Breaking Down the Cleveland Browns 2012 Schedule:
Weeks 1 – 4:
Sunday, September 9 vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m. ET
Sunday, September 16 at Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m. ET
Sunday, September 23 vs. Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m. ET
Thursday, September 27 at Baltimore Ravens, 8:20 p.m. ET
Analysis: The Browns’ season opener struggles have become extremely frustrating for their fans (1-12 record since returning to the league). Going against one of the more talented teams in the NFL will make it very difficult for the franchise to change this trend. However, a few things will be in Cleveland’s favor the first week. One is the revenge/familiarity factor the coaching staff and front office has with the Eagles. Shurmur, Childress, and Heckert were all members of Philadelphia’s team a few years ago; Browns’ fans are hoping they can pull a “Mangini” and soundly defeat their former employer due to knowledge of the opponents‘ schemes, tendencies, and weaknesses. Another issue with the Eagles franchise has been inconsistency from week to week; Cleveland will be pulling for the continuation of the trend, which could lead to unexpected opportunities for Browns. The final aspect is that the Browns will likely have a few new starters on offense that can come in and be assets immediately (Trent Richardson and Mitchell Schwartz). Additionally, Brandon Weeden is not a typical rookie and the team might employ a more complicated game plan than other rookies; the Eagles will not have ample film on him and may not know the best way to prepare.
In the dismal 2011 season, one team the Browns played tough both games was the Bengals; with offseason improvements, one would figure the franchise should have a fair chance at defeating their in-division rival to the south. However, the Queen City has not been kind to the Browns the past few seasons (one win since 2004). Going against a young playoff team from a year ago who also had a solid draft will be a daunting task for Cleveland. The Browns will have to keep it close throughout in order to have a chance at an upset victory. I am looking forward to the days of the team accruing a late lead and salting away the clock with Trent Richardson. One way for this to occur will be for the defense to rattle young Andy Dalton and force the Bengals to rely on their running game (which, in my opinion, got worse in the offseason). Whether the free agent pick-ups and draft selections of defensive lineman can stop the run will be the biggest question for Cleveland.
Jekyll and Hyde was a good description of the Bills last season; they had a tremendous beginning to their season (5-2) until they finished at a record of 7-9 (losing seven of their final nine games). One of the more active teams in free agency, the Bills scored former number one overall draft pick Mario Williams who will make things difficult for opposing offenses. Having said that, I do not believe their draft was so great to take them to the next echelon in terms of the NFL hierarchy. I see this game as very winnable and can go either way; I am glad the game will be played at Cleveland Browns stadium. Again, I feel the Browns will have to rely on their defense to force mistakes while the offense capitalizes. This would likely be in the form of Ryan Fitzpatrick making errors, as their running game of Jackson and Spiller have proven to be solid. Like any other game, it all comes down to execution though.
The only night game (provided they do not flex to Sunday night later in the season) in 2012 for the Browns occurs in week four against the Ravens. This is one of the most difficult games on the schedule (even with the omission of Raven’s linebacker and reigning defensive MVP Terrell Suggs) as the atmosphere will be crazy and loud – especially early on. The only way I can see Cleveland coming close in this game will be the possible let down from Baltimore’s previous Sunday game. The Ravens have a huge meeting against the Patriots, a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship game. Fuel was added to the fire when Ravens’ Coach John Harbaugh stated the Patriots’ Super Bowls should have asterisks with them due to the video recording of other teams. Bill Belichick will have a chip on his shoulder and will not easily forget this; the Patriots will prepare for a physical game with something to prove. Coming off a short week, the Browns could come into town against a (possible) beat-up team. If this occurs and the team can take advantage of the Ravens’ situation, an upset is possible – otherwise there is little reason to believe a Browns win is in the cards.