Blog/Sports Articles

What’s wrong with the Cavaliers? Is a trade needed in February?

By Brendan DeVenney

For the second time since this rivalry began, the Golden State Warriors have swept the season series against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the regular season. The last time this occurred was back in the 2015-2016 campaign. On Christmas Day that year, the Warriors edged out Cleveland, 89-83. And then close to a month later in January, Golden State rolled to a 132-98 win on the road.

We all know what happened later that year in June, with the Cavaliers knocking off the team from Oakland in The Finals. During the regular season that year, it looked like Cleveland was a mile away from contending with Golden State. At that point Cleveland was relying on bench play from James Jones, Mo Williams, Iman Shumpert, and Richard Jefferson. However, they did not acquire really anyone at the trade deadline. The only move they made was trade Anderson Varejao to Portland (who ended up with Golden State), and acquire Channing Frye from Orlando in a three-team trade. Cavaliers fans did not feel any more comfortable with where their team was at at that point in the season. Even in The Finals they almost got blown out of the waters going down 3-1.

So, can that team be compared to this year’s squad? It’s hard to tell, because they weren’t losing nine out of twelve games at this point of the season. Before their 2015 Christmas Day matchup with Golden State, the Cavaliers had won six in a row. Before their January matchup that season, they had won the past nine out of ten games. Yes, they’ve historically been in slumps in the month of January and into February, but not to the extent of this. And in my opinion, it’s because Kyrie Irving is not out on the floor.

When Irving was with Cleveland, the ball movement was ten times better. If Irving was on this year’s team, it’s a good possibility that the Cavaliers may had been able to pull out a win on Christmas Day this season. For the majority of that game, Tyronn Lue had Dwayne Wade leading the point guard position. The aging Wade contributed just 13 points in that game, a lot less than what Irving would have put up. In 2016-2017, Irving averaged 21 points against Golden State both in the regular season and in The Finals.

Now, Isaiah Thomas was not active for the Christmas Day game this year. The first year Cavalier came back to play against Portland in the first game of January, and in that game put up 17 points in 19 minutes. This past Monday night was his first taste of rivalry play against Kevin Durant and the Warriors, and in 32 minutes totaled 19 points. That’s respectable for his first big game as a Cavalier. However, there were times where he looked to score first instead of pass first. That’s mostly because he always had to be score first in Boston, since he didn’t have guys around him like LeBron James, J.R. Smith, and Kevin Love. With Irving, he’s one of the best in the league at working the offense, and has handles to pass for days. Thomas doesn’t exude that the least bit. That’s why LeBron James was putting triple-doubles like crazy in the beginning of the year.

James was worrying everyone in sports media about his minutes being played. He was averaging 36 minutes a night in the first two months of the season. Since then, that number has gone down. However, he can not do everything, and that’s been proven in the past. And with Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder, and Dwayne Wade, this team still is not close to beating the Warriors.

That’s why this upcoming trade deadline is vital for the Cavaliers. With James’ mind up in the air about leaving Cleveland for the second time after this season, the time is now to win another championship.

However, it’s not going to happen with a divided locker room. According to Dave McMenamin of ESPN, after their 118-108 loss to the Warriors, “multiple players have acknowledged there is a growing discontent and a sense of concern. Unlike previous seasons, there is doubt as to whether the Cavaliers have the capacity to fix their current issues.” What has always worked in the past has been making deals at the trade deadline. This year could see the Cavaliers moving Tristan Thompson, who has not contributed as much as the team has hoped, and possibly not using the 2018 first round draft pick from Brooklyn. Iman Shumpert could also be in talks as well.

Some players around the league that Cleveland has shopped are Avery Bradley of Detroit, Kent Bazemore of Atlanta, and DeAndre Jordan from the Clippers. Jordan adds nice size to what is already a small lineup, and is a quality scorer. The problem there is that he has reported he “wants to be traded to the Rockets.” That’s legit given he did not play against Houston on Monday night.

The Cavaliers need to find an option here somehow and get a guy that can group this team together and have them play as a team. Everyone is trying to be a hero, but that doesn’t work when you have so many All-Stars on your team.

Isaiah Thomas shines in Cavaliers debut as Cleveland defeats Portland

By Brendan DeVenney

Josh Gordon returning. Corey Coleman coming back from injury. Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, and Carlos Carrasco coming off the DL. Tristan Thompson returning to the court. There have been so many times in Cleveland sports the past few years where superstars have made headlining returns to the playing field/court after they’ve been injured or suspended. On Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena, we saw both a return from injury and a Cavaliers debut.

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After months and months of rehab and surgeries due to a hip injury, Isaiah Thomas finally returned to the court for the first time since when he was with Boston last season in the Eastern Conference Finals. He had been urging to get back on the court for what it felt like forever, and after a few minutes back on the court, he looked like superstar Isaiah.

For the first time ever, Isaiah Thomas entered the game as a Cavalier with 4:33 left to go in the first quarter and Portland leading 19-17. After a Portland score, Thomas immediately got into a groove and showed he wants to make an impact, playing with his teammate of already two years with the Celtics, Jae Crowder, dishing an assist to Crowder that saw him drive the lane and earn Thomas the first of his three assists of the night.

Thomas’ first points in a Cavaliers uniform then came with just over a minute left in the quarter, pulling up for an uncontested jump shot on the left wing to pull the Cavaliers to within three of Portland. His first quarter would not be over though, as on Cleveland’s next possession, the 5’9” Thomas drove the lane against 6’1” Shabazz Napier, got the shot to go and earned the and-1 opportunity, tying the ballgame up at the end of the first, 28-28.

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Just with Isaiah Thomas out on the floor, it looked like Cleveland was playing with more confidence and passion, just with the rest of the roster having fun with IT finally playing alongside his brothers who he has been cheering in a suit all season long on the bench. The Cavaliers took the lead back in the second, and that saw IT hit his first three-pointer wearing Wine & Gold, making it 37-32 good guys.

