Browns host the Miami Dolphins this Sunday, opening their season against a team that lead the NFL in money spent this offseason. As the season kicks off, here is a cheat-sheet of players and games to watch out for the start of this season. With injuries and shuffling of the roster, many things can change as the season progresses.
-Week 1 hosting the Miami Dolphins
What to watch for: The Dolphins look to challenge the Patriots in the AFC East, and have high expectations for the season. In week 1 of the season, the Browns face another team with something to prove this season. Look for #11 wide receiver Mike Wallace to have a big impact on the Dolphins offense. Wallace is a game changer that can stretch a defense down the field with his speed. Together with #82 wide receiver Brian Hartline, the Dolphins have an effective wide receiver core that will test the Browns secondary defenders. Pressure will be on quarterback and second year starter #17 Ryan Tannehill to utilize his capable offensive line and wide receivers to produce big passing numbers this season. This game sets the tone for the season for both teams. All three of the Browns next opponents are 2012 playoff teams, and the road gets no easier. A win in Cleveland against an improved Dolphin team would give the Browns the confidence they will need to compete in the challenging AFC North division.
Prediction: Browns 27 – Dolphins 20
-Week 2 away game against the Baltimore Ravens
What to watch for: The big stories this offseason for the Champion Ravens were the contract resigning of quarterback #5 Joe Flacco for $120.6 million, and the loss of every notable linebacker on their defense not named Terrell Suggs. In addition, the Ravens lost team leader and star cornerback Ed Reed. In their first game of the season, Baltimore was shredded by Payton Manning for 462 yards and a whopping 7 touchdowns. It’s the worst loss in Ravens history, and the first time anyone has thrown 7 touchdowns in the NFL in 44 years. Look for the Ravens to take out their frustrations on the Browns in week 2. Linebacker #55 Terrell Suggs is healthy and should be a problem for a Browns offensive line looking to recover from offseason injuries and solidify. Running back #27 Ray Rice will also be the first true test the Browns run defense will get this season. Containing Rice and forcing Flacco to beat them in the air in