing one for him. The good news is that I feel like he played poorly due many uncertainties, such as where this team was headed with a GM in Chris Grant and a head coach in Mike Brown. It also stems from him having his third head coach in four years, and with that comes three new systems. There had to have been talks between him, new GM Griffin, and new head coach Blatt about the system they were implementing and the future of the Cavs’ roster. He must have been happy, as Dan Gilbert tweeted that there was a verbal agreement between him and the Cavs, with him tweeting about it well before July 10.

The Cavs also have two unproven number one picks. We all know about Anthony Bennett’s disappointing season, where he looked a bit out of shape and struggled to find his shot. I have heard rumors that he is having a great summer camp, but I want to see it to believe it when it matters at the beginning of November. They just drafted Andrew Wiggins, who played one season at Kansas. He had a fantastic year; however, he seemed to disappear when it mattered most. He has a very good shot, but not a consistent one. Personally, I wished the Cavs would have drafted Jabari Parker, who I thought was a little more consistent and had an ability to take over games in the final two minutes.

Dion Waiters seems to have a killer instinct, but he also seems to be inconsistent and takes plays off. Tristian Thompson has improved every season, but I question whether he can become a star of this league, not that averaging 16 points and 8 rebounds per game would not be bad. It is just that is all I see Thompson becoming.

Nonetheless, the Cavs, who are basically an all-star college team outside of LeBron and Anderson Varejao, now have Vegas odds of 3 to 1 to win it all next season. I do not see them winning it this year at all, or even next year.

Yes, I know this may come as a shock to a lot of people, and yes, I do want to be that person that says they can’t win it first, but I really do not see them winning it all. For one thing, I feel like they don’t have a great rim protecting center. Sure, Varejao is great for hustle plays, but he does not have that killer instinct, particularly on offense. They also have the young guys, who are expected big contributions this year in Irving, Wiggins, Waiters, and Thompson. The problem is, none of these guys have playoff experience. I am adamant on this, as I always feel like you become better because of your failure in playoffs. I feel like there is a reason  it took LeBron nine years to win a title, or it took Michael Jordan seven years to win his first. You have to face your failures, own up to them by using them as a teaching tool.

The Cavs are still entertaining the idea of trading for Kevin Love. The problem is, it may cause them to give up probably a Waiters/Bennett/Wiggins combination, and even a first rounder. Granted, they have three first rounders in next year’s draft, so giving up one of them might not be so bad. Waiters has somewhat proven himself, but I feel like he lacks discipline on the court with his shot as well as in the locker room. Wiggins and Bennett have all the potential in the world, but they could also be a flop as well. Personally, I would hold onto Wiggins and Waiters and see if they could do something with one first rounder and Bennett, but that is just me.

The Cavs are also very interested in Mike Miller and Ray Allen. Both are three-point specialists, but have a lot of miles on their legs and are liabilities on defense. If I were to pick one, I would likely go with Miller, just because he is younger. But neither one excites me.

So, after all this, you have to take a look at the Eastern Conference. The East was extremely weak last season, and I expect more of the same. I think the Cavs are early favorites, with Indiana an easy second, and then some up and coming teams. I really like Washington with their young backcourt in Wall and Beal. They could be the dark horse in the East along with Chicago, who still has Derrick Rose with an unknown injury status.

Again, as I said before, I like the Cavs to make it to the Finals, but we all know that is easier said than done. Out West they have serious competition in the Spurs, the Thunder, and the Clippers. I feel like all three of those teams could take on the Cavs and beat them handily. My early pick is the Thunder, as I feel like they match up extremely well against the Clippers, and we all know how difficult it is to repeat as champs in any professional sport. The Thunder are in the exact same position the Cavs were in 2009-2010, with the possibility of Kevin Durant leaving for better pastures in Washington in 2016. I actually see them getting it done this year with a more mature Westbrook, a polished Ibaka, and a steady backup in Steve Adams.

Do I think the Cavs will win it all? Well, there are no guarantees, and LeBron seems to realize that. However, I think if they stay the course and keep healthy, year three of LeBron’s return might be the one. Get ready Cleveland, this is exciting couple of years!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Browns beat writer thinks Johnny Manziel needs to be evaluated for chemical dependency

The Plain Dealer's many sportswriters love to do the shtick where they answer questions from regular fans like you and me. In today's edition, Browns beat reporter Mary Kay Cabot fielded a question from a "longtime Browns fan" about Johnny Manziel: Is it time for Johnny to "man up and act like a Brown?"

