The first week of the season is always a tough one to gauge. Even the most convincing of wins can soon be put into context when you realize the following week the team you beat is going to struggle equally against all their opponents. In 1981, the Jets lost their opener 31-0 against the Bills but made the postseason for the first time since the 1960s. In 1997, they 41-3 against Seattle, but missed the postseason. Even as recently as 2010, the Jets opened with a listless 10-9 loss at home to the Ravens, but then won five straight and ended up with their best record in recent memory. In other words, the Jets can only beat what's in front of them, so all we can do is consider what the Browns have going for them.
After the jump, I break down the positional groupings (BGA-style!) to try and highlight what the Jets need to look out for.
Despite stalling for a while before making it official, coach Mike Pettine did eventually name journeyman Josh McCown as the team's starter. McCown started 11 games for the disappointing Bucs last year, coming off his best season when he posted a QB rating of over 100 in relief of Jay Cutler in Chicago. Despite playing for seven other teams before arriving in Cleveland, McCown has faced the Jets just once, with Quincy Carter stepping in for an injured Chad Pennington and 'out-dueling' him for a 13-3 win in 2004.
Backing up McCown is Johnny Manziel, last year's first-round pick, who has predictably been suffering growing pains since entering the league. For the time being, it seems like some of his personal and off-field issues might be under control, but his preseason preparation was bothered by an elbow injury.
The Browns added a veteran presence on Monday when they signed Austin Davis, who started eight games last year for the Rams and posted an 85.1 quarterback rating. It would seem unlikely he'd be ready to be activated yet though, unless he has to play because Manziel can't go.
The Browns did also have Terrelle Pryor on their roster, but were using him as a utility player and released him anyway on Thursday.
The Browns offensive line is highly regarded with their most reliable players - as with the Jets - being at center and left tackle, where Alex Mack and Joe Thomas can still legitimately claim to be among the NFL's best.
They also get great play from their guards, John Greco, a 2008 third-round pick, and Joel Bitonio, last year's second rounder, with Mitchell Schwartz rounding out the lineup at right tackle. Schwartz is a better pass protector than run blocker, but did give up a team high seven sacks. Other than Mack, each of the starters had at least five penalties on the year, as compared to the Jets for whom only two starters had five or more penalties. Thomas led the team with nine.
While they have good continuity on the line with all five starters returning, none of their back-ups played for them last year. One is rookie Cameron Erving, who plays all five positions.
Despite the good blocking, Cleveland's running backs didn't have much success last season. Isaiah Crowell figures to start against the Jets. He ran for over 600 yards and eight scores last year, but his elusiveness numbers were poor. After a strange decision to trade Terrance West, who had shown some promise in his rookie year, that left them with just rookie Duke Johnson in reserve. Then they signed Robert Turbin, who backed up Marshawn Lynch for the last two years in Seattle but is out for four weeks with an ankle injury. Finally, they added some cover by calling up Shaun Draughn from the practice sqaud.
Johnson has good speed and can make contributions in the passing game, but he played just five snaps in preseason and has only just recovered from a concussion. As for Draughn, the Browns are his seventh team in a four year career where nearly all of his production (403 yards from scrimmage and two scores) came with the 2-14 Chiefs in 2012.
Another rookie, Malcolm Johnson, is listed as the starting fullback but he's more of a backup tight end and perhaps won't have much of a role.
With Josh Gordon once again suspended, the Browns retooled their receiver position by adding a couple of veterans to complement Andrew Hawkins. The diminutive speedster Hawkins joined the team last year and caught 63 passes. Brian Hartline has been a thorn in the Jets side in the past and had 1,000 yard seasons in 2012 and 2013, but his production more than halved last year as the 28-year old was looking past his prime. Their bigger signing was Dwayne Bowe from the Chiefs. Bowe, 30, is coming off a frustrating season when no Chiefs receiver caught a touchdown pass. He's apparently shown a great attitude since arriving in Cleveland, but dealt with hamstring issues through most of preseason which affected his preparation and is still listed as questionable right now.
Also on the roster are Taylor Gabriel, a nice UDFA find who caught 38 passes last year and two veterans who have never caught 20 passes in a season in Travis Benjamin and Marlon Moore.
