Will the Cleveland Browns Win a Game in 2016?

Things have gone from bad to worse once again for the winless 2016 Cleveland Browns. Will they get a win this year?

2016 has been a great year for the much-deserving, much-maligned sports fans in the northeastern region of Ohio. Cleveland has become “Believeland”, with the National Basketball Association's Cleveland Cavaliers winning the Championship and Major League Baseball's Cleveland Indians earning a berth in the World Series. Their rejoicing is so triumphant it rings out across Lake Erie, resounding in the rolling hill country, across this great nation.

The only place that joy hasn’t reached is in Cleveland also, at FirstEnergy Stadium, where the National Football League’s Cleveland Browns toil under the sweat of a so-far 0-6 season.

It’s just another tough year in the NFL for the Browns, who have lost countless players to injury, some to suspension (again), and others who have been just plain bad. This was always supposed to be a rebuilding season, but I don’t think many people expected the Browns to be winless to this point.

Can the Browns find some of that Cuyahoga River bluffs magic that their cross-sport brethren have manufactured, or will 2016 be a historically bad year for the Dawg Pound?

Will the Browns win a game in 2016?

Seeing Is Believing

Let’s start with the big picture.

We at numberFire have created a ton of analytics and metrics to see just how much value a team produces and how consistent they are in producing it. The primary analytic we look at when analyzing teams is nERD, which is essentially a measure of how much a team would outscore a league average team by in any given week. Our nERD information can be found on our NFL Team Power Rankings page.

Coming into Week 7, the Cleveland Browns have a nERD score of -5.85, meaning they should expect to lose to a league average team by nearly a touchdown in any given week. Whew. Fortunately for them, they are not the worst in this analytic and they come in at 30th in our power rankings -- the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars are worse.

We also break down production through the Net Expected Points (NEP) analytic, which adds down-and-distance value to standard box score information, so that we can see just how much each play and each team as a whole influence the outcome of games. For more info on NEP or nERD, check out our glossary.

The table below shows the Browns’ team production in both Offensive and Defensive NEP on a per-play basis this season, adjusting their totals for the quality of their opponents. I also included their ranks in each category in the league for comparison. How futile is the Browns’ season this year?

Cleveland Browns 0.02 (22nd) 0.10 (20th) -0.10 (28th) 0.12 (25th) 0.25 (28th) 0.00 (15th)

All things considered, this isn’t bad. The Browns’ NEP production on a per-play basis is certainly deserving of bottom-half rankings -- both offensively and defensively -- but they aren’t historically terrible or anything.

For comparison’s sake, the 0-16 Detroit Lions in 2008 had a schedule-adjusted Offensive NEP per play of -0.06 and a Defensive NEP per play of 0.18. The Browns aren’t far enough away from that where they should feel comfortable, but this team is not tremendously horrendous from a historical perspective.

Doubting (Joe) Thomas

So, the Browns aren’t as bad as they look, which is why we have their end-of-season record projected at 3.7-12.3 (essentially 4-12). If we think they can win four games, there have to be some in which they are favored, or could at least eke out a win. How long do Browns’ fans have to wait for hope to arrive?

The table below shows the remaining 2016 schedule for the Cleveland Browns, displaying their opponents’ nERD score as of Week 7 and the difference between Cleveland’s and their opponents’ nERD.

Week Opp. Opp. nERD Rank nERD +/-
7 CIN -0.38 16th -5.47
8 NYJ -5.51 29th -0.34
9 DAL 4.88 7th -10.73
10 BAL -0.61 18th -5.24
11 PIT -0.26 15th -5.59
12 NYG -1.90 21st -3.95
14 CIN -0.38 16th -5.47
15 BUF 5.44 4th -11.29
16 SDC 2.01 12th -7.86
17 PIT -0.26 15th -5.59

Unfortunately for the Browns, there is just one game where they have a deficit of three points of nERD or less, putting only the Week 8 matchup with the New York Jets into true 50/50 territory. They have a fair shot against the New York Giants in Week 12 as well, with just a 3.95 nERD gap separating their current production levels, but the Giants are definitely on the upswing and have dangerous potential against a depleted Browns’ secondary.

Divisional games always have the potential to be a toss up, and the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals, and Baltimore Ravens all are around league-average teams this year makes them certainly within striking distance of the Browns. By our game projections, Cleveland is actually only a 4.24-point underdog for Week 7 against Cincinnati. If the Steelers’ offense doesn’t click with quarterback Landry Jones, either, those are two games that Cleveland could find themselves -- oddly -- with the upper hand.

There are definitely three potential blowout matchups ahead for them, though: the Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills, and San Diego Chargers. It would take a miracle for Cleveland to make 8-8 this year, due to these three games added to their six losses already.

Wait Until Next Year

In all likelihood, Cleveland will earn one or two “gimme” wins here and there this season, maybe if the Steelers sew up a playoff berth and rest their stars in Week 17, or if Cincinnati slips at all this week.

Things are looking pretty bleak for the Cleveland Browns in 2016, but the Dawg Pound needs to remember: this was always supposed to be a rebuilding season. When the new front office and coaching staff came in this offseason, they laid the groundwork for a process of turning this team around. It appears they may have struck gold in the 2016 NFL Draft, with third-round rookie quarterback Cody Kessler playing impeccably, and wide receiver Corey Coleman flashing brilliance before his injury. Even Terrelle Pryor has come out of nowhere to convert into a great wide receiver.

Give them some time, and the Browns could join their home-city sister teams in the pantheon of modern greatness. For 2016, however, let's try to get that first win.