Following a busy offseason that included the addition of a game-breaking receiver, the Miami Dolphins are looking to end their playoff drought with a breakout year from Ryan Tannehill.
The Cleveland Browns are hoping to do the same behind their own second-year standout.
Tannehill and the revamped Dolphins will try to deal Trent Richardson and the Browns their ninth straight season-opening loss Sunday when Rob Chudzinski makes his debut as Cleveland’s coach.
After going 7-9 last season for their fourth straight losing year - the franchise’s longest such skid since the 1960s - the Dolphins have their sights set on reaching the playoffs for the second time in 12 years. They certainly had their chances in 2012, dropping five games by a touchdown or less.
That’s a trend they’d like to end as Tannehill tries to build on a debut season in which he completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 3,294 yards - more than fellow rookies Robert Griffin III or Russell Wilson - and had a 121.3 passer rating in the red zone over his last seven games.
Tannehill threw 13 interceptions and totaled just 12 scoring strikes - including only three to wideouts - but showed improvement with five touchdowns while getting picked off once over his final four games.
“I see things much quicker than I did,” Tannehill said. “It’s my second year and I can’t have the same growing pains than I did in the first year. You have to be able to make the plays when they’re there.”
Miami sought to improve the NFL’s 27th-ranked offense by adding deep threat Mike Wallace, who finished with 64 catches for 836 yards and eight touchdowns for Pittsburgh last season. The Dolphins were tied for 25th in the NFL with seven touchdowns of 20-plus yards in 2012, while Wallace has 21 over his four-year career.
The Dolphins also added receiver Brandon Gibson from St. Louis and tight end Dustin Keller from the Jets, though Keller has been lost for the season after dislocating his right knee in the third preseason game.
“I like what I see,” Tannehill said. “I think we have a lot of talent on the field, a lot of guys who can get open, catch the ball and do something with it when they get the ball in their hands. I’m excited we have playmakers. Now it’s just a matter of putting the puzzle together and doing a good job myself of giving them the ball.”
Protection, however, could be a concern after left tackle Jake Long departed for St. Louis. The offensive line also will try to create some holes for Lamar Miller, who is expected to replace the departed Reggie Bush as the starting running back.
Miami hopes to expose a Cleveland defense that allowed 363.8 yards per game last season to rank 23rd in the NFL.
The Browns, though, have transitioned from a 4-3 defense into a 3-4 scheme and signed free agent linebackers Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves along with end Desmond Bryant. They also drafted linebacker Barkevious Mingo, who won’t play Sunday as he continues to recover from a bruised lung.
Cleveland may be able to keep its defense off the field by giving the ball to Richardson. With his ribs healed, a lighter Richardson looks to put together a breakout year of his own after rushing for a franchise rookie-record 950 yards and 11 touchdowns on 267 carries despite playing more than half of last season with two broken ribs.
“I’m looking towards no injury, no broken fingernails, nothing,” said Richardson, who also caught 51 passes for 367 yards and a touchdown. “I know my whole season is based on being healthy and playing 16 games and hopefully in the playoffs.”
Chudzinski, the franchise’s seventh coach since 1999, will try to end Cleveland’s 10-year playoff drought after serving as Carolina’s offensive coordinator the past two seasons. He was also the Browns’ offensive coordinator in 2007, when they last finished with a winning record.
Chudzinski and new offensive coordinator Norv Turner will try to get the most out of quarterback Brandon Weeden, who threw for a franchise rookie-record 3,385 yards - second only to Andrew Luck among first-year players - with 14 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in 2012.
The 29-year-old Weeden had his share of troubles at home, throwing five touchdowns and 12 interceptions while completing 54.2 percent of his passes.
He faces a Miami defense that ranked 27th against the pass last season, but Weeden won’t have his top target for the first two games as wide receiver Josh Gordon was suspended for failing the league’s drug policy. Former Dolphin Davone Bess could help after signing with Cleveland in the offseason.
After tying for fourth-worst in the NFL with 16 takeaways last year, Miami looked to improve in that area by adding cornerback Brent Grimes and linebackers Dannell Ellerbe, Philip Wheeler and top draft pick Dion Jordan.
“I’m going to be excited,” said Jordan, who is expected to play Sunday despite missing the final three exhibition games because of a lingering shoulder injury. “I’m just going to probably have to control my emotions.”
Miami has lost four straight games to Cleveland.