We all know Thomas can shoot the ball and make moves in the lane just as magical as Kyrie Irving, his predecessor. But on Tuesday night we saw Thomas move the ball like better than when he was wearing “Celtics green.” His second assist of the night was a sweet pass to LeBron James to get the Cavaliers back within a point of Portland.

Thomas wouldn’t enter back into the game until there was three minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Cavaliers had secured a lead by then, and they would not give that lead up the rest of the night. He’d make his second three-ball of the night off a fast break Jeff Green assist in the corner, and “like a layup” calmly drained it to make it 87-79 Cavaliers.

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But what may have been his best highlight of the night was a no-look pass to a baseline driving Dwayne Wade who hit a reverse layup for Thomas’ third assist of the night, showing off his underrated passing skills and making Cavaliers fans love him even more.

After Thomas drained a third three-pointer of the night to make it 100-91, IT would exit the game to a standing ovation from the Cleveland faithful. The new Cavalier would finish with 17 points on 6-for-12 shooting, dishing three assists, and going 3-for-8 from behind the arc all in 19 minutes of playing time, since he was on a minutes restriction.

It looked so good to see Isaiah Thomas in a Cleveland uniform and it not being photoshopped or in NBA 2K18. You can already see he’s going to make a difference with his unmatched athleticism out on the court.

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The Cavaliers finished Tuesday night with a 127-110 win over the Trail Blazers getting them back on the winning track after three straight losses on the road. It’s Cleveland’s 13th straight victory at home at Quicken Loans Arena, their longest home-winning streak since 2014-15 when they won 18 straight. LeBron James finished the night with 24 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, and an amazing 4 steals. Kevin Love finished with 19 points and 7 rebounds.

While the Cavaliers love playing at home, they will have to go back on the road on Wednesday night when they travel to Boston to face their Eastern Conference rival Celtics at TD Garden for the first time this season. The last time these two teams met was back on opening night at Quicken Loans Arena when Cleveland squeaked out a 102-99 win. Isaiah Thomas will be sitting this game out.

 

 

Alabama defeats Clemson in Sugar Bowl, advances to National Championship

By Brendan DeVenney

Completely different story than the Rose Bowl. For fans of defensive games and boring football, this was for you. In New Orleans on New Year’s Day, Alabama and Clemson put all those who weren’t fans of either team to sleep.

Now that’s not to say that it wasn’t a good football game. It just wasn’t that exciting. With former Clemson quarterback DeShaun Watson watching on the sidelines, first year quarterback Kelly Bryant had a lot of pressure put on his shoulders. Much like Georgia’s freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, this was Bryant’s first real primetime, season-on-the-line game. But unlike Fromm, Bryant could not deliver.

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The defensive pressure from Alabama was relevant all night long, and Bryant just could not handle their pressure. Rashan Evans, Raekwon Davis, and Minkah Fitzpatrick swarmed Bryant like he was their favorite desert. In the first half, Clemson’s offense could generate anything, and was forced with four three-and-outs. The only productive play from Bryant was on a 13-play drive that saw him run the ball four times and get sacked, while completing just two passes. On a third down where the Tigers were marching towards the red zone, Bryant could not deliver and threw another incomplete pass.

Clemson was lucky they were down just a touchdown at halftime because Alabama’s Jalen Hurts was getting off to a good start, leading two long scoring drives to give the Crimson Tide the momentum in the game, and a third drive toward the end of the half that the Tide missed on a field goal. And it wasn’t just Hurts. Damien Harris was running all over Clemson’s defense, just like he has done in the regular season.

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At the start of the second half, Clemson got off to the perfect start, recovering a fumble by Jalen Hurts who was trying to hand the ball off to Harris, but there was miscommunication and Kendall Joseph of the Tigers recovered the fumble. But Kelly Bryant looked like the first half Kelly Bryant. A three-and-out by the Tigers gave the ball right back to Alabama, and head coach Dabo Swinney got lit up in Bryant’s face in frustration. But after that, the game started to unravel.

Clemson then forced a punt, but then Bryant would throw his first interception of the game. Trying to gain momentum, Bryant was picked off by Da’Ron Payne, and then Nick Saban’s offense made them pay with Alabama’s second touchdown to make it 17-6. And then on the first play of Clemson’s next possession, it was game over.

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There was still some hope for Clemson, as it was still the third quarter and just a two score game. But Bryant threw a slant to try and get it to Deon Cain, but it was tipped by Raekwon Davis and picked off in the air by Mack Wilson who took it back for a pick-six and take the Clemson faithful out of the game.

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That’s what Alabama does to teams who make mistakes. If you throw interceptions, the Crimson Tide will score, and that’s what they did to Bryant and the Tigers. There were a lot of critics in the media who said that Alabama didn’t deserve to get because of their strength of schedule, loss to Auburn, and not playing the SEC Championship. But they showed the country that they belonged once again in the College Football Playoff and will now play in their third straight College Football Playoff National Championship.

Kelly Bryant has a long way to go in order to become one of the nation’s top quarterbacks, because he did not look like the one-seeded Tigers guy on Monday night.

 

Georgia outlasts Oklahoma in Rose Bowl, advances to National Championship

By Brendan DeVenney

Best College Football Playoff game ever? Well, just in its fourth year of existence, you could say that. For the first time the College Football Playoff went into overtime in a Rose Bowl Game that could not had been more exciting.

It was the Heisman Award winner in Baker Mayfield for Oklahoma matching up against freshman phenom Jake Fromm for Georgia. Mayfield may have outplayed Fromm, but the clutchness was more relevant from Fromm in upsetting the two-seeded Sooners.

Fromm entered the season as a first year freshman from Houston County High School in Warner Robins, Georgia. So, the hometown product traveled cross country to try and bring the Red & Black back to the national final. And he did in unreal fashion.

