Breaking Down the Cleveland Browns 2012 Schedule:
Weeks 9 – 13:
Sunday, November 4 vs. Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m. ET
Sunday, November 11 BYE WEEK
Sunday, November 18 at Dallas Cowboys, 1 p.m. ET
Sunday, November 25 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m. ET
Sunday, December 2 at Oakland Raiders, 4:15 p.m. ET
Analysis: This will be the most difficult, physically demanding stretch of the Browns 2012 season. Victories will be hard to come by and the likelihood of injuries sustained will be greater than the other three parts of the schedule. Will all that good news; the first in this four game stretch is a home battle against the Ravens. Coming off meetings against less physical teams like the Colts and Chargers will likely help the Browns; the odds of a healthy roster should be relatively high. During and after the game may be another story however, as Baltimore’s defense has been known to blitz constantly and not allow large rushing totals. Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson will be tested once again, and both will have to perform to put the Browns in a position to succeed. Also, the Browns’ defense gave up over 200 rushing yards to Ray Rice last season at home – I’m pulling for the new additions to help alter this and keep the defensive unit off the field as much as possible. I’ve felt the team has been competitive with the Ravens the past few years and I hope this offseason (new players, another year in the same offensive and defensive schemes) will cause Cleveland to finally get over the hump and beat some of the better teams in the NFL.
Heading to Texas Stadium is not a common occurrence for the Cleveland Browns; this will be the inaugural visit to the new venue and the first time playing in the Dallas area since 2004. For better or worse, this game will be after Cleveland’s bye week; I say that because that lay off gives the team a chance to heal but winning the game after the bye week was a crapshoot for teams last season (going exactly 16-16 in 2011). This could be related to the new CBA rules mandating teams take off an entire week causing the athletes to be rusty once they return to practice and games; it could also be that teams played good opponents after their bye and were just defeated by a better group. I view the Cowboys much like the Eagles and Chargers, they are a tough team to gauge from week to week and expectations are therefore difficult to predict. There always seems to be some sort of drama around the team from north Texas (from ownership, the head coaching status, off-field issues for players, etc.) – sometimes they carry over to the field and sometimes they don’t. The Browns will be decidedly underdogs coming in but I could see them making it tough for Dallas.
The once proud rivalry against the team to the east has been decidedly one-sided; the 2009 upset at home was the only triumph for the Browns over the Steelers in almost a decade. When playing in Cleveland the past few seasons, there unfortunately have been a fair amount of yellow towels in the stadium for support of the away squad. A large reason for this has been the poor record of the Browns and their fans selling tickets to the opposition. I hope the team will have a respectable win-loss record at this point where Cleveland fans outnumber and create a less than common “home-field advantage”. In their only recent victory against Pittsburgh, the Browns got to big Ben all game long and sacked him eight times; they also played ball-controlled offense – running the ball a majority of the plays. I feel this blueprint can work again in 2012 and the team has better personnel (overall) to put the team in an advantageous situation. The Steelers still do have ample playmakers on both sides of the ball and have shown a knack for pulling out end-of-game victories; winning this contest will not be easy for the Browns. However, doing so can, at the least, give the fans pride and excitement (for the team).
It feels like every year the Browns travel out west to visit the Oakland Raiders – in 2012 it occurs in week twelve. The Raiders (like the Browns) have not seen much success in the past decade; however both 2010 and 2011 demonstrated remarked improvements resulting in 8-8 seasons. They are looking towards taking the next step and advancing to the playoffs this year but will do so with a bit of turnover. Their longtime owner, Al Davis, passed midway of last season and coach Hue Jackson was fired after the end of the same campaign. It will be interesting to follow how the team responds to the new leadership. Also, the Raiders did not have any draft selections in the first or second rounds due to prior trades; getting only six players from the weekend (none of whom are expected to be big contributors on day one) may hurt the team should injuries or subpar production occur. The team also did not make many moves to supplement the roster with free agents, but this was a product of their poor financial situation entering the offseason. Maintaining status quo and Oakland will field one of the better offensive teams in the league (11th in passing and 7th in rushing) while struggling on defense (27th against both passing and rushing). Fans of the NFL know that this rarely occurs, and the Raiders will more than likely either stumble from 2011 or continue to build with their many veterans on the roster.