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Scott Sargent provides quick-hit thoughts on the state of Cleveland's teams.
First Quarter: Break up the Browns
It was not all that long ago when fans and local media alike were talking about the potential of going 0-16; countless early-round draft selections and alleged offseason growth combining to aid in a regression from what was a lockout-shortened season.
Several games and a bye week later and the Cleveland Browns have their name listed as "in the hunt" for a playoff spot with just three weeks remaining. It's a mathematical pipe dream, but the fact that the Browns, coming off of a 4-12 season and rostering what should be an illegal amount of first-year players, are nationally relevant heading into Week 15 is something not even the biggest optimist (let's say, that rotund gentleman who wears the skin-tight super hero costume to home games) could have seen this train coming down the Orange and Brown tracks.
The likelihood of the Browns winning out -- what with the upstart Washington Redskins and the AFC West-winning Denver Broncos waiting in the wings -- is extremely unlikely. The odds of three more wins coupled with the requisite losses by other AFC teams is even more of a long shot. That said, even if the Browns win one of the next three games and finish 6-10, its a marked improvement off of last season's four-win slate, and against a considerably tougher schedule.
If anything will have gotten the Cleveland hope train rolling, it will be the bushels of coal provided by the last eight weeks of competitive -- and winning -- football.
Second Quarter: Welcome back, Kyrie
Originally given a four-week timetable to return from a fractured finger, the reigning Rookie of the Year harnessed his inner Wolverine and quickly healed one week earlier than expected. Not helping matters: The Cavaliers have gone 2-9 since Irving's injury, one of which was a shocking win over the Philadelphia 76ers thanks to a career night from Jeremy Pargo.
Irving acknowledges that his team, now coming off of five consecutive losses, has been a bit of a whipping boy for the rest of the NBA. "Now it's time to whip some other teams," Irving said in his first day of full-clearance practice.
As elated as the city of Cleveland may be to have Irving -- the team's leader in points and assists -- back, no one person may be more grateful than Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott who has had to deal with the brunt of these losses regardless of how hard his obviously overmatched team has played. Things got so heated this past weekend that Scott was fined $25,000 for commenting on officiating.
Irving will be back in uniform as the Cavaliers play host to the underwhelming Los Angeles Lakers. The Cavs have a knack for stunning LA teams on their home court, doing so to the Lakers and Clippers in consecutive seasons. While Irving had a bit of a run-in with Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant, leading to smack talk and a viral YouTube video revolving around some one-on-one hoops, the main focus will be on sending Bryant's team back to LA with even more of a negative headline attached to their name.
Third Quarter: Reynolds Wrap
He may not be Zack Greinke. He certainly isn't the still-unsigned Josh Hamilton. But with a gaping hole at first base and designated hitter, the Cleveland Indians landed their first quality free agent of the offseason by agreeing to a one-year deal with right-handed slugger Mark Reynolds.
As the Indians' leading home run hitter in 2012 was Carlos Santana with 18, signing a guy who can club 40 home runs if given the at-bats -- regardless of batting average -- is a considerable addition to a team otherwise bereft in the power department. There's a chance that Reynolds could wind up leading the league in strikeouts if he stays healthy enough to amass the plate appearances. But if he does so, that also means that he amassed enough appearances to be worth the $6 million incentive-laden contract that he was given.
Reynolds will easily march in to Spring Training as the most-feared power hitter in the Indians lineup. He'll likely bat fourth or fifth and will be tasked with driving in runs for a team that had a hard time doing so a year earlier. There is still hope that Chris Antonetti and company can lock up an additional hitter or two while wheeling and dealing for some arms. For now, however, fans of the Cleveland Indians will have to simply be happy that their team has done something -- anything -- to improve off of the roster they had heading into the 2012 Winter Meetings.
Fourth Quarter: Urban Reloading
A lot of talk has transpired over the last several weeks, focusing on Urban Meyer merely being able to add to the Ohio State Buckeyes team which went 12-0 during the 2012 season, making the 2013 version of the Scarlet and Grey that much more lethal. Not considered, at least in several circles, was the possibility of several key players opting to leave Meyer's playground for a chance to cash in at the next level.
Jonathan Hankins, a junior, first-team All-Big Ten defensive lineman, has declared his eligibility for the 2013 NFL Draft. Given that Hankins will likely go among the first 15 picks in the draft (ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has him ninth overall), his declaration comes as little surprise. What will be a bit of a surprise, however, is a decision by third-year cornerback Bradley Roby. Staring at a second- or third-round selection if he declares, Roby would make eight starters on the defensive side of the football that will have to be replaced by Meyer, either from within last season's top recruits, or by dipping into the talent pool this winter and spring.
Roby could see a Hankins-like ascent if he decides to stay in Columbus, but even if he stays, Meyer -- along with defensive coaches Luke Fickell and Mike Vrabel -- will have his work cut out for him if his Buckeyes team is going to even come close to replicating the results from the head coach's first season at The Shoe.
Scott Sargent is a co-founder of WaitingForNextYear, where he writes about all three professional Cleveland teams. He's been voted "Ohio's Best Sports Blogger" for his work at WFNY. Scott covers all things Cleveland, providing feature writing and weekly snapshots of what mattered and where we're headed in the world of Cleveland sports.