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The Sooners roared right out of the gate, with Mayfield doing what he does best. Mayfield led Oklahoma to three first half touchdowns, including a clutch touchdown pass with just six seconds left in the half to CeeDee Lamb to make it 31-14 and a 17-point deficit for Georgia.

But back came the Bulldogs, who haven’t had to come back in many games at all this season. The only game they trailed and won was way back in Week 2 against Notre Dame. In that game, the Fighting Irish led 16-10, but Georgia battled back toe-to-toe with Notre Dame in South Bend and held on for a 20-19 win. They ended up having to fight a lot more than a 6-point deficit.

The comeback started on Georgia’s first offensive play of the second half, when running back and future NFL draft pick Nick Chubb took it to the house for 50-yards, a momentum shifting touchdown to get Georgia right back in the game, trailing now just 31-24.

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Chubb has been running all over opposing defenses all season long, and little did he know that would be a touchdown that started a miraculous comeback. After exchanging punts in the third quarter, Fromm went to work. Fromm hooked up with Terry Godwin and Javon Wims before giving it to the Bulldogs other elusive tailback in Sony Michel, who ran 38-yards for a game-tying touchdown with 41 seconds left in the quarter. The comeback was on and Oklahoma’s defense was getting gassed.

The one defense that wasn’t getting gassed, yet just getting started was Georgia’s. An interception of Baker Mayfield to start the fourth quarter was just what the doctor ordered. Dominick Sanders was in the right place in the right time and took it back 39-yards inside the 10-yard that would set up another touchdown for the ‘Dawgs.

Fromm rifled a pass to Javon Wims across the middle of the end zone and Georgia officially completed the comeback, leading 38-31. But Oklahoma wouldn’t go away quietly.

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On the next two possessions the Sooners retook the lead, that saw Baker Mayfield work his magic and find Lamb deep down the sideline for 36 yards, throw a bullet finding Dimitri Flowers in the back of the end zone to tie the ballgame up, and then the defense come up big with a Steven Parker 46-yard fumble return for six. 45-38 Oklahoma with just under seven minutes left to play, and the fun was just beginning.

Once again, after the Bulldogs and Sooners exchanged punts, Georgia had the ball with 3:15 left to play, and Jake Fromm led a touchdown drive Bulldog fans won’t soon forget. He hit Godwin and Michel for back-to-back first downs, and then hooked up with Godwin, the junior from Hogansville, for 16 to get the Bulldogs down to the 7-yard line. It was then Nick Chubb time and he ran it in for an easy six points and, with the PAT, and tie the ballgame up at 45-45.

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Baker Mayfield then had 55 seconds left to try and get the Sooners in field goal range to win the game, but three incomplete passes would not do it, and thus the first College Football Playoff overtime game.

The first overtime saw back-to-back field goals by Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship and Oklahoma’s Austin Seibert. Neither Fromm nor Mayfield were able to get their team a first down in the first overtime period. What was an offensive outburst in regulation came down to defense in overtime.

Oklahoma got the ball first in the second overtime, and it looked like Mayfield was finding a groove to get the Sooners in the end zone. He got his team inside the 10-yard line before being forced to kick a field goal by Georgia’s defensive.

It’s not all the time that special teams come up big and win games. Punt or kick returns are rare, and teams don’t always have to go for an onside kick. But in the 104th Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena, it would be a blocked kick by the Bulldogs to win the game. On a 27-yard field goal attempt by Seibert, linebacker Lorenzo Carter got his hand in the right place and blocked the kick to electrify the Red & Black section of Rose Bowl Stadium.

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It would take just two plays later for Georgia to punch their ticket to the 2018 CFP National Championship Game. Sony Michel would find a hole on the left side and run 27-yards to the Rose Bowl Championship.

This marks just the beginning of Georgia’s week of preparation for the National Championship. However, it does mark the end of an era in Oklahoma for Baker Mayfield. The Heisman Award winner will now get ready for the NFL Combine in February, and take with him to the NFL big game experience and great coaching lessons by Oklahoma’s phenomenal coaching staff. However, he was never able to win that big game.

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But as for Jake Fromm, are looking at the beginning of an era for Georgia Football? If Fromm keeps playing like this and gets even better under Kirby Smart and Jim Chaney, we could be looking at a top five draft pick in a few years. As a freshman, to lead his team to the National Championship Game, and win a game that will go down in Rose Bowl history, you don’t get a better story than that. Let the hype begin around the freshman phenom.

 

 

Cleveland Browns make history finishing 2017 season 0-16

By Brendan DeVenney

Back in September, I vowed to only write game recaps for the Browns in 2017 if they won, especially after they went 2016 with only one win, finishing 1-15. They weren’t relevant in the NFL at that time, and would only matter to fans if they started winning. Well, turns out, I didn’t have to write at all.

What does a team have to do to not win a game over the course of 17 weeks? Drop passes. Commit penalties in game changing moments. Mismanage the time. Miss tackles in open field. Not block for your quarterback. Get beat in the secondary. Fumble the ball. Throw interceptions. And flat out look like you don’t belong.

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Yes, every team does those things every now and then. Even the Patriots screw up at times. But the Cleveland Browns took all those things mentioned above to a new level. It felt like the 2017 Browns had one of those screw ups happen every other play. And some of them came at the worst of times in close games.

It would be harsh to say that the 2017 version of the Browns were a really “stupid” and flat-out “dumb” team, but what else would fit? There’s a reason that there’s now a parade being thrown in their honor as the worst ever to play football. Cleveland was the 13th most penalized team in the NFL, but it feels like they were the most penalized if you watch their games. From the holding calls, to false starts and offsides, simple penalties like those are unacceptable when you’re already the worst team in the National Football League.

