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Inside Blitz: Two First Round Picks in 2015 and a Young Core: Here Come the Browns?

Wait, the calendar says November, so what are the Cleveland Browns doing at 6-3, ahead of the Bengals, Steelers and Ravens in the AFC North?

To find the last time the Browns have been three games above .500 this late in the season, you have to look all the way back to 2007 when Cleveland was led by the legendary trio of Josh Cribbs, Derek Anderson and Braylon Edwards. It was short-lived, though: The Browns won 4 games in 2008, then five, then five, then four, then five.

This version of the Browns isn’t likely to implode as quickly. Yes, the Brian Hoyer contract situation will be a pivotal one, but beyond that decision, here are two reasons for optimism:

1) The Browns have two picks in the 1st round of the 2015 draftthanks to the Sammy Watkins trade. So far, it looks like a big win for the Browns. Watkins has played well, but the 2014 draft has produced half a dozen potential stars at the position, and you can’t say for sure yet if Watkins will be better than Odell Beckham, Mike Evans or Kelvin Benjamin. With every Buffalo loss, this pick moves up the ladder.

The Bills home defeat to Kansas City Sunday was enormous – it essentially makes Thursday’s game against Miami an elimination game in the AFC East. The loser will be a longshot to capture a Wild Card.

Poor Buffalo. Already sour on their 2013 1st round draft pick (benched QB EJ Manuel) and now they’re trending away from the playoffs without a 1st round pick in 2015. Hey Buffalo, it could be worse: You could be the Jags – a team that’s drafted in the Top 10 eight years in a row.

2) Have you seen how young the Cleveland core is? I counted 14 Browns players who have been significant contributors this season (or who might be in the coming years) that haven’t turned 30-years old yet.

Start with left tackle anchor Joe Thomas, who is 30 in December. He was a rookie on that 2007 team. His wingman, guard Joel Bitonio is 23. Tight end Jordan Cameron is 26. Their formidable trio of running backs, which pounded Cincinnati Thursday, are 26 (Ben Tate), 23 (Terrance West) and 22 (Isaiah Crowell). Stud wide receiver Josh Gordon is 23, too.

On defense, four members of the front 7 are under 30: Paul Kruger (28), Barkevious Mingo (24), Phil Taylor (26) and Desmond Bryant (28). The secondary is youthful, too: Joe Haden is 25, rookie Justin Gilbert is 23 and safety Donte Whitner is 29.

The Browns overall roster is younger than the Bengals, Ravens and Steelers.

If Cleveland nails the 2015 draft and happens to hit two home runs in the 1st round, we could be talking about a better run for the franchise than the 1985-1989 one led by Bernie Kosar.

RADIO CHATTER I

CBS Sports Radio is going through a few major changes, multiple industry sources told Inside Blitz.

The biggest change: Dana Jacobson is out from the weekday 6-9 am show she hosted with Tiki Barber and Brandon Tierney. The trio was not getting along (that’s being generous), and Barber/Tierney are going to be moving to a new timeslot: 9 am-12.

And that means John Feinstein’s show (currently occupies 9 am-noon) is over. Though I’ve never actually spoken with him, I have to say I find Feinstein to be one of the best storytellers in radio (up there with Jim Nantz), and it’s a plus that he’s a big-time college basketball guy. I guess CBS Sports Radio didn’t see it that way.

So who takes over the 6 am slot? A new duo: Brian Jones (CBS College Football analyst) and Gregg Giannotti. Jones is currently doing an evening show with Chris Moore. Giannotti was at CBS Radio in Pittsburgh. There’s a painful story about how Moore found out about the change, and it involves Mike Francesa, but I’ll let someone else relay that.

LOCK OF THE WEEK

How many adjectives would you like to use for slaughtered? LSU blew the cover and then the spread in OT, Utah doesn’t need to be talked about again, and road dogs Notre Dame and Kansas State were blown out. If I say I’ve been spending too much time on the NFL (8-2 last two weeks), will that excuse fly? Of course not. Going 0-5 and falling to 12-17 is thoroughly unacceptable.

Wisconsin -6 vs. Nebraska. Significant game for one team: Ohio State. Buckeyes will be rooting heavily for the Cornhuskers. Game will feature two 2015 draft 2nd round playmakers: Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah.

