Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 2/28/12
Despite the disappointment of the past season, Cleveland Browns fans are already looking forward to the kickoff of training camp in July and the beginning of a new season filled with promise and possibility. What lies ahead for the Browns? Here are three bold predictions:

1) The Browns Will Bring Back Peyton Hillis
 
Many fans thought that Hillis burned too many bridges with the Browns last season with the various controversies that plagued him throughout the season and that his time with the Browns would consequently end at the end of the season. However, Hillis ended the year on a high note after he recovered from his various injuries and ran hard in the final games of the season. Nevertheless, much uncertainty exists over whether Hillis will return to the Browns next season.
 
Even though the 2011 season was rough for Hillis and the Browns, expect Hillis to be back in a Browns uniform next season. When healthy, Hillis is one of the most dynamic running backs in the league. Hillis can run the ball harder than the majority of running backs in the league and he also possesses above-average receiving ability as well. Hillis’ receiving ability will be a major asset in Pat Shurmur’s West Coast offense. Additionally, despite his issues over the past season, Hillis remains a fan favorite. Moreover, the Browns have no player on the roster who is capable of filling in for Hillis. The Browns struggled to replace Hillis last season while he was injured and the offense’s performance as a whole declined dramatically when Hillis was out.
 
2) The Browns Will Not Trade Up To Draft Robert Griffin III
 
Speculation has swirled over whether the Browns will give McCoy another year to prove himself ever since a concussion suffered against the Pittsburgh Steelers prematurely ended McCoy’s season. Earlier in the offseason, some analysts predicted that the Browns would raise the white flag on McCoy and draft Robert Griffin III with the No. 4 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft in yet another attempt to find a franchise quarterback.
 
Since then, Griffin’s solid performance at the NFL Combine has sent his draft stock skyrocketing. Recent reports have stated that the Rams have expressed interest in trading the No. 2 pick in the draft to a team who is seeking to move up in the draft in order to draft Griffin. These reports have also stated that the Rams are seeking multiple first-round picks for the No. 2 pick, making the decision to move up in the draft a costly decision that will affect a team’s fortunes far into the future.
 
The Browns have a plethora of holes on both sides of the ball, and the team desperately needs told hold onto as many draft picks as possible in order to address these needs. Mortgaging the future for one player could be disastrous, especially if that player does not perform as predicted. As countless quarterbacks such as JaMarcus Russell who frequently appear on “Biggest Draft Bust Ever” lists have shown, no quarterback is a sure thing, and Griffin could easily join the long list of busts. Furthermore, Mike Ditka’s infamous trade for Ricky Williams while he was the coach of the New Orleans Saints also shows the perils of trading away multiple draft picks for one player.
 
With quality quarterbacks such as Matt Flynn available in free agency, the Browns do not need to trade away high draft picks that can be used to acquire the core of players who will help the team return to the playoffs.
 
Of course, the Browns could decide to give McCoy another season at quarterback. Even though his performance last season was disastrous, McCoy’s ability to succeed was limited by a corps of drop-prone receivers and the absence of Hillis for much of the season. As this season’s Super Bowl showed, a quarterback needs to have quality receivers to be successful, and even the talented Tom Brady could not overcome drop-prone receivers. Although some fans may question giving McCoy another season, these fans should seriously ask themselves whether any quarterback could have regularly won games in the NFL with the receiving corps on the Browns’ roster during the 2011 season.
 
3.) The Browns Will Finish The 2012 Season With An 8-8 Record
 
Don’t laugh. This record is not out of the realm of possibility for the Browns.
 
Last season, the Browns’ pass defense was among the NFL’s best. This fact is especially notable in light of the fact that the Browns were without T.J. Ward, their outstanding hard-hitting second-year safety, for much of the season.
 
The run defense improved as the season progressed, shutting down some of the NFL’s best backs towards the end of the season. Additions to the defensive line through the draft and free agency will continue to bolster the run defense.
 
The Browns’ Achilles’ heel in 2011 was their offense, which failed to deliver points during several key fourth-quarter situations last season. An improved late-game performance by the offense could have easily changed the Browns’ fortunes in eight games last season. The offense will undoubtedly improve next season once new talent from free agency and the draft is added to the roster. Furthermore, the left side of the offensive line will receive an immediate upgrade when Eric Steinbach recovers from the injury that caused him to miss the entire 2011 season. Additionally, the Browns will have had an entire offseason to study and gain experience in Shurmur’s West Coast offense.
 
The NFL is filled with teams who made miraculous one-season turnarounds and teams that made the playoffs in the season after a miserable season. Will the Browns make the playoffs? Probably not, given the ultra-competitive nature of the AFC North. Will Browns fans see a vastly improved squad that is competitive each week? Definitely.
 

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