From Josh Gordon not being able to play until Week 13 and help make an impact, Joe Thomas getting injured in Week 7, and DeShone Kizer throwing a league high 22 interceptions, nothing seemed to go right for the Browns. From being unable to pull out an overtime win against Tennessee, who ended up making the playoffs for the first time since 2008 after years of misery comparable to Cleveland, to blowing leads in Tennessee, Detroit, Minnesota, and who could forget, the Green Bay games, and having bone-headed errors, such as the Kizer interception in overtime against the Packers, and the Corey Coleman dropped pass with a chance to win the game against the Steelers, it was one thing after the other summarizing the garbage fire that is the Cleveland Browns.

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0-16 is a milestone like none other, and only one other team in NFL history can say they have swam in those waters. The 2008 Detroit Lions were the first team ever not win a game in a 17-week regular season. Before 2008, there were three teams in the NFL to go winless in shortened seasons. The 1982 Baltimore Colts went 0-8-1 in a strike-shortened season. The 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 0-14 in their inaugural season. And the 1960 Dallas Cowboys went 0-11-1 in their inaugural season. However, there’s one thing that separates those teams from the 2017 Cleveland Browns. They didn’t go 1-15 the season before.

1-31 over the course of two seasons with Hue Jackson as head coach. Does it get any worse than that? No, no it doesn’t. When you’re head coach can’t win more than one game in two seasons, something has to change. That’s why it was interesting to hear, after the Browns’ 28-24 heart-breaking loss to Pittsburgh in Week 17, owner Jimmy Haslam say that he is sticking with Hue Jackson. Haslam was quoted saying, “I think we have the best fans in the NFL, and when we win, Hue Jackson will be their hero.” Jackson was always a great play caller when he was the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati. But that’s because he had play makers in veteran quarterback Andy Dalton, wide receivers in  AJ Green, Marvin Jones, tight end Tyler Eifert, and running back Jeremy Hill. He had players to work with. That hasn’t necessarily the case in Cleveland. When he came to the Browns, his unconventional play calling just didn’t work with DeShone Kizer, Corey Coleman, David Njoku, Isaiah Crowell, Ricardo Louis, Dan Vitale, Rashard Higgins, and Duke Johnson.

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But maybe Haslam is right. Maybe sticking with the head coach that has been through all the losing can rise to the occasion and lift the spirits of the team, and what will be a new team in 2018. Maybe sticking with Jackson will translate to winning when the youngest team in the NFL can form a better relationship with their head coach and eventually start contributing even more.

That was another problem with this team. Entering the year, the Cleveland Browns had the youngest roster in the NFL out of all 32 teams. How are you supposed to win when Jackson is dealing with players who some have never played week-to-week in the NFL? That’s not necessarily Jackson’s fault, and that’s why Haslam and his front office took a step in the right direction in firing general manager Sashi Brown and hiring former Kansas City Chiefs general manager John Dorsey. Brown gave him the youngest roster in the league. He didn’t get any free agent veterans that could at least help the young guys. The oldest player on the roster is Joe Thomas of 33 years old, and who knows if he’ll come back next year with Dorsey now GM. The second oldest player is Britton Colquitt, the punter! (Nothing against Colquitt, he’s actually a really good punter.) But this Browns roster needs veteran that have experience winning under quality coaches. Dorsey needs to form a roster capable of adapting to Jackson’s offense quickly. Trades that don’t involve getting draft picks is what Dorsey needs to do this offseason.

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Another area where Dorsey can start making an impact is in the 2018 NFL Draft. The Browns have five picks within the first two rounds, including the #1 and #4 picks in the first round. After those first five, Dorsey has seven more to play with. The Browns football operations staff needs to nail these picks. In this draft, you have QB Baker Mayfield, QB Lamar Jackson, RB Saquon Barkley, WR Calvin Ridley, and many other play makers in this upcoming draft the Browns can take and hope on adding talent to this team.

The Cleveland Browns have been flat out frustrating the past two seasons. They’ve gotten our hopes up for nothing, given us headaches play after play, and for one day gave us all a Christmas present for 2016 on Christmas Eve at FirstEnergy Stadium. What makes it even more upsetting is that teams that used to be in the same ballpark as the Browns, such as the Tennessee Titans, Buffalo Bills, and Jacksonville Jaguars, are now in the 2018 NFL Playoffs! Only two years ago did the Titans have a 3-13 record. Five years ago Buffalo had a 6-10 record. And just last year the Jaguars finished 3-13. Those teams have gotten better, while the Browns have just made themselves worse.

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The only saying goes, “You have to hit rock bottom to get to the top.” (I think that’s how it goes.) But the positive thing here is that the Browns can not possibly get any worse. It’s important to be optimistic with the new GM in John Dorsey, and look at the Detroit Lions for hope. After their winless 2008 season, they progressively got better, and within three years they were in the playoffs.

However, the 2018 Browns schedule of opponents is not very friendly. Other than their AFC North rivals in Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh, the Browns host Kansas City, Carolina, and Atlanta. They also head to unwelcoming Denver, New Orleans, Oakland, and Houston.

But like I said, let’s be optimistic and hope things can get better this offseason and we start seeing W’s in the win column in 2018.

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2018 College Football Playoff Preview

By Brendan DeVenney

Come New Year’s Day 2018, four teams will vie to punch their ticket to the 2018 National Championship Game in Atlanta, Georgia. This year sees a rematch of last year’s title game in 2018 AllState Sugar Bowl, and also brings an interesting matchup of newcomers in the 2018 Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual.