Unfortunately, we need to leave aside the absurdity of the question itself. (What exactly does it mean to act like a Brown? How does one act like he plays for a team that has made the playoffs one time in 15 years?)

The really shocking statement came from Cabot's answer: "With the pattern Manziel has shown since being drafted, it's time to have him evaluated by a chemical dependency counselor to make sure he doesn't have a problem." Whoa.

Reasonable people can disagree about Manziel's behavior up to this point. Personally, I think the bigger issue is the fact that the off-the-field activities of a kid who is 21 years old are being breathlessly reported as if they matter. If this were ten years ago, we'd have no idea what Manziel was doing during his days off. As long as it doesn't impact his play on the field (as of now there is no reason to believe that it will), it doesn't matter. Other people have argued that it would be nice if he were using some of his party time to study his playbook or whatever, and I guess that's a reasonable opinion.

What is not reasonable, however, is for a reporter to question whether or not somebody has a chemical dependency based on some photos that have been posted on the internet. That's a serious thing, not something that should be tossed out in a "Hey Mary Kay" article.

This city's media has proven itself incapable of covering the circus that is Johnny Football in a reasonable manner.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

In Jurgen Klinsmann we trust

I thought that Jurgen Klinsmann's decision to leave Landon Donovan off of the USMNT's World Cup roster was dumb. It seemed to be based on things other than soccer ability, because even an out-of-shape Donovan should to have some value to this team, if only as a sub. And even if Donovan truly wasn't good enough, he at least deserved a chance to go out on his own terms after being the face of American soccer for a decade.

I also thought that it was a mistake for Klinsmann to say that the UMNT "cannot win this World Cup." It may have been a true statement, but it doesn't really reflect the American spirit. Maybe the "American spirit" is just a BS term that a man from Germany doesn't really have to care about, but I don't think it's ever a good idea for a coach to tell his players that they have no chance to win the tournament they're about to play in.

The decision to cut Donovan, combined with that quote, have hurt Klinsmann's standing a bit among some American soccer fans. I include myself in that camp. (Although I do not include myself in the camp with Michael Wilbon, who told Klinsmann to "get the hell out" of America. Calm down, bro.)

And yet, I have not lost the trust I have in him. I continue to feel optimistic about the future of the USMNT, both immediately and in the long term.

Part of my confidence comes from the fact that we really have no other choice. Klinsmann was not brought in to win the 2014 World Cup; he was brought in to re-shape the entire system. He's got the credentials to suggest that he should be given every opportunity to do so.

But it's more than that. Whatever he's doing is working. The results speak for themselves, up to this point. I wrote about some of them last year: the USMNT's first ever win against Italy, their first ever win in Estadio Azteca, a win over Germany, and a record-setting winning streak. I understand that all of those big wins came with caveats attached, but the fact remains that the wins in Italy and Mexico City had never happened before. Ever. Under any circumstance. In the history of soccer in the United States.

Now, you can add this to the list: For the first time ever, the USMNT went undefeated in their sendoff games leading up to the World Cup. Go ahead and say whatever you need to say about how the games are meaningless or whatever; it's still yet another thing that had never happened before. This team is heading to the World Cup hotter than any of their predecessors.

Obviously the challenges awaiting them in Brazil are enormous. Ghana, Portugal, Germany. It will take some amazing performances, and a bit of good luck, for this team to even get into the next stage.

Nonetheless, I believe in this team and its coach. It's the World Cup and anything is possible.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The difference between Johnny Manziel and LeBron

You have probably heard about Johnny Manziel's recent trip to Las Vegas. Everybody has an opinion about it, even Brady Quinn. Personally, I think it is a little silly that we spent so much time talking about a dude's vacation, but I guess that comes with the territory of being Johnny Football.

Some people even wrote articles about which seat Manziel sat in on his flight back from Las Vegas. That's how ridiculous this Vegas story got.

How do we even know which seat he sat in? Because he posed for pictures with the people he was sitting next to:

In fact, it seems like he is willing to pose for pictures with just about everybody who asks. Girls at the pool in Vegas. Little boys at the mall. This guy. Anybody.

Contrast that with our former sports icon, LeBron James. This story came up on Twitter via @WayneEmbrysKids (click on it to enlarge):

For all that we've always been told about how well LeBron handles himself, and the media, we haven't heard a lot of stories about him being particularly gracious to his fans. Which I guess is his right. It would just be nice if somebody who calls himself "King James" remembered that he only gets to be the king on the shoulders of ordinary folks like you and me. He is who he is because fans appreciate his greatness, not simply because he possesses greatness.