TCU -27.5 at Kansas. The Horned Frogs know the deal – it’s time to run up the score to impress the committee. Don’t be surprised if they hit 70.

Florida State -1.5 at Miami. I love you, #FSUTwitter. After a couple more 1st half interceptions, Jameis prevails in the 2nd half, again.

Mississippi  St. +7.5 at Alabama. Line’s climbing, and Vegas loves the Tide. Bulldogs get somewhat lucky this is an afternoon game. Feels like a 31-27 Tide win, and the Bulldogs stay in the Top 4.

Michigan State -12 at Maryland. Strong bounce-back for Sparty after that sad home rout at the hands of the Buckeyes.

RADIO CHATTER II

We’ve talked/speculated plenty about ESPN’s radio cash cow, Mike & Mike, over the last few years. I even did a podcast with Mike Greenberg, and I asked him about the show’s perception as being ‘vanilla.’

The pair have been together on air for 14 years. It’ll be 15 in February. Like marriages, shows can go stale. There is some perception at ESPN that to keep it fresh … they need to make changes.

Before getting to the negative stuff, let’s be clear – from a financial standpoint, the show is a rousing success. ESPN wouldn’t talk to me on the record about specific numbers, but when you factor in gross revenue from radio and TV (ESPN2), I’ve heard $40 million tossed around.

That being said, in a concentrated effort to inject more strong opinion on the show, there’s been plenty of tinkering in the last year. You’ve heard a lot more from Cris Carter, who will say just about anything. ESPN will say Carter is there to drive more of a ‘football focus’ and if true, that’s probably good, because we’ve seen what happens when he veers into other topics, like the NBA.

And somewhat recently, Mike & Mike had a producer change, one that hasn’t been well-received by the hosts: Liam, a fixture on the show for more than five years, is gone.

A rival at another network, who told Inside Blitz the show needs much more than “freshening up,” said that Mike & Mike had devolved into gimmicky “contest radio.”

Which leads to Mike Golic’s bizarre Bill Simmons explosion last week. Multiple industry sources have attempted to tie his lashing out to some of the above factors – unhappy with the producer change and the constant push for stronger opinion – and a final one that the hosts don’t want: a full-time 3rd party joining the show next year to inject more opinion.

ODDS & ENDS

CBS had to issue an apology (LOL!) for showing Baltimore coach John Harbaugh in the locker room saying the Steelers “got their asses kicked” by the Jets … good analysis here from Richard Sandomir about the impact of moving the 2022 Qatar World Cup for TV  and advertising … what’s it like to get fired from the same place twice? You could ask Mark Heisler, or read this about how he got dumped twice by the LA Times … ESPN has hired Chael Sonnen to be an MMA analyst; you may remember he had this moment with Sage Steele on Sportscenter …Maury Povich gave up on sports reporting because he didn’t want to be a Redskins homer … I’m a little disappointed Al Michaels said the most famous people in his cell phone were Jim Palmer, Doc Rivers and Donald Trump, but not Jason McIntyre … the TV networks obviously want to retain in the “cable bundle,” but those days appear to be coming to an end … this sucks: The New Yorker is going back behind a paywall. Get a subscription, because you won’t be able to read great stuff, like this Chris Rock profile.

ALREADY? REALLY?

Seven games into the season and the NBA media can’t help themselves: the venerable Sam Smith (author of the Jordan Rules), who it should be noted now essentially works for the Chicago Bulls since he’s a writer for their website, dropped this “note” in his column Monday:

“It’s not going to get as much discussion during the season, but one of the biggest issues for the Cavs is that both LeBron James and Kevin Love own opt outs after this season. LeBron James basically cannot afford to go anywhere after his return to Cleveland. But watch out for Love. Indications are he will seriously consider the opt out and has his eyes on a return to Los Angeles, where he attended college and where the Lakers long have had him on their free agent wish list …”

Yes, Kevin Love is going to opt-out. That’s not news. It’s happening for sure. For financial reasons.

And of course the Lakers are going to target Kevin Love … along with every other decent potential free agent in the league. I love how Sam Smith casually drops “indications are he will seriously consider.” Tough to imagine an agent planting this. Maybe this is Peter Vecsey-style shit flinging from one of the most respected writers in the NBA?

The mere thought of anyone leaving LeBron in his prime to play with Kobe in his twilight is absurdly hilarious.