84th AllState Sugar Bowl – #1 Clemson Tigers vs. #4 Alabama Crimson Tide

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Top-seeded Clemson enters as the defending National Champions, riding off what has become a very surprising season. After losing their starting quarterback Deshaun Watson and wide receiver Mike Williams to the NFL Draft, there were a lot of question marks that surrounded this Tigers club. But Dabo Swinney always finds a way, and has led his team to a 12-1 record and another ACC Title. Junior QB Kelly Bryant has stepped up to the challenge and continued to get better as the year went on. He was 23-for-29 in the ACC Championship Game against Miami (FL), a game that Clemson pummeled the Hurricanes, 38-3. Bryant has also emerged as a threat on the ground, rushing for 646 yards and 11 touchdowns, second most on the team. Who has the most? Well that would be Travis Etienne, who’s just a freshman. Coming in as one of the top recruited tailbacks in the country, Etienne ran for 24 yards and a touchdown on 6 carries in the ACC Title game, and overall has 13 rushing scores on the year. He’s tough to beat with an offensive line that features Tyrone Crowder, Jr. and Mitch Hyatt.

Clemson’s offense is just as good as their defense, who will have to rise to the occasion against one of the best defenses in the country in Alabama. The Tigers defense has taken a hit over the season, with Tre Lamar questionable for the Sugar Bowl, and Chad Smith and Mark Fields both injured, guys like Ryan Carter and K’von Wallace both have more on their plate. They return a lot of players up front who were apart of the 2017 championship team, like Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, and Christian Wilkins. This defense will have to outplay Alabama’s, who has arguably the best defense in the country. This year they’re even better with the return of Minkah Fitzpatrick who is having a phenomenal junior year. Tony Brown and Anthony Averett are also back from the 2016-17 team with experience against Clemson. Most of the starters now on defense for the Crimson Tide were apart of last year’s National Runner-Up ballclub, but did not see playing time. Players like Levi Wallace, Da’Shawn Hand, Anfernee Jennings, and Ronnie Harrison. This is a team stacked with upperclassmen, and some who will have their first big game experience in the College Football Playoff Semifinal.

As for their offense, the good thing for the Tide is that they return their starting quarterback in Jalen Hurts from last year, unlike Clemson. Nick Saban will have a QB1 who has been through this rival in the playoff before. Hurts last year against Clemson through 131 yards and was just 13-for-31 and one touchdown. He struggled against the Tigers, and so did the returning one-two punch of Bo Scarborough and Damien Harris. Hurts also has a great weapon in Calvin Ridley out in the slots. This won’t be Jalen Hurts last game with Alabama, but this is a major opportunity for him to try and get a national title this year and start making a name for himself. But that starts Monday night in New Orleans.

The Clemson Tigers will be making just their second appearance ever in the Sugar Bowl. The last appearance in the 84 year bowl game came back in 1959 against Louisiana State when legendary head coach Frank Howard was leading the Tigers. Clemson lost that game against LSU, 7-0. As for Alabama, this is their first appearance in the Sugar Bowl since 2015 when it was one of the two inaugural College Football Playoff Semifinal games. They lost that 2015 Sugar Bowl against Ohio State, 42-35. But unlike Clemson, this will be their 16th overall Sugar Bowl game. The Crimson Tide are 8-7 in Sugar Bowl games.

104th Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual – #2 Oklahoma Sooners vs. #3 Georgia Bulldogs

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It will be the “Baker Mayfield Show” in Pasadena this year. The Heisman Award winner will hit the Rose Bowl trying to make his case to be a number one draft pick in April, however, he’ll do it under the weather. According to ESPN, Mayfield was quoted in Saturday’s press conference, “I’m not dying. I’ll be playing and we are focused on our goal.” It will be important to keep in mind that illness can have an impact on a player’s performance. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that Baker Mayfield still won the Heisman for a reason. With a 71% completion percentage, over 4,000 yards passing, and 41 touchdowns, Mayfield has taken a long road to get to his stardom. With a falling out with the coaching staff at Texas Tech and knowing that would not be the program to succeed with, he trusted Oklahoma and has since helped the Sooners’ program rise to the top and make the College Football Playoff.

The Sooners have gone 12-1 this year, and have had one of the most electrifying offenses in all of college football, led by hurler Baker Mayfield. They’ve scored 30-plus points in every game except their win over Texas, a game that they squeaked out 29-24. Mayfield has also led his offense to 50-plus points in 4 of their 12 wins. Other than Mayfield, Mark Andrews, Marquise Lamb, and CeeDee Lamb have been his targets to catch for an average of 850 yards and 21 touchdowns combined. The running game for Oklahoma has featured savvy running of Rodney Anderson, Trey Sermon, and Dimitri Flowers. Their offense has been the story all season long, but the major negative has been their weak defense. The offense has been forced to score so much because of the holes in their defense.

Oklahoma’s defense has given up 1874 rushing yards, and over 3000 passing yards. Most of the Sooners’ secondary is made up of underclassmen, and their front lines are just not that talented enough and experienced enough to stop the run. If you look at their results, you can see that in the scores. Their first close win came against a Baylor team that ended up going 1-11. Baylor scored 41 points against Oklahoma’s defense, and the Sooners won 49-41. They also gave up 35 points against a subpar Kansas State team, 52 points against Oklahoma State, a game where the Sooners defense did not impress the country, and 31 against a not-so-great West Virginia team. They can’t afford to allow this type of lackluster defense occur against a very good Georgia offense.

The Bulldogs have been led by freshman quarterback Jake Fromm who has surprised everyone this season with his knowledge and smarts of the game. He has led the Bulldogs to an almost perfect season if it weren’t for an upset loss at the hands of Auburn. Fromm has thrown for 63% and over 2000 yards. In a few years, if he can get the Bulldogs to multiple playoffs, he can be a top-ranked draft pick in April. What has made him such a prolific quarterback is his help out wide. Javon Wims and Terry Godwin have caught for 6 touchdowns, and even Mecole Hardman, a sophomore, has been productive. But the real offense has come from Nick Chubb, a first team All-SEC from three years ago. Now a senior and potential NFL Draft pick, Chubb has ran all over opposing defenses, rushing over 1100 yards. In their SEC Championship game win over Auburn, he ran for 77 yards on 13 carries. And in their win over Kentucky, he ran for over 150 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’s helped second year head coach and former assistant to Kirby Smart revive the Georgia Football program.

