Rearview Mirror: Looking back at the Cleveland Browns 2015 Season and Ahead to 2016. Seriously.

2015 has been something else for Cleveland sports fans. 

The Cleveland Cavaliers took us two games towards a professional championship. The Cleveland Indians have.....umm.....well.......played some games. 

And now coming over the horizon are your Cleveland Browns.

How will we judge the season when it comes to a close? What will we be saying when we're looking back at 2015? What will we be saying when we're looking ahead to 2016?

Will it be a 2015 like the Cavs had? (Yes, please!) Will it be a 2015 like the Tribe had? (OHGODINHEAVENPLEASENO!) 

My guess is that the Browns' 2015 will be right in the middle of those two.

When it's all said and done and the Browns' 2015 season is in the books, we'll look back and lament a couple of close losses. (We always do.) We'll wonder how things had been if the quarterback position had been handled differently. (We always do.) We'll think it a shame that so-and-so suffered a serious injury. (They always do.)

We'll wonder why a team so hell-bent on making teams defend the run doesn't have a better receiving option at tight end. No offense to Rob Houser or Gary Barnidge, but we'll wonder why they don't have that guy that makes opposing defenses pay when they over-commit to the run by slipping out for a big catch up the seam? 

We'll see that the offensive line is more potent than we believed when the season first started, which is saying a lot. Our quarterback won't be under constant duress as in years passed. (Poor Charlie Frye) We'll see a line that can push opposing defenses downfield, even when teams are lining up eight in the box. They'll make good defenses look average, and average defenses look bad.

We'll see that the running game is not just effective, but actually exciting. I know that to some people "exciting running game" is an oxymoron, but you'll see some big gains a few times every game. 

We'll see that the defense was not as stifling as we'd like, but not as easy to run all over as they were in 2014. The pass rush will still be nothing to write home about, but coverage will be good enough to give the defense some time to get into the backfield and at least force a few bad passes. 

We'll look back and know for sure that the Justin Gilbert pick was a bust. We'll be pretty certain that the Johnny Manziel pick was, too.

I think, short of an injury or some mop-up work, we won't see Johnny Manziel on the football field. I think we'll hold out some hope for him, though we'll all have given up on any dream of him becoming a superstar. We originally hoped for the second-coming of Ben Roethlisberger. After 2015, we'll settle for the second-coming of Andy Dalton.

We'll lose at least one game because of a missed field goal and someone somewhere will scream, "We wouldn't have lost that game if we still had Phil Dawson!"

Some will be angry and place all of the blame on Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine for the team not having more success and some of that blame will be warranted, but certainly not all. We'll irrationally wonder why they put the fate of the season in the hands of 36 year old Josh McCown and a wide receiving core that is a collection of #2 and #3 wide receivers.

Of course, when not so emotional, we'll understand that not every hole can be filled in one offseason, sometimes because there are too many needs, and sometimes because the players just aren't there to get. 

Okay, and sometimes because you missed on two first-round picks in one draft. But still.

And so, though 2015 will bring disappointment that we couldn't make the playoffs once again, we'll be able to look ahead to 2016 with some real optimism.

I think we'll be looking at the upcoming 2016 draft hard. Okay, we do that every year, but this time, instead of searching for a savior, I think we'll be looking for pieces to help fill in the puzzle.

We'll demand that the front office finally focus on the offense for a change. While we all get that the games are won with defense (unless you're the Green Bay Packers), we all want to be entertained. We want someone who is a threat to score every single time they touch the ball. Enough with signing free agent pass rushers!

And they'll probably sign a free agent pass rusher.

The record will be too good for a quarterback draft pick that is a lock for success, but we'll look at who's out there that might slip through. That pick won't be there, but we'll hope it is and we'll hope we can get out of Quarterback Purgatory. So desperate are we, that we'll talk excitedly about some backup quarterback free agent who looked good when he came in for a couple of spot starts for some team in 2015.

Playing the role of GM of this team - in our own minds - we'll be looking for a great option for wide receiver, free agent, draft, or trade. We'll be looking for a tight end.

We won't want to completely ignore the defense. We'll be looking for linebackers who can dominate. We'll look for a shutdown corner. Honestly, we'll probably be looking for a place kicker, too. Okay, we won't be looking for a place kicker. We'll happily give the job back to Farmer and say, "He needs to get a good place kicker."

We as fans will look at all of this, excited about the 2016 season, seriously able to talk about the Browns making the playoffs. 

We'll be happy that we finally have some continuity as Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine both come back for 2016.

Unfortunately, you'll have it at the quarterback position, too, as Josh McCown returns to be the 2016 starter.

As we look ahead to 2016, we'll have legitimate hope going forward. There hasn't been a lot of that around here lately. It won't be the same as being a Super Bowl contender, but it will be progress.

When 2015 ends, could we be talking about the surprise playoff appearance that the Browns made? Sure. I don't think it's too outrageous to think they could win two more games in 2015 than they did in 2014 and I don't think it's too much of a reach to think a 9-7 team could slip into a wildcard spot.

Of course, in 2014 it took 10 wins to get in for the AFC, and 11 for the NFC. (I'm not counting the lousy Carolina Panthers 7-8-1 division-winning record) And in 2007, the Browns 10-6 record was NOT good enough for them to make the playoffs. 

So, yeah, thinking 9-7 will get you in is a stretch, but I didn't say they would make the playoffs with that record. I said they could. I don't think they will.

Looking back at 2014, I think we the fans made one mistake. We said, "If the team wins X number of games, the season will be a success." Well, they did and nobody felt successful. It felt like another 4-12 season.

So as we think about 2015, I don't think we will make that same mistake. Before it begins, we already know that record won't be how we judge the Browns' 2015. It will be based on the season in its entirety.

I think we'll be as happy as we can be about a team that once again misses the playoffs. I think a lot of the stench of 2008-2014 will be washed away. I think we will have something to talk about besides who we should bench and who we should fire.

Give 'em hell, 2015 Browns. Take a few more steps forward. Give us something to look forward to on Sundays. Give us reasons to cheer. And bark. Give us hope.


Thank you.
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