Keeping Score: Can the Browns Win a Game This Season?

Keeping Score: Can the Browns Win a Game This Season?

Keeping Score
By VICTOR MATHER

Yes, it was only against the Giants, but the San Francisco 49ers finally got their first win of the season on Sunday. That just leaves the Browns. A 38-24 loss to the Lions left Cleveland at 0-9, the last team without a win in the N.F.L.

Only one N.F.L. team has finished a season 0-16, the 2008 Lions. But with more than half of this season gone, it is hard not to see the Browns a strong candidate to match the feat.

Oddly, the Browns have not been truly atrocious this year. Bad, yes, but not historically bad. They have had four 3-point losses, including one in overtime. In contrast, the 2008 Lions had one 2-point and two 4-point losses over the whole season. That team finished with a point differential of minus-249. The Browns are at only minus-97 through nine games; they would need to lose by an average of more than 21 points the rest of the way to match the Lions’ mark.

But the only statistic that really matters, any fan knows, is wins. The Browns have zero. And when you lose a bunch of close games, some of them will be agonizing.

Week One brought a 21-18 loss to the Steelers that did not seem to presage a disastrous season. The rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer seemed promising, with 222 yards and a touchdown. The defense played well. Maybe a decent season was in the cards?

Two weeks later, the Browns rallied from 17 points down against a bad Colts team, only to lose by 3 again to fall to 0-3.

Down by 3 late against the Jets two weeks later, the Browns went for it on fourth-and-2 at the 4, but came up short. 0-5.

Two weeks later, the Browns took a game against the Titans into overtime after kicker Zane Gonzalez made a 54-yard field goal. Then they lost on a field goal in overtime. 0-7.

The Browns’ decades-long struggle to settle on a quarterback is well known. This season Kizer was benched for Kevin Hogan, then reinstated, then benched for Cody Kessler, then reinstated again.

But focusing on this year’s 0-9 start can lead to missing the broader picture. The Browns have been terrible for a long time. Last season’s team scared 0-16 as well: It started 0-14 before scraping out its only win against the Chargers. The season before, the Browns were 3-13. Cleveland has not had a winning record since 2007, and has not made the playoffs since 2002. The Browns’ last championship? It was in 1964.

So where could a win come this season? Unfortunately, no teams as bad as the Giants are on the Browns’ schedule.

Winning on the road is hard, and three away games on the Cleveland schedule look tough: at the Chargers, Bears and Bengals. None of those teams are outstanding, but all are clearly better than the Browns.

Sometimes the last game of the season is an opportunity for a surprising result. The Browns finish up at Pittsburgh, and the Steelers may well be locked into a playoff position by that point. On the other hand, the Steelers are also one of the league’s best teams, and their backups would probably be favored at home over the Browns.

That leaves the three home games. Two are against solid teams, the Jaguars and the Ravens, and the Browns look likely to be at least a touchdown underdog in each of those games.

But there is hope: the Packers visit Cleveland on Dec. 10. Under ordinary circumstances, the Packers would be a solid favorite, but Aaron Rodgers is out, and his replacement Brett Hundley is 1-2 and putting up anemic numbers. Hundley’s adjusted yards per attempt figure of 4.6 is among the league’s worst. (Of course, it is still better than Kizer’s 3.66.)

The other thing the Browns have going for them is that they have seven games left. That’s a lot of chances for something strange to happen. Even if one gives Cleveland only a 10 percent chance to win each game, they would have better than even odds of succeeding at least once.

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Published at Mon, 13 Nov 2017 18:05:04 +0000

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