CLEVELAND -- The 2017 Cleveland Browns are on the verge of history -- and not the good kind.
With a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, the Browns will become just the third winless team in the NFL's Super Bowl era, while joining the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only team to compile an 0-16 record.
Barring a historic upset -- as of Thursday morning, the Steelers are listed as an 11-point favorite -- the Browns will claim their spot as one of the worst teams in professional sports history -- and there will be plenty of blame to go around.
Already, vice president of football operations Sashi Brown has been fired and despite his insistence otherwise, some still believe head coach Hue Jackson could soon follow. Who, however, is most to blame for Cleveland's impending place in professional football infamy? Let's take a look at the candidates.
5. Special teams coach Chris Tabor
Since 2011, there have only been two been two constants in Berea: Losing and special teams coordinator Chris Tabor.
Having survived four (!) coaching staff changes, Tabor has seen plenty throughout his tenure with the Browns. And while there's clearly something appealing about Tabor's work to Cleveland's coaches, 2017 has hardly been a banner year for the team's special teams units.
According to Football Outsiders, the Browns rank 27th in the league in special teams, based on DVOA. Per the advanced analytics website, Cleveland's special teams units have been responsible for 2.6 fewer points per game than the average NFL team.
For a team like the Browns, those points add up. In particular, Cleveland's special teams appeared to cost it what could have been its first win of the season, when a 65-yard Packers punt return at the end of the fourth quarter helped set up Green Bay's game-tying touchdown in its eventual overtime victory.
As far as assessing blame for 0-16 is concerned, a special teams coordinator wouldn't typically rank this highly on a list. But the Browns' special teams have been particularly poor this season, plus, anybody who's lasted this long in Berea almost certainly deserves blame for something.
4. Quarterback DeShone Kizer
On the one hand, it really doesn't seem fair to blame a 21-year-old rookie for the failures of an entire organization. And in retrospect, starting Kizer this season, when he clearly wasn't ready for this situation, appears to have been shortsighted.
But to quote former Cleveland Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters: "Men lie women lie BUCKETS DNT." And 'buckets' have been few and far between for Kizer this season, with the Notre Dame product having thrown just 9 touchdowns to go along with a league-best 21 interceptions.
What's worse is Kizer's propensity for turning the ball over has shown up when it's mattered most. According to Pro Football Focus, Kizer's 6 red zone turnovers are the most ever by a rookie signal-caller.
At this point, the second-round rookie's future in Cleveland appears murky at best. And with one last loss on Sunday, he'll unfortunately be remembered as the starting quarterback of 15 games in an 0-16 season.
3. (Former) VP of Football Operations Sashi Brown
One could make the argument that Brown deserves to be at the top of this list -- and anyone who follows me on Twitter is likely surprised he isn't. Even nearly a month after being fired and replaced by new general manager John Dorsey, the team's former general counsel remains a punching bag favorite for Browns fans, and for good reason -- his draft resume has been that bad.
Whether it be passing on Carson Wentz in 2016 or Deshaun Watson in 2017 -- with both quarterbacks being selected with picks Cleveland traded to get more picks -- Brown's draft blunders have been well documented. But what doesn't get discussed enough are the analytically-driven fringe moves Brown made with the team's now-former veterans, between letting Mitchell Schwartz, Tashaun Gipson and Travis Benjamin walk in free agency and releasing Joe Haden and Josh McCown.
Individually, those moves may not have seemed like big deals, but add them up and you get a team devoid of depth, leadership and experience. Maybe Brown's grand plan will come to fruition in the long run. But for now, all he has left his former employer with is a roster too dependent on first and second-year players and some draft picks, which haven't helped prevent the Browns from being on the verge of a winless season.
2. Head coach Hue Jackson
Any time your team's head coach has to jump in a lake because he couldn't win more than a single game for a second consecutive season, it's probably not a good sign. And while Jackson's roster has been undeniably devoid of talent, it's hard to believe he hasn't been able to muster better than a 1-30 (likely soon-to-be 1-31) record in the past two seasons.
Whether it's been his own input in the draft -- particularly at quarterback -- his handling of Kizer, his clock management woes or his preference to pass the ball at the expense of his run game, Jackson has hardly been a victim, but rather a source of the Browns' failures since he first took over as head coach. What's more is his P.R. blunders (see: the lake) seem to have negatively impacted a team culture, which wasn't all that great when he first inherited it.
Thanks to Brown's roster construction, I don't think Jackson has been given a fair shake in Cleveland, but quite frankly, I'm not sure he deserves one. For now, the Browns appear to be moving forward with their current head coach, although they'll do so with Jackson sitting on the hottest of hot seats in 2018.
1. Owner Jimmy Haslam
As the Browns prepare to secure their place in losing lore, this much appears to be clear: A full, tear-it-down-to-the-studs rebuild in the NFL isn't sustainable. The league, which rewards the best picks to the worst teams at the end of each season, already does enough to promote parity. There was no need for the Browns to attempt to create their own path.
And while both Brown and Jackson deserve their shares of blame for their failures in creating and executing the plan, it's the man who approved it -- team owner Jimmy Haslam -- who should receive the bulk of it.
At this point, Haslam's shortcomings since purchasing the franchise in 2012 speak for themselves. And even with Dorsey possessing the most proven track record of any decision-maker the Browns have hired under him, it's hard to give any Haslam-owned football team the benefit of the doubt.
Of course, you can't fire the owner -- which is why Haslam often finds himself firing everybody else. Maybe for Haslam, the combination of his fourth general manager and third -- or fourth -- head coach will turn it all around. But until then, 0-16 will serve as his Browns legacy -- and deservedly so.