So far, it seems like Johnny Football gets that. He's handled everything -- the media's dumb questions, fans asking for pictures of him everywhere -- with remarkable poise.

Let's hope he can handle blitzing linebackers with a similar poise.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The five dumbest news stories about Johnny Manziel

Johnny Manziel has only been a member of the Browns for a little over a week, but we have already seen some great journalists create some really intelligent narratives. There are going to be some Pulitzers won by the people who cover this guy, I can just tell.

5.  Manziel is going to be the backup quarterback because the owner said so in May. Also, Cleveland (which is a city in Ohio) is apparently not the same place as Hollywood (which is in California).

4.  After one of the most important days of his life, 21-year-old Manziel celebrated by drinking champagne. I can't believe this. Champagne is French. They don't even have football in France. Or at least not the right kind of football.

3.  Jimmy Haslam told a silly anecdote about a homeless man saying the team should draft Manziel. Then, Haslam told Ray Farmer to disregard all of the scouting reports because the homeless guy gets to decide.

2.  The Browns denied the New York Post's request for a media credential to cover rookie minicamp. How dare the Browns deny a credential to the most esteemed newspaper in the world that was just trying to cover the rookie minicamp of a team 500 miles away that they usually ignore?

1.  Manziel sent a text message to Cleveland's QB coach during the draft. Forget the homeless man. This text message sealed the deal. If it had been a suggestive Snapchat, the Browns probably would have just gone ahead and selected him fourth overall.

Did I forget anything?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Talking Josh Gordon, Johnny Football, and more

My friend Brett Clancy is one of the most knowledgeable football fans that I know. Even though he's a 49ers fan, I'm always interested to get his take on whatever the Browns are doing. Yesterday, following one of the most interesting weekends the Browns have had in some time, Brett and I exchanged a couple of emails about Josh Gordon, the draft, and more. You can read our exchange below. If you find Brett's insight as informed as I do, you can follow him on Twitter: @thebrettclancy.

On Thursday night, the Browns drafted the most exciting quarterback available. I think every Browns fan was feeling really good and hopeful about Johnny Manziel. But, because it's the Browns and everything good must be followed by a strong kick in the balls, we found out less than 24 hours later that Josh Gordon may be suspended for the entire upcoming season.

So before we discuss the draft, let's start with this: Assuming Gordon is indeed going to miss the season, what do you think the Browns should do? They completely ignored any and all of the wide receivers who were available in the later rounds of the draft.

Brett: The first thing, which I think the Browns understand, is that you can't just replace Josh Gordon. He's a top five talent and if he is indeed lost for the season, that changes up the entire approach to the passing game. With Gordon, the Browns offense could have looked a lot like Kyle Shanahan's Texans days with Andre Johnson, but without Gordon it's more like Shanahan's early years in Washington when Santana Moss, Jabar Gaffney and Anthony Armstrong topped the depth chart.

The most interesting name still available on the free agent market is Miles Austin, who's a 30 year old with injury concerns, but the lack of interest surrounding him could make it easy to get him on a team friendly one-year deal. As of right now the Browns really don't have any proven veteran pass catchers outside of Nate Burleson and Austin could be a nice fit if the Browns are intending to put together a rag tag group of receiver who's sum is greater than the whole of it's parts. I'll also float Josh Morgan's name out there. He struggled to separate himself from the competition in Washington, but he's a versatile receiver who's played in Kyle Shanahan's offense, so he could have some value. One more name that I'm only putting on here because he played his college ball at Ohio State: Santonio Holmes.

Of course, that receiver pool could grow in the next few months, as there were 33 receivers taken in the 2014 draft and while not all of them will stick, their roster spots will have to come from somewhere. Some names to watch for are Stephen Hill, who's wearing out his welcome in New York, but he's still young and his size/speed combo is hard to pass up. Brandon Lloyd signed with the 49ers recently, but after trading for Stevie Johnson and drafting Bruce Ellington in the 5th round, Lloyd could quickly find himself the odd man out in San Francisco. Similarly, the Colts pick of Ole Miss WR Donte Moncrief in the 2nd round could be an indication that LaVon Brazill is on the hot seat. There's some off field concerns with Brazill, but he's also flashed on field promise.

I might be jumping the gun a bit, but I'd also like to mention what the Browns have done at the position, signing four undrafted rookies who have a chance to impress in an otherwise thin group:

-Ball State's Willie Snead IV is the best candidate of the four to make an immediate contribution. Snead graded out as a day three pick after he rewrote the record books at Ball State on his way to posting back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons (106 rec 1516 yds and 15 TDs in 2013) before declaring for the draft as a junior. Snead projects as a possession receiver who relies on his natural hands and precise route running to beat corners rather than blazing speed. At 5'11 195 lbs he can play inside or outside and is likely to see time at both spots during training camp.