For Oklahoma, this will be just their second appearance ever in the Rose Bowl Game. Their first and only Rose Bowl came back in 2003 when they defeated Washington State, 34-14, when Bob Stoops was still head coach. The Sooners will also have played in their 21st consecutive bowl game. As for the Georgia Bulldogs, they, too, will make their second ever appearance in the Rose Bowl Game. Their first and only Rose Bowl came all the way back in 1943 when the legendary Wally Butts was head coach. They defeated UCLA, 9-0, for their second ever bowl win.

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Cavaliers fall short to Warriors in Christmas rivalry

By Brendan DeVenney

In what has become a historic rivalry in the history of the NBA within the past four years, Cleveland and Golden State went toe-to-toe in a hard fought Christmas Day game at Oracle Arena.

The Cavaliers entered having won the past 19 of 21 games, and they recently had a rare three days of rest coming off their win over Chicago. The past three years Cleveland has played on Christmas Day and holds a record of 7-6 in such games. Their 2016, 109-108 win over Golden State  was their first Christmas Day win since 2009 when they beat Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. But unlike last Christmas Day games for the Cavaliers, this 2017 matchup was an instant classic.

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Cleveland was able to lead for the majority of the first half. However, they did just shoot 29% in the first half all together. Jae Crowder was knocking them down from behind the arc, along with four-time NBA All-Star Kevin Love. The Cavaliers had a 28-24 lead at the end of the first quarter.

The Warriors, who were without Steph Curry due to an ankle injury, did not grab their first lead until there was three minutes left in the second quarter, where Kevin Durant nailed a 26-foot three ball to give Golden State a 42-39 lead. That three gave the reigning NBA Finals MVP 14 first half points.

Even after a Jae Crowder triple, Golden State went to the locker room with a 46-44 halftime lead.

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Through the third quarter, Golden State continued to take charge and lead the game with Patrick McGraw’s and Klay Thompson’s shooting ability, and along Durant’s toughness. The Cavaliers grabbed just three leads in the third frame, and each time they got in front, it was via Kevin Love’s hot hand. He hit three three-pointers in the third quarter, and overall had a huge 15 points in the third frame. The rest of Cleveland contributed just eight points in the third to get ourscored 25-23 by the Warriors.

Golden State had a 71-67 lead heading to the fourth quarter, and that’s when things started to go awry for the Cavaliers. Over the years in this newly formed, history rich rivalry between the Cavaliers and Warriors, Cleveland’s Achilles heel has always been Golden State’s hot, clutch three-point shooting. On Monday in Oakland, that didn’t change, even with 2015 NBA Finals MVP Steph Curry out.

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Draymond Green hit two huge three’s to open the fourth quarter and give Golden State an 81-77 lead. The Warriors then grabbed a much larger lead with a Kevin Durant slam to make it 85-79 with just over six minutes to play.

Draymond Green and Durant play so well together, and it showed. After a Green layup, Durant hit the biggest shot of the game, a 25-foot three ball to make it 90-81 Warriors, and you could see flashbacks in your mind of last year’s NBA Finals.

But the Cavaliers did not fret. At 92-88 with 3:30 to play, it was “Peanut Butter & Jelly” time. Dwayne Wade made a nice move to the basket to cut the Warriors’ lead to two, and then 2016 NBA Finals MVP LeBron James tied the ballgame up with a drive through the lane. 92-92 with two minutes to play.

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Klay Thompson did what Klay Thompson does and that’s nail a huge three on the next possession, giving the Warriors a 95-92 lead. Then, after some bad errors by the Cavaliers and missed opportunities, Cleveland had the ball with 30 seconds left on the clock. LeBron James heard the call to action, and drove the lane on Durant hoping to get fouled and go to the lane or draw an and-1. Instead, after replay clearly showed contact on James shooting by Durant, it was called a block by Durant, and gave the ball back to Golden State, leaving Cleveland no choice but to foul to their 10th loss of the year.

The Cavaliers shot just 31% from the field, compared to Golden State’s 46% shooting. You’re never going to win a game when you shoot that poorly. Also, Cleveland had more turnovers than assists. They turned it over 14 times, and as a team had just 12 assists. The Warriors had 28 assists. 28!

The one positive that you can take away from this loss is that it turned out to not be a horrible loss. The Cavaliers stayed right with Golden State the whole time on their floor.

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If you were to give a player of the game honor to the losing team, no question it would be Kevin Love for Cleveland. K-Love tallied 31 points to lead Cleveland, and went 6 for 11 from behind the arc. Also, he grabbed 18 rebounds, a new season high for the forward.

James finished with 20 points with 6 rebounds and 6 assists. For Golden State, Kevin Durant was unsurprisingly their leading scorer with 25 points, three three-pointers, with 7 rebounds and 3 assists.

The two rivals will next go at it on January 15 at Quicken Loans Arena. By then, the Cavaliers are hopeful to have some backup with point guard Isaiah Thomas in the lineup.

Cavaliers continue hot streak with Christmas Day two games away

By Brendan DeVenney

It’s hard to remember the last time that the Cleveland Cavaliers have had a hot streak like the one that they are in right now. There has not been a streak like this in a long time as the Cavaliers have won 18 of their last 19 games. And with their first of two matchups coming up with the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day, they’re playing their best basketball of the season at the right time that could make that marquee game one of the best of the season.

Cleveland won 13 straight from November 11 to December 6, matching the franchise record. That streak was broken when Victor Oladipo absolutely balled out on the Cavaliers and beat Cleveland in Indiana, 106-102. But that’s beside the point, since the Cavaliers have been playing superb.

