Cleveland Must Rock To Start 2013
By Steven King
Home is where the heart is.
It’s also where the Browns will be for most of the first part of the 2013 regular season.
Considering how much the Browns have struggled in Cleveland in the expansion era dating back to 1999, maybe that’s not such a good thing.
But with the inordinate amount of young players on the roster, plus the fact this team needs to get off to a good start and build some momentum if it wants to take strides forward this season, common sense would seem to indicate that most teams – maybe even the Browns – generally would have a better chance of doing that at home in familiar surroundings.
The Browns’ regular-season schedule, which was released Thursday evening along with those of the 31 other NFL teams, has them playing four of their first six games at newly-named First Energy Stadium, including the opener on Sept. 8 against the Miami Dolphins.
It marks the 14th time in the 15 years of their re-birth that the Browns have opened the season at home, which, again, is not a good sign historically. The Browns are 1-12 in the previous 13 occasions that they’ve started the year at Cleveland, and have not won since a 20-3 decision over the Baltimore Ravens in 2004.
They lost year to the Philadelphia Eagles, 17-16, doing everything but winning the game.
After back-to-back road games against Joe Flacco and the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens, which will be a homecoming for Cleveland free-agent signee Paul Kruger, and then the Minnesota Vikings, the Browns have a rarity – three straight contests at home for the first time since 2006, including their lone primetime game in 2013 against the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night, Oct. 3. It is the Browns’ first primetime contest in Cleveland in four years.
Sandwiched around the Bills game are visits by the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 29 and the Detroit Lions on Oct. 13.
On paper at least, these three home games in a row, and the opener against Miami, set up well for the Browns.
Three of the teams – the Dolphins (7-9), Bills (6-10) and Lions (4-12) of head coach and former Browns scout Jim Schwartz – are all coming off poor seasons.
While the AFC North rival Bengals are at the the other end of the spectrum, having finished 10-6 in 2012 and made the playoffs for the second year in a row, the Browns played arguably their best game of 2012 in Cleveland, winning 34-24.
So with that that, then, there is no reason why the Browns, if they really are improved under first-year head coach Rob Chudzinski, can’t get off to that aforementioned quick start and go into the tougher part of their schedule with some steam.
In fact, it is incumbent upon them to do so. For if the Browns do struggle through that stretch, then they could be in real trouble.
After that, the Browns play, in a span of seven games, at Green Bay, home to Baltimore, at Cincinnati, home to Pittsburgh and at New England against some quarterback named Tom Brady. Maybe you’ve heard of him. That is a real meat-grinder that could really do a number on a young Cleveland team, especially if it’s already teetering.
For the second consecutive season, the Browns finish the year in Pittsburgh, always a tough place to play. If they have any hopes at all of being in the playoff mix – or having just a .500 record – then they absolutely must take advantage of that early home cooking.
Maybe the name change to FirstEnergy Stadium will help in that process.
It sure can’t hurt.