-Vanderbilt WR Johnathan Krause is a 6'1 215 lbs burner (runs a sub 4.4) and can develop into a legitimate deep threat on the outside. His route running is pretty clean, he’s was a willing blocker and his production at Vandy was solid playing across from second round pick Jordan Matthews.

-San Jose State’s Chandler Jones measures 5'9 180 lbs on scouting reports, but SJSU had him listed at 5'11. Like Krause he ran sub 4.4 at his pro day and was a favorite target of David Fales, racking up 1356 yards and 15 TDs on 79 receptions. He was a pro day snub with a chip on his shoulder. Without trying to raise the bar too high, I see him as a poor man's DeSean Jackson. He can contribute immediately on special teams and has the pure speed to take the top off the defense, but won't shy away from contact going over the middle.

-They also added Kenny Shaw from Florida State who clocks in at 6'0 170lbs so he'll need to bulk up a bit if he wants to stick in the NFL, but he’s played tough against tough competition.

Mayer: I'd definitely feel a little better about the situation if they do sign somebody like Austin, or another veteran who they can feel pretty confident about. Undrafted rookies can be interesting, but they're also obviously a crapshoot. And you're right, regardless of what they do, there's really no way to replace what Gordon provided. I was surprised that so many fans seemed to be outraged that the team didn't draft a receiver. It's almost like they thought that drafting Marqise Lee would magically make everything alright.

So speaking of the draft, the Browns ended up with Justin Gilbert, Johnny Manziel, Joel Bitonio, Christian Kirksey, Terrance West, and Pierre Desir. Feel free to chime in about any of the guys if you know something about them, but clearly the marquee name here is Manziel. The Browns have spent the last 15 years looking for a franchise quarterback, and now all of the pressure that comes with filling that spot falls on his shoulders.

I'm not going to lie, I was pretty excited that they went for him. Obviously there are a lot of questions about his size and how well his style of football will translate to the NFL. I get all of that. I'm not naïve about this. But there's just something about him. His personality is captivating. In addition to not having a quarterback, the Browns have also never really had an identity. For better or worse, Johnny Manziel gives them an identity. And it's not like they used a top ten pick on him, so I think the risk of drafting him was relatively low.

What say you?

Brett: I really think Austin can be a good fit, and the undrafted free agents are a complete crapshoot, but I think it was encouraging to see the Browns go after some guys who may not have been as highly rated, but who clearly have talent and all seemed to fit the mold of being reliable pass catchers, and willing blockers who aren't afraid to make the contested catch.

On to the draft. I'll be honest, I was in the Marquise Lee camp. I loved the talent, I thought he had the skills to step up in Josh Gordon's absence (not on the same level, but provide a clearer number one), and then slip back into a support role when Gordon returns. That said, I think they absolutely made the right call taking Joel Bitonio from Nevada. He's an analyst favorite, specifically Mike Mayock of NFL Network was very high on Bitonio. He's expected to play RT in the NFL, but he also has the ability to slide inside and play guard. He's just one of those guys who's 6'4 and 302 lbs but he runs a sub 5 second 40 and was a top performer across the board at the combine, and the game tape backs up his athleticism.

Terrence West is a nice pick, and a little underrated coming out of Towson. He's a a between the tackles power type runner with solid hands out of the backfield, so he's a perfect fit for what Kyle Shanahan likes to do in the running game and with Ben Tate's injury history he could see the field sooner rather than later. After being a workhorse in college though, I do think he'll benefit from rookie year more along the lines of Montee Ball last year. Give him time to adjust to the NFL level and improve his pass blocking, and in a few years he could be the guy.

I don't know much about Kirksey, but he seems to fit the formula of finding well built, highly athletic guys with good college production and leadership traits. He's seen as being a little too small and not quite powerful enough to hold down a spot as an outside linebacker in the NFL, but he's an intelligent player with a nose for the ball so a move inside could work out nicely.

Cornerback Pierre DeSir is a small school guy who proved he could hang with the big boys at the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl. He's got great size at 6'1, 198 lbs and he plays to his size. He's not a burner like Gilbert, but he's quick and he's tough.

