DURING THE headydays of Cleveland's off-season, the coach received a contract extension, thequarterback took snaps at the Pro Bowl and the star receiver bet Michael Phelpsthat for every gold medal the swimmer won in Beijing, he would score twotouchdowns. After a 1--3 start to the season, Romeo Crennel is hearingquestions about his future, Derek Anderson may soon be holding a clipboard, andBraylon Edwards needs 15 TDs just to break even on his wager with his Michiganworkout buddy. "We know what business we're in," Crennel said just daysbefore Cleveland pulled out a messy but much-needed 20--12 victory at woefulCincinnati. "If you win, people like you more. If you lose, they don't likeyou as much."
If the league'sunderachievers were placed in a classroom, the Browns would be the one sent toa corner with a dunce cap. Seen as the AFC's It team after going 10--6 lastseason and narrowly missing the playoffs, Cleveland has wilted under the weightof expectation and national exposure. Though he rallied his team to victory onSunday, Anderson has been erratic since last December, when the Browns sufferedtwo costly losses. During practices last week, Crennel increased second-yearbackup Brady Quinn's first-team workload, a move that seemed to signal ashake-up. It still may come, after Anderson completed 15 of 24 passes for only138 yards. He's looked indecisive and lacking in confidence, reflected in hisabysmal 49.9 passer rating.
Anderson isn'tthe lone reason for the Browns' rocky start. Josh Cribbs, a game-breaking kickreturner, has been slowed by a high ankle sprain. Offensive coordinator RodChudzinski's pass-heavy play-calling isn't fooling anyone. Edwards, who missedthree preseason games with a lacerated foot, has 11 catches—including his firstTD on Sunday—and an unusual number of drops. At 1--3, Cleveland's season isn'tover, but the Browns, who have a bye this week, need some serious tweaks beforethey host the Super Bowl--champion Giants on Monday night in Week 6. Besidesboosting running back Jamal Lewis's workload (he was averaging fewer than 15carries a game before rushing 25 times against Cincinnati) and finding moreseams for tight end Kellen Winslow, Cleveland ought to turn the franchise overto Quinn, the Ohio native, Notre Dame standout and 22nd pick in the 2007 draft.The Browns know what Anderson can do. It's time to find out about Quinn.
Cleveland isn'tthe only presumed contender that's struggling. Here's a prognosis on a trio ofother one-win teams.
Once defined by an explosive offense and a defense that thrived on thetakeaway, Indianapolis has arrived at a strange and unfamiliar place in 2008.The Colts look old. They look spent. On paper few teams in the NFL can matchIndy's talent, but the rest of the league is running on fresh legs bycomparison. The Colts have time to get healthy, but the middle of the scheduleis a beast: at Green Bay in Week 7, at Tennessee in Week 8, home to thePatriots in Week 9, at Pittsburgh in Week 10. You can't find a tougher stretchof games.
As long as PeytonManning is upright, Indy can compete with anybody, but it's getting harderevery year. And harder still without All-Pro safety Bob Sanders, who's out forat least a month. With Tom Brady done for the season, you'd have said the Coltswould dominate the conference. They may not even get out of the AFC South.
An early-season NFC favorite, Minnesota's 30--17 loss at Tennessee leftquestions: Why couldn't the Vikings' vaunted defensive front, bolstered by theaddition of Jared Allen, get to a quarterback with the slow feet and big windupof Kerry Collins? Why did Adrian Peterson carry the ball just 18 times, whileGus Frerotte threw 43 passes? And how soon will Peterson master the nuances ofthe position at this level, such as pass blocking? The Vikings thought they'dhave among the best offensive and defensive lines this season. On Sunday,Tennessee showed it had better versions of each.
Coach Mike Holmgren spent the bye week scanning the waiver wire, the trainingroom and the street for healthy receivers. Bobby Engram (shoulder), DeionBranch (knee) and Koren Robinson (knee) could all see action in Week 5, whenSeattle visits the Giants. The best thing the Seahawks have going for them isthe NFC West: The Cardinals (2--2) and the 49ers (2--2) failed to take hold ofthe division on Sunday, and the Rams are 0--4.
For Seattle, thekey to the division will be the continued resurgence of Julius Jones, theformer Cowboy who's a surprising third in the league in rushing yards per game.And all those rainy games at their home stadium, where they're 34--8 since2003, won't hurt.
ONLY AT SI.COMPeter King's Monday Morning Quarterback.
FRANK VICTORES/US PRESSWIRE (BROWNS)
ROUGH STRETCH Anderson, who's been spotty since late last season, needs to sit.