Not every team in Cleveland is vying for a championship ring. The Browns are 0-5 for the fourth time in franchise history with their previous slow starts leading to win totals of three (1975), two (1999) and five (2012) games.
There has been just one team in NFL history to go 0-16 — the 2008 Detroit Lions — so expect a win to come at some point for the Browns. But they need to improve in every part of their game to get a victory. For example, according to Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, the team ranks No. 26 in offense, No. 27 in defense and No. 31 in special-teams play, placing them dead last in overall efficiency.
Using remaining win probabilities from FiveThirtyEight’s NFL forecast, the Browns are most likely to finish the season with a 3-13 record, and they currently have a three percent chance of going winless.
If they do manage to get their act together for a few games, the most likely wins will come later in the season, either in Week 16 against the San Diego Chargers, Week 12 against the New York Giants or Week 8 against the New York Jets. According to FiveThirtyEight’s NFL forecast, the Browns have a 46, 41 and 37 percent chance of winning those games, respectively, the highest of any matchups left on their schedule.
All three games, however, pose their own hurdles to a Browns victory.
The Giants’ passing game has struggled — they are averaging 6.8 net yards per pass, No. 14 in NFL — but their rush defense is solid, only allowing 3.5 yards per carry, fifth in the league. New York’s defensive line is also good at preventing second-level (between 5-10 yards past the line of scrimmage) and open-field (more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage) yards, which could frustrate a team like Cleveland who rely on their running game to gain yardage (5.0 yards per carry, No. 4 in NFL).
Perhaps the Browns can stop the Chargers’ passing game, which ranks No. 8 in pass DVOA, but they lack the pass rush that can take advantage of San Diego’s porous offensive line. The Chargers’ offensive front has allowed 66 total sacks, hits and hurries this season, but the Browns’ best pass rushers, lineman Stephen Paea and linebacker Chris Kirksey, have just one sack between them.
The Jets’ secondary is vulnerable — opposing quarterbacks have the highest passer rating against them this season (118.6) — but the Browns lost their third starting quarterback of the season during Sunday’s 33-13 loss to the New England Patriots when rookie Cody Kessler suffered rib and chest injuries in his third start. Prior to that, Robert Griffin III started the season opener and backup Josh McCown got the call for Week 2 but is expected to miss six weeks with a fractured left collarbone. The Browns may even start Charlie Whitehurst in Week 6 against the Tennessee Titans, which would make Cleveland the first team since the 1968 Broncos to start four quarterbacks in six games during a non strike-shortened season.
“The effort is there. There is no question about that. The guys are working extremely hard. They are giving everything they have,” Coach Hue Jackson told reporters on Monday. “I’m not by any means discouraged. I’m going to stay determined. This team is going to stay determined. We are going to stay together and we are going to keep working at it.”