Speaking of Gilbert, I loved the pick, and actually had a feeling that Cleveland might be coveting this year's top corner. So much to like about this guy: 6'0, 204 lbs blazed a 4.37 40 yard dash at the combine, he so well and he's a born playmaker. Just to temper expectations a tad here, while Gilbert is an extremely talented cover corner I worry about opposing QBs picking on him. Gilbert will no longer be the best corner on the team and QBs are going to want to test him and the knock on Gilbert is that he's not a great tackler. To be clear, I really like this guy, but it makes me nervous when I hear people (including GM Ray Farmer) say he could be the next Patrick Peterson.

And of course, Johnny Manziel. My favorite part about this pick for the Browns is how it happened. It would have been so easy for the Browns to jump at Manziel at fourth overall, especially considering the Jaguars had just thrown every draft analyst a curveball by passing on WR Sammy Watkins and OLB Khalil Mack to draft QB Blake Bortles (who I actually thought the Browns might be targeting). Instead the Browns stayed patient, traded down, added first and fourth round picks for 2015, got Gilbert, and waited for their moment to take Manziel.

There's enough out there about Johnny Manziel that I don't have to break down much of his game. There's no question about his arm talent, he silenced any critics on that front at his pro day. It's all about if he can become patient and learn to throw from the pocket with defenders at his feet. And I think he can. I wasn't a fan of Manziel for a long time, I thought he was overrated after hearing so many people talk up his performance in this year's loss to Alabama ('Bama was up by at least 14 points each of the five times Manziel threw a TD in that game, if it were anyone else you'd say it was soft coverage, but since it was Manziel it was considered dominance). But after hearing some of his pre-draft comments about wanting to impress Texans head coach Bill O'Brien with his football knowledge I realized that he is a football junkie, and he is a guy who wants to do whatever it takes to win football games.

I think he understands that's what he will need to do to be successful in the NFL, but understanding it and reprogramming your brain to run to buy to make a throw rather than just running for the first down marker are two different things. I think it helps that Kyle Shanahan is the OC in Cleveland. He worked with Robert Griffin III in Washington and while that didn't end well, I have to assume he was encouraged by his pre-draft meetings with Manziel that this could be different.

Mayer: Kyle Shanahan's experience with Griffin is interesting, and I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot about that. The Redskins went from 5-11 in 2011 to 10-6 during RG3's rookie year, which is exactly what Browns fans are hoping Manziel can do. (Although apparently Jimmy Halsam has been going around telling people that Brian Hoyer is the quarterback right now.)

I guess to maybe begin wrapping this up, I'd just like to get a sense of how you see the AFC North shaking out next season. I know rosters are a long way from being finalized, and we still don't know for sure exactly what Josh Gordon's situation will be. But right now, how realistic do you think it is that the Browns can make a jump to 9-7 or 10-6 and get into the playoffs?

Brett: I'm sure the Shanahan angle will be talked to death by the time we get to week one, but I really think having that one year of success followed by a year of failure with RG3 will positively impact how Manziel is handled in Cleveland. As for keeping Hoyer the intended starter, it's actually a smart move by Haslam. I know Manziel's the one selling all the jerseys, but Hoyer's brief performance can't be overlooked and if Johnny Manziel doesn't look like the better QB by the end of training camp or has issues picking up the playbook the Browns would be wise to let Brian Hoyer start the season (especially if Gordon is suspended and Nate Burleson is still the top receiver). That said, Hoyer's coming off an ACL tear and will have a bit of a ways to go himself. And while we're discussing the QB position, I just want to make quick mention of Connor Shaw who went undrafted out of South Carolina. He's another undersized mobile QB with good mobility who seemed to specialize in winning games in college, I think he'll make a nice fit as the third QB behind Hoyer and Manziel if he can beat out Alex Tanney.

The AFC North is really one of the more interesting divisions to me right now because it seems almost wide open, and yet I would not be surprised to see almost any of these teams end up running away with the division, each teams roster is seems someway in flux. The Steelers are coming off a rough year, but they're also coming off a nice draft and if the line can stay healthy they'll be very dangerous. The Bengals lost their offensive and defensive coordinators, a top pass rusher, and a starting lineman and yet don't seem any worse for it, but I could still see a small step back for them. The Ravens have been consistently good but outside of their Super Bowl run not consistently great. The needle is point up for the Browns, but without Gordon, with a first year head coach, with a rookie QB, I think 10-6 is asking a little too much, but 8-8, or 9-7 are definite possibilities.

I think the early part of the season will be most critical. Even if Johnny Manziel wins the starting job the run game and defense will have to be what carries this team until he can get up to NFL speed (think the first six games of Russell Wilson's career).