Once Favorable Browns Schedule Now A Stiff Challenge
By Steven King
When the Cleveland Browns’ schedule was unveiled last spring, it was a matter of first things first. In other words, everybody pointed to the fact that with four of their first six games at home, the Browns had a great opportunity to get off to a fast start.
Now, after just one week, that opinion may well have changed and, in fact, probably has.
Here are the reasons why:
1) Part of the reason for the optimism was that the opener would be at home against the Miami Dolphins, a team most people in Cleveland felt the Browns could beat. But they were wrong, for it was Miami –
not Cleveland – that played very well and outscored the hosts 17-3 in the second half en route to a 23-10 victory. So instead of being 1-0 and taking a lot of momentum into Week 2, the Browns are 0-1 and greatly disappointed. QB Brandon Weeden is already under fire after a performance in which he put up a passer rating of 48.4. That’s more than acceptable for a punting average (Gary Collins’ team record for a season in 1965 is 46.7 yards), but not for a passer rating.
2) People forgot that in the expansion era beginning in 1999, the Browns have now lost 14 of their 15 season openers and are 1-13 at home. Openers do not present opportunities for positive vibes in Cleveland.
3) People also forgot that the expansion-era Browns struggle at home whether it’s in openers or other games. Home is not where the heart is in Cleveland. Rather, it’s where heartless things happen to the home team. Whereas in the original franchise’s 50-year existence (all at Cleveland Stadium), the Browns won about 62 percent of their home games; they’ve lost about 62 percent of their home games since 1999.
4) Even with the original optimism about the schedule, the games in Weeks 2 (at Baltimore) and 3 (at Minnesota), loomed ominous. Now those games look even more dangerous.
The Ravens will be angry after getting embarrassed 49-27 by the Denver Broncos last Thursday night. Plus, they will be receiving their Super Bowl rings on the field Sunday, which should raise their intensity level a notch or two. And QB Joe Flacco – who has never lost to Cleveland – doesn't need to get pumped up any more. The Vikings also lost their opener to the Detroit Lions 34-24 last Sunday and will be looking at the next several weeks as veritable must-win games in what should be a tight NFC North race.
In addition, Minnesota has the best running back in the game in Adrian Peterson, who essentially put the offense on his back last season en route to the playoffs. The Vikings and Ravens will be extremely tough to defeat at home.
5) After that two-game stretch, the Browns have their first three-game homestand since 2006. But the opponents now seem much more formidable than they did before the season:
Certainly, the Cincinnati Bengals (Sept. 29) were always going to provide a stiff challenge and that hasn’t changed. Despite their opening-season 24-21 loss to the Chicago Bears, the Bengals remain the favorites in the AFC North. The Buffalo Bills (Oct. 3, on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football) gave the New England Patriots all they could handle before losing 23-21 in the opener. The Lions (Oct. 13) were awful last year, but they looked pretty good in beating Minnesota.
6) And did we mention that after the three home games, Cleveland has back-to-back road contests against the Green Bay Packers (Oct. 20) and Kansas City Chiefs (Oct. 27), who do indeed seem to be rejuvenated under new coach Andry Reid. Then, Cleveland hosts the Ravens (Nov.3) before their bye week, travel to Cincinnati (Nov. 17) and host the Pittsburgh Steelers (Nov. 24) before hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars (Dec. 1).
Will it matter for the Browns by that time? We’ll see.