No one in the locker room was willing to go that far. But considering the brutal stretch of games the Browns face in the next eight weeks, Sunday's home opener against the Kansas City Chiefs is a must-win, at least for coach Eric Mangini.
After the Chiefs (1-0), the Browns take on Baltimore, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, New England and the New York Jets. The Ravens, Steelers and Saints games are on the road. All but Atlanta and Pittsburgh made the playoffs last season and those two missed with 9-7 records. The Saints won the Super Bowl.
The Patriots game comes after a bye week, which gives Mangini extra time to prepare for his former mentor Bill Belichick, if Mangini is still the coach on Nov. 7. It's hard to believe president Mike Holmgren would tolerate an 0-7 start without taking over for the rest of the season, unless an impending 2011 lockout comes into play.
With starting quarterback Jake Delhomme missing practice again Friday with a right ankle sprain, it appears the Browns will take on the Chiefs with backup Seneca Wallace behind center. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Browns offensive linemen say the Chiefs are blitzing less with new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. But Wallace brings more mobility and a stronger arm than 35-year-old Delhomme.
One who knows Wallace well predicted in March that Wallace might win Cleveland's starting job. He was never really given that opportunity. But that doesn't mean he might not win it now, even as the Browns desperately try to avoid another quarterback controversy.
In 2008 under then-coach Holmgren in Seattle, Wallace went 3-5 as a starter and threw 11 touchdown passes with three interceptions. The most stunning stat on his 2008 line was that he was sacked 14 times. But from games 6-9 and 13-16, he set a team record with 184 consecutive passes without an interception. He posted a career-high passer rating of 128.9 against New England.
Starting Wallace should also allow offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, way too conservative in the second half of Sunday's loss at Tampa, to be more creative. In training camp, the Browns practiced their Wildcat package extensively with Wallace and receiver Joshua Cribbs. It seems time to unearth some of those unorthodox options.
The Chiefs will be paying particular attention to Cribbs since he returned punts for 100- and 103-yard touchdowns at Arrowhead Stadium on Dec. 20. But this will not be the time to dink and dunk. Wallace needs to take a few chances with receivers Mohamed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie and Cribbs. Since Mangini said Friday he hopes Delhomme's possible absence would be a one-week situation, Wallace must seize his opportunity.