During this stretch, the Cavaliers have had the best record in the NBA at 18-1, including 8-1 on the road. That’s better the Golden State, who have gone 14-3. Better than Houston, who have gone 15-1. And better than Boston who have 14-5.

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In this stretch, Cleveland has gone 8-1 on the road, defeating a really tough New York Knicks team at Madison Square Garden, 104-101, that saw LeBron James hit yet another huge shot in a clutch moment, and outlast a young, promising Wizards team in D.C., 106-99. Those two games brought the best out of the Cavaliers, showing a set rotation. This stretch has seen surprising production from bench players like Jose Calderon and Cedi Osman, with Calderon even starting most of the games due to Derrick Rose’s absence. He has been shooting 51% from the field this year and is shooting 50% from behind the arc. And Osman has had to come up big in most games with Tristan Thompson out but soon to be back. He’s shot 52% from the field and has been a spark off the bench.

Osman has now become comfortable enough with this championship team that he can be in the right position to be in a fast break score with James, or hit an outside three in big moments. This is his first year in the NBA and he’s playing like he’s a veteran in the league.

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Another highlight of this stretch has been the play of LeBron James. With the win over Washington, James has now recorded three straight triple-doubles, six this season and five of them being in this 18-1 stretch. Recently named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week, the second time in three weeks, James averaged 24.8 points, shooting 52.2% in the Cavaliers 4-0 week (with wins over Atlanta, Los Angeles, Utah, and Washington). The three-time NBA champion also has an NBA best 13.5 assists, and has played a staggering 38 minutes per game.

In addition, James also ranks first in triple-doubles, first in double-doubles, first in assists, sixth in rebounds per game, and sixth in points per game. With his ball movement and moderating of the offense on the floor, the Cavaliers have started to shoot the ball at an alarmingly high rate. The Cavaliers have hit ten-plus three-point field goals in 20-straight games. Only two other teams in NBA history have reached that mark. They have also scored 100-plus points in 24-straight games, the second longest streak in franchise history.

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Now at 23-8, Cleveland is ranked third in shooting in the NBA with a 48.4 field goal percentage, and eighth in three-point shooting with a 38.2 three-point percentage. Kyle Korver has continued to be a great pickup for the Cavaliers, shooting 86.8% from behind the arc. Dwayne Wade has become the leader of the second unit after volunteering to come off the bench, and has fallen right in place playing his friend LeBron James.

They have also been playing their heart out on defense. The Cavaliers have the fourth best defensive three-point percentage in the league at .348. During this stretch, they have allowed just 8.4 8.4 fast break points, and they’re doing all of this without their best defensive catalyst, Tristan Thompson. That has made Kevin Love and Jae Crowder, two other big men for the Cavaliers, to play a little out of position and they have stepped up to the challenge.

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With just two more games against Milwaukee and Chicago before their Christmas Day matchup and NBA Finals rematch at Golden State, they should be the favorite to win that marquee matchup against the Warriors. Between the two powerhouses, the Cavaliers have been playing their best basketball in the month of December. Yes, Cleveland is on a five-game winning streak, while Golden State has won their last eight. But when you match these two teams up, Cleveland has better depth than the Warriors, and have been shooting the ball a little better. It’s all about if the Cavaliers can contain Steph Curry and Kevin Durant.

John Dorsey hired as the Cleveland Browns next General Manager

By Brendan DeVenney

When Ray Farmer was hired back in 2014, a lot of people were shaking their heads and weren’t very optimistic. Browns fans everywhere knew that he didn’t have a lot of experience of actually drafting players and making trades in the offseason. Soon enough, all those fans were right as he was fired in 2016 with a losing record.

The same went for Sashi Brown, and he didn’t even make it two full seasons. But now? Well, they didn’t screw up the hiring, that’s for sure.

Just 11 hours after Cleveland Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam fired Sashi Brown, along with Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta, the Browns made one of the best decisions they’ve made in a very long time. For the first time since 1999, Cleveland has their most qualified and experienced general manager. His name? Super Bowl Champion John Dorsey.

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The story of John Dorsey goes back to winning right away with the Green Bay Packers in the 1990s. He was one of many that helped bring Brett Favre to the Packers in 1992. In addition to his first stint with the Packers, he brought Donald Driver to Green Bay in 1999, and Javon Walker in 2002. He brought another winning quarterback to Green Bay in 2005, drafting Aaron Rodgers and a Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins. In 2006 he brought in one of the best linebackers in the league in A.J. Hawk, and wide receiver Gregg Jennings. In 2009, Dorsey helped draft Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji.

Dorsey then left Green Bay and became the new general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013. He immediately got to work and brought Alex Smith to Arrowhead in the offseason in a trade with San Francisco. He also brought in Anthony Sherman and A.J. Henkins in trades in the offseason. In the 2013 draft, he took Eric Fisher with the first pick, who has turned out to be one of the best offensive tackles in the league, and then drafted Travis Kelce, a Pro Bowl tight end. Kansas City that year went 11-5, a greatly improved record from 2-14 in 2012. In the past two drafts, Kansas City has received Marcus Peters and Tyreek Hill, future Pro Bowlers.

See a trend? Dorsey knows how to draft franchise changing players. He also knows how to work trades in the offseason and get phenomenal free agents. When you have established a winning reputation, it’s hard to go back from that and not continue winning. Michael Lombardi, the first GM under the Haslam’s, was a winner, but didn’t exactly be the “front man of the band.” When he took the lead role in Cleveland, he didn’t perform well. And Ray Farmer didn’t have years of experience like Dorsey has in winning, and just didn’t have the tools around him he heeded. And we all know what Brown tried to do.

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This is a great hire Jimmy and Dee Haslam have made. You can obviously see that this been in the works for a while now. An organization doesn’t just fire an executive, call up another name in the league, and hire them in 11 hours. The fact that Jimmy and Dee have had this in the works is a great sign and a sign that they are determined to turn this franchise around.

