It might seem overly dramatic to describe the regular-season opener as a must-win game for the Browns, but it also might be the truth.
The Browns have won only one of their 14 openers since the franchise’s rebirth in 1999, and that was in 2004.
With new ownership, a new front office, a new coaching staff, an extremely young roster that includes nine undrafted rookies and a second-year starting quarterback, Brandon Weeden, trying to find his way in the NFL, getting off on the right foot with a win Sunday against the visiting Miami Dolphins could do wonders. The opposite result, though, could lead to the type of downward spiral Browns fans have endured in each of the past five seasons, all of which ended with double-digit losses.
The Browns, who went 5-11 last season, will face significant obstacles in their quest to end the drought.
Josh Gordon, their No. 1 wide receiver, won’t play because he is suspended for the first two games for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
And the Dolphins, who went 7-9 last season, should feel a significant amount of pressure to win the opener because their next four games – at Indianapolis, Atlanta, at New Orleans and Baltimore – combine for a brutal schedule.
Andrew Abramson covers the Dolphins for the Palm Beach Post. He discussed the Dolphins in the following question-and-answer session:
Q: What are your expectations for the Dolphins this season?
A: “They’ve got a really tough schedule at the same time that they’re trying to jell. I think it’s unfortunate for the Dolphins that they have the rough schedule early. I also think it hurt them that [tight end] Dustin Keller suffered that torn ACL and MCL. So I see it being another kind of .500 season.”
Q: Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman predicted Ryan Tannehill, the eighth overall pick in last year’s draft, will be the most improved quarterback in the NFL from his first season to his second. Do you buy that?
A: “I don’t know if you can quite say ‘most improved quarterback.’ It remains to be seen. Sure, it’s possible. Certainly they’ve given him the weapons now. They have [wide receiver] Mike Wallace, who they brought in [via free agency]. Brian Hartline now moves to the No. 2 spot, which I think is more natural for him. He’s a good receiver, but I don’t know if he should be a go-to receiver. They brought in Brandon Gibson. He’s a talented slot receiver. Of course, they had Davone Bess last year who’s now in Cleveland [after being traded]. He was a certainly a good friend to Tannehill in terms of just being a comfortable receiver who is just very consistent. Dustin Keller came in and obviously he won’t be playing [after suffering a season-ending knee injury]. I think that hurt Tannehill a little bit. So with Tannehill, I think there’s a lot there. I think he’s got a good arm. I think there are some inaccuracy issues. That’s what I noticed most in the preseason, although it did seem to improve toward the end. So certainly he has the tools to do it. He has the weapons, and now it’s on him.”
Q: What is the Dolphins’ greatest strength?
A: “The biggest strength is the defensive line. They were already a top-10 defensive line last year, and I think they should be at least as competitive if not better this year. They have Randy Starks, who was a Pro Bowler last year. He returns to tackle. Paul Soliai, they also have him at tackle, and he’s right up there with Starks on his level. They moved Jared Odrick to tackle. He was a defensive end last year. He was good at stopping the run, but he’s not a great pass rusher. So he moved to tackle, which is probably a better position for him. And now you have Cameron Wake at [left] defensive end, and he was All-Pro last year. They drafted Dion Jordan No. 3 overall, and that was actually kind of a questionable draft pick by the Dolphins because they already had such a strong defensive line. They have good defensive ends. Right now, Olivier Vernon is tapped as the starter opposite Wake. So basically, they drafted Jordan to be a situational, third-down guy this year.”
Q: What’s the greatest area of concern?
A: “The biggest area of weakness last year was the secondary. The Dolphins were 27th in the league at stopping the pass [248.4 yards allowed per game]. They should be better this year. One of the guys that could end up being one of the steals of free agency this year is Brent Grimes. The Dolphins got him on a one-year deal [after the Browns also pursued him], and he’s been incredible. He’s been the best player in training camp. We’ll see if it remains in the regular season, but he’s a big upgrade over Sean Smith, who they had last year. Other than that, the secondary pretty much remains the same.”
Follow Andrew Abramson on Twitter: @AbramsonPBP.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.