In 2017, Cleveland became the second team in NFL history to go 0-16 in a regular season (the 2008 Detroit Lions being the other). The Browns have seen a carousel of coaches, quarterbacks, and draft picks. Despite their recent futility, however, and upon closer inspection, are fans crazy for believing that this year’s Cleveland Browns might just be a team of historic destiny? Can they win 11 games and break the largest single-season turnaround margin in NFL history which stands at 10? The Cleveland Browns week one match-up against the Pittsburg Steelers may well reveal whether the sun shines or the shadow falls.

Remember when Cleveland pushed Pittsburgh to overtime in Week 1 last season? Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said afterward that Cleveland was really going to surprise some people. Oh man, did they ever, and historically so, but it is doubtful that 0-16 is what Big Ben had in mind.

Aside from Roethlisberger inadvertently proving he is an expert prognosticator of the opposite sort, it’s now preseason, glorious preseason, where in the NFL, every team is a potential Super Bowl contender, even teams that went 0-16 the previous year; that is, right up until Week One snaps reality back into place. Still, there is certainly reason to be optimistic in Cleveland that things will be better in 2018, and that’s not just because of the fact, well, let’s face it, when 0-16 has only happened twice in NFL history, it would be difficult to imagine one team doing it twice in two seasons.

Chasing history and avoiding it all in the same season

Setting statistical improbability aside, Cleveland wants to break the single-season turnaround record and certainly wants to avoid being the first team in NFL history to go 0-16 twice. Avoiding the latter is a safe bet. Cleveland has made some offseason moves that should significantly address their most glaring weaknesses on offense last year.

Their defense was ranked a decent 14th overall—a number that looks even better when you consider how often the offense sputtered or coughed up the Football, forcing the defense to be on the field for extended periods and in disadvantaged situations, still managing to keep several games close.

Two games were lost in overtime, and six other games by less than a touchdown.

It isn’t a big leap to believe that their offensive changes could easily net them that touchdown back. A more productive and consistent offense would also likely reduce the points given up on the defensive side of the ball by giving the defense the additional time to rest between possessions and providing better field position.

Weak division and key additions should help

Cleveland is in a division, with the exception of Pittsburgh, that has struggled recently. Any improvement could easily move them from the bottom of the AFC North into second place. Their primary problem on offense last season was turnovers from a rookie quarterback not ready to be thrown into the starting role. Cleveland’s acquisition of veteran QB Tyrod Taylor is a significant upgrade.

He is a good possession quarterback for a "run first, run hard" style offense. He has consistently thrown right about 3,000 yards each of the last three seasons while completing over 60 percent of his passes.

More significant, however, is the fact he knows how to protect the ball, throwing 51 touchdowns to only 16 Interceptions. DeShone Kizer, Cleveland’s starter for 15 games last season, threw only 11 touchdowns compared to 22 Interceptions (in other words, Kizer threw more interceptions in 15 games than Taylor threw in the past three years). Those kinds of numbers don’t just kill an offense, they demoralize and hurt the defense as well.

In addition to a veteran quarterback in Taylor, Cleveland added 2017’s NFL leading wide receiver in Jarvis Landry.

Landry had 112 receptions last season in Miami, almost as many as Cleveland’s entire wide-receiving core combined, not counting tight ends or running backs. Cleveland’s leading wide-out from 2017, Rashard Higgins, had 27 receptions (ranking him 147th in this category across the entire NFL). Cleveland’s running game was also solid last season, and that isn’t expected to change with the addition of Carlos Hyde to the mix.

Dez Bryant could help, but so will Josh Gordon if he can stay on the field

Cleveland would love to add Dez Bryant to the roster. With his size, speed, and vertical ability, he could be the perfect complement to Landry. Neither player has ever had the luxury of lining up with a co-receiver of this caliber on the field at the same time, creating a nightmare for defensive coaches.

Landry would become even more dangerous if defenses also have to account for Bryant. And while critics want to keep pointing to Bryant’s drop-off, his 69 receptions in 2017 still exceeded the production of Cleveland’s top three wide receivers in receptions combined at 68.

If Cleveland doesn’t sign Bryant, and I contend the New England Patriots should grab him first, then Josh Gordon could still step in and create a similar tandem-threat with Landry. When you look at Cleveland on paper with Dez Bryant or Josh Gordon starting opposite Landry at wide-out, Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson in the backfield, and Tyrod Taylor running a ball-protect offense, it is easy to start imagining wild success from such a collection of proven players.

Call fans crazy, but if Cleveland is thinking playoffs, their optimism might not be that misplaced, and while zero to 11 wins sounds impossible, Cleveland could be well-poised to pull it off. It would be more historic than their 0-16 season last year. Can they do it? Maybe Pittsburg QB Ben Roethlisberger is the key to an accurate prediction.

Brown-Hogs Day?

It is preseason when optimism is high across the entire league, so too soon to call. Or is it? Maybe we’ll wait to see Week One’s results and get Ben Roethlisberger’s take in the post-game interviews. Like Punxsutawney Phil, only 72 miles west of Pittsburg, maybe Big Ben actually is the Groundhog of Cleveland’s season. In any event, if Big Ben says Cleveland is poised to surprise this year, I’m afraid it might be an extended winter for Brown’s fans.

At the very least, if Roethlisberger does make that announcement, maybe this year someone will actually ask him for an extended clarification on that prediction.

Since Pittsburgh is expected to be one of the toughest teams on the Browns' schedule in 2018, whether Big Ben sees a shadow or not, the Browns will get a great indicator of “weather” or not their winter of discontent will break soon. Maybe spring is finally in sight in Cleveland, and just maybe, so is history.