The thing is, you need to give this hire some time. The 2018 NFL Draft will tell a lot about what type of job Dorsey will do. It’s all about results with this hire. The only way this works is if the Browns are able to start winning consistently on the field. What will be interesting is to see how he works with Hue Jackson. Does Dorsey get rid of him as soon as possible? Or does he see potential in Jackson to win with the players he gets him. There’s a lot of questions to be answered in a short amount of time.

Sashi Brown fired as Browns’ GM: Cleveland looking ahead to Draft

By Brendan DeVenney

Well, here we go again. For the second time in three years, the Browns front office have fired their general manager. And the Browns will now have their 9th general manager since 1999. On Thursday morning, the first thing the front office did on their work day was fire General Manager Sashi Brown.

With four games left in the 2017 season, a season that has seen zero wins and a brand new team for the second year in a row with this team of football operations executives, it seems as if the Browns are now starting to look ahead to the 2018 NFL Draft.

Wait….. Where have we heard that before? Oh yeah, almost every three years! Cleveland’s professional football team continues to a garbage fire, but I guess all you can do is stop dreading the past and be optimistic for the future of this franchise. So let’s see what this firing of Sashi Brown actually means.

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On Thursday morning, Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam reported in the Browns press release that Cleveland believes “transitioning to someone with strong experience and success in drafting and building consistently winning football teams is critical to the future of the Cleveland Browns.” Haslam has owned the Cleveland Browns since 2012, and out of the general managers in that time, Michael Lombard and Ray Farmer were the only two that had previous football experience in looking at draft picks and working in executive positions in the NFL. Lombardi had 26 years of experience before coming to the Browns as the general manager in 2013, with a previous stint of 9 years with Cleveland in the 80s and 90s. And Ray Farmer was a director of player personnel and a scout in the NFL before coming to the Browns. Lombardi, despite lasting only a year, went 4-12, and Farmer finished with a 10-22 record.

The main thing to take away from those two stats is that they won games! And when Brian Hoyer was quarterback in 2014, the Browns were actually in first place in the AFC North!  But when Sashi Brown took over as general manager, things went south, further south than Antarctica, if that’s possible. Bringing in Paul DePodesta as chief strategy office, someone who zero experience working in football as he was previously known around MLB, to introduce analytics to the game of football was a complete joke. That kind of game just doesn’t work in football and probably never will.

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Brown, before coming to the Browns, was an attorney in Washington, D.C.! He has an undergraduate degree from Hampton University, and a juris doctorate degree from Harvard Law School. Don’t be surprised if Brown goes back into the lawyer business because that’s what he’s really supposed to do with his life. Why he was hired by the Browns as Executive Vice President of Football Operations no one will ever know, but that’s the wrong career field he is supposed to be in. He just doesn’t have any experience of working in football, analyzing talent, and knowing the game as an expert.

But now he’s gone, and the Browns have to start looking ahead to 2018, particularly the draft and finding a general manager that will work well with both Hue Jackson and the front office. The problem with Jackson and Brown was that they were never on the same page. I bring up working well with Jackson because according to Jimmy Haslam, “Hue Jackson will remain our coach and will return for the 2018 season.” So, in order to not have another losing season like 2016 and 2017, where we don’t even get more than two wins, you want a general manager that will work well with Jackson and get him guys that he can work with. Supposedly, Jackson really liked DeShaun Watson, who ended up becoming a candidate for Rookie of the Year, and Jared Goff, who now has the Los Angeles Rams in first place in the NFC West in just his second year. Plus, don’t forget about Brown not being fast enough to make a trade for AJ McCarron, a former quarterback under Jackson, which could have totally worked out. Jackson was in Cincinnati when the Bengals drafted McCarron out of Alabama, and he loved the way he played.

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Now, it’s early, but there have been names floating around Cleveland media for the new general manager position. The first one is John Dorsey, former executive of the Kansas City Chiefs. He in 2013, he helped Kansas City to a 11-5 record after a dismal 2-14 record. In 2014, the Chiefs finished 9-7, in 2015 they went 11-5, and in 2016, 12-4. I think the Browns and Browns fans would take any one of those winning records at that point. The big question is, “Can Dorsey duplicate that here in Cleveland?” His first move was firing former Browns head coach Romeo Crennel, and hiring Andy Reid in 2013. That move had the Chiefs at a 2-14 record one year, and an 11-5 record and a Wild Card spot the next! So you would have to think that when Dorsey might get here, he would fire Jackson and bring in a winning coach. The thing is, that’s not possible since Haslam has already declared Jackson the coach to start 2018.

Another name is Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. There has been a lot of talks about the Bengals either letting Lewis go after this season, since he hasn’t been able to win a playoff game with Cincinnati, or Lewis might opt to retire himself. But, according to Tony Grossi, Browns beat reporter, it’s a possibility that Lewis would reunite with former Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson in Cleveland as their next general manager. With it likely Lewis is leaving Cincinnati, he would want to stay in the sport, and a general manager position would be perfect for him. He’s a proven winner, if not in the playoffs, but that’s what the Browns need right now: a winner. Plus, with the relationship with Jackson and Lewis already there, it might be a good fit.

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And the final name that has been circulating in Cleveland is former Colts and Broncos Super Bowl winning quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning has said himself that he wants to get into football again, but is in no rush. The possibilities are endless for the two-time Super Bowl Champion. And according to multiple reports, the Browns director of football operations is one of those possibilities. Manning and Haslam have a great relationship with their Tennessee roots, and there were reports that Manning was in Cleveland back in November. Now, realistically, this move is unlikely to happen, but shouldn’t be counted out. Again, he is what the Browns want: a winner.

This will be a very interesting offseason to say the least, and it looks like the Browns are getting a head start on trying to change the way they draft players starting in 2018, and are eager to find a way to win, and fast. And let’s be honest, making any moves right now is better than not making any moves all together.