Breaking Down the Cleveland Browns 2012 Schedule:
Weeks 14 – 17:
Sunday, December 9 vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 1 p.m. ET
Sunday, December 16 vs. Washington Redskins, 1 p.m. ET
Sunday, December 23 at Denver Broncos, 4:05 p.m. ET
Sunday, December 30 at Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m. ET
Analysis: Heading down the homestretch will include a couple of good storylines for the Cleveland Browns. The first relates to a pair of former players and a former coach who were a part of the Brown and Orange. Running back Peyton Hillis, quarterback Brady Quinn, and head coach Romeo Crennel are now members of the Kansas City Chiefs; all will likely receive a fair amount of “boos” from the home fans. Quinn is currently the backup, but either injury or poor play from incumbent Matt Cassel could allow the reserve to see playing time. Likewise, Hillis will probably not take a majority of the carries as the Chiefs employ Jamaal Charles for that role. However, should the two receive playing time, expect them to have a chip on their shoulder. If the Browns’ defense can game plan around on controlling these players, while still focusing on putting the offense in the best position possible, the team will have a good chance to succeed. One major concern is how the Chiefs are building their defensive line (with their first round draft pick Dontari Poe – to complement other previous top draft picks like Tyson Jackson, Glenn Dorsey, and Tamba Hali). The Browns running attack will have it’s hands full, especially when including safety Eric Berry who will be a large factor in run support.
The Browns’ fourteenth game will center around one player – Robert Griffin III (or as many dub him, RGIII). In March, the Redskins and Browns were both in a bidding war to trade up and have an opportunity to select the quarterback from Baylor with Washington landing the talented athlete in April. There’s no doubt the media and announcers will play up the angle of “what could have been” for Cleveland vs. “what actually happened” for the Redskins. However, the Browns selected their own starting quarterback in 2012 in Brandon Weeden, which will help further this discussion. Additionally, Washington also grabbed a few higher profile free agents in March like Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan (both wide receivers) whom the Browns had interest in. Like a few teams in the NFL, the Redskins have not had a tremendous winning percentage the past few seasons (zero winning seasons since 2007 when they went 9-7). It will be a race between the two teams and whether Griffin will improve the Redskins quicker than the tandem of Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden. Provided they are healthy and can be factors, I believe the younger core of players on Cleveland’s roster will help the team in the latter part of the schedule, especially at deeper positions like offensive and defensive lines.
The Cleveland Browns have never beaten a Peyton Manning-led team – losing all five contests against the future hall of famer. Now, the quarterback plays in Denver where the Browns (who have not won there since 1990 – that’s not a typo) are the competition. Fair enough to say, this is likely the most difficult game of the Browns’ 2012 schedule; the odds are not in their favor and no one will give Cleveland a shot at even being competitive. Assuming the rosters are close to full strength, I believe the Browns will struggle with having to stop a true two-dimensional offense. Couple that with the strong Broncos’ defense led by Elvis Dumerville and Von Miller and it will be an uphill battle for the Browns. The hope for Cleveland lies in three aspects; rookies and younger veterans exceeding expectations at this point, Denver resting starters (for the playoffs), and the chance at a large upset. The first option is possible, as the past few seasons have included improved play from these players as the season progresses (i.e. Joe Haden in 2010, Greg Little in 2011, etc). The second scenario is out of the Browns’ hands, therefore hope for victory will lie more in the visitor’s locker room. Like previous games against the Saints and New England in 2010, the Browns could come out and play mistake-free football while forcing several errors on the competition. If that occurs, the unthinkable could happen in the Mile High City.
Another regular season, another regular season that ends against the black and yellow. The Steelers have shown that although they locked up a (possible) playoff position, they will play all their starters at least a majority of the game – this was the case in 2011. Browns fans looking for an easier chance at victory will be disappointed once again; the team will have to earn this victory the hard way. Whatever it may be – an inspirational speech, something to prove, or camaraderie from the previous fifteen games, etc. – Cleveland has to get some internal mojo and swagger when playing teams, especially division rivals. This includes doing whatever it takes (legally of course) to get an ever-important win. Even if the Browns don’t make the playoffs in 2012, a win at Heinz field would be a good way to end the campaign and give the franchise momentum and hope for 2013.
And there you have it. Looking forward to the next three months speeding by to see these games.