Seemingly every team has a chance to be competitive at the beginning of each NFL season. Half of the 2011 playoff teams missed the postseason the previous year. Two of those teams, the Giants and 49ers reached the NFC championship game.
The Browns missed the playoffs a season ago, finishing a disappointing 4-12. They were many people's favorites surprise and have a good year, but ended up eight games out of first place.
After an offseason of retooling, is there a chance that the Browns can compete for the AFC North title in 2012?
It will be very difficult for Cleveland to overcome both Pittsburgh and Baltimore, but they can certainly improve on last year's disappointing season.
The Browns have not been very successful in the past couple of decades, but the improvement over the last two seasons may be the determining factor in this year's outcome.
Of the Brown's 12 losses, 11 of them were by deficits of one touchdown or less. That's a pretty remarkable number considering the division they are in, and the level of toughness in their schedule.
Last year, the city of Cleveland saw the rise of their new franchise player, whom is only expected to have a monster year this season. As a rookie, former-Tar Heel wide out Greg Little caught 61 balls for 709 yards and two touchdowns.
Now, with new quarterback Brandon Weeden most likely at the helm, Little is expected to breakout in 2012. He could easily receive over 1,000 yards and be a key piece in helping the Browns climb out of last place.
Often criticized for his lack of vertical speed, Little has dropped 12 pounds over the summer to give himself a better opportunity to become a deep-threat receiver.
"This is the best shape I've been in since I've came out of college," Little told reporters. "I don't get nearly as tired as I did last season."
Cleveland improved in the supplemental draft, selecting Baylor's Josh Gordon. He has a chance to be a breakout star in the league.
Gordon was Robert Griffin III's top receiver in 2010, accumulating 714 yards and seven touchdowns on 42 receptions.
"Josh is a really fine learner, he picks this stuff up pretty well," head coach Pat Shurmur said. "I know he can catch the football and he can run when he gets going. He has great size."
Besides Little and Gordon, the Browns made another key move by selecting Trent Richardson out of Alabama. Richardson was a dominant force in college, rushing nearly 1700 yards, and 21 touchdowns last year.
He helped lead Alabama to the second national championship in only three years, and is considered to be one of the best running back prospects since Adrian Peterson.
Richardson should be a difference maker in the Browns offense. Cleveland finally has some talent in place to have a, somewhat, explosive offense. They can compete in their division if they can put the ball in the end zone.
The Browns will have a tough task ahead as they not only have to play against their own division rivals, all of whom were playoff teams last year, but they have to line-up against the NFC East, which is never an easy challenge.
If Cleveland can play smart football and win some close games, they have a shot at having a very successful year this season.
The Browns open their regular season against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sept 9.
Predicted Record: 9-7