At tight end, Jordan Cameron is gone, so last year's back-ups - Gary Barnidge and Jim Dray - each move up a spot. Rob Housler was added as the third tight end, while undrafted rookie EJ Bibbs showed promise in preseason but might not be ready to contribute as a blocker yet. None of them have produced like Cameron in the past, but at least they don't have the same durability concerns. Todd Bowles will be familiar with Dray and Housler who were on the Cardinals roster over the past few seasons.
This was a weakness for Cleveland last year, but they retooled this offseason, clearing out some deadwood (including 2011 first-rounder Phil Taylor, who they released even though he had a $5.5 million guaranteed salary) and making a few key additions. The one returning starter is veteran Desmond Bryant who played more snaps and had more sacks (5.0) than any other lineman last year.
At the other end spot in the Browns' 3-4 base scheme is a veteran the Jets are more than familiar with, 30-year old former Dolphin Randy Starks. Starks was starting to show signs of wearing down last year, but should still provide an upgrade for the Browns. Returning John Hughes and Armonty Bryant each started at least two games last year, but would seem to be much better suited to an off-the-bench role. The 320-pound Hughes was one of the Browns' best run defenders last year, while Bryant is a former edge rusher who gets a lot of pass rush reps on the interior. Rookie third-rounder Xavier Cooper rounds out the rotation.
The Browns' biggest addition (literally) is first-round rookie Danny Shelton. The 340-pounder was solid against the run in preseason. They are thin behind him though (not literally) with Jamie Meder backing him up. Meder was an undrafted rookie last year but barely played. However, he was very impressive against back-ups in preseason.
The Browns let disappointing former second round pick Jabaal Sheard leave for New England after their big free agent signing Paul Kruger delivered with a double-digit sack season in 2014. The starter on the other side is a bit of a surprise though, as Scott Solomon - a former Jets cast-off - hung onto his starting spot with an impressive offseason over two highly-drafted pass rushers.
Former top ten pick Barkevious Mingo has been disappointing, but actually wasn't that bad last year and only lost out to Solomon because he missed all of the preseason with a knee injury. Rookie second rounder Nate Orchard showed some pass rushing promise in preseason and will likely contribute right off the bat as a dangerous situational rusher. Both Mingo and Orchard have been listed as questionable though.
On the inside, veteran Karlos Dansby is now 33, but still a good all-round linebacker and very capable in coverage. Chris Kirksey, a third round pick last year, started eight games and is currently listed as the other starter. The primary back-up is Craig Robertson, who started 11 games last year.
The Browns' defensive secondary is highly touted with three 2014 pro bowlers, Joe Haden at cornerback and Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson at safety. Gipson ended the season second in the league in interceptions, despite missing the last five games with a knee injury, and Haden had another solid year as a physical man-to-man cover corner, although he was penalized 10 times. Whitner joins as a free agent acquisition from the 49ers after being given a four-year, $28 million deal.
With Buster Skrine defecting to the Jets, the fourth starter is Tramon Williams, who could be seen as a weak link in this group, although the 32-year old was a pro-bowler himself back in 2010. He had a pretty good year with the Packers in 2014, with a key interception of Geno Smith in week two.
Justin Gilbert, the eight pick in last year's draft, has been a disappointment with many Browns fans feeling Pierre Desir, a fourth round pick, deserves more opportunities than Gilbert. Desir has been dealing with a head injury though. Another 2014 rookie, K'Waun Williams, went undrafted but actually fared better than either last year and will probably be the slot nickel. Gilbert and Williams are both listed as questionable due to injuries and Gilbert was also involved in a road rage incident on Friday.
In reserve at the safety position are Jordan Poyer, who has played sparingly since being a seventh round pick in 2013 and rookie fourth rounder Ibraheim Campbell, who played more snaps in preseason than anyone else on the team.
The Browns return game lacks an obvious threat as nobody had a 40-yard return last season. Benjamin did run a punt back for a 53-yard touchdown in preseason though. He will return punts and Moore is listed as the top kick returner, although some believe Gilbert was get those duties. In coverage, Moore, Poyer and another back-up defensive back Johnson Bademosi were the team's most productive tacklers.
The Browns have a proven punter and a completely unproven kicker. Former 49er Andy Lee is still one of the league's best punters and had a great preseason. However, their kicker Travis Coons has not kicked in an NFL regular season game after going undrafted last year. He made his only field goal in preseason after going 2-for-3 in preseason last year.
I'll be back tomorrow to recap the game.
Stats from PFF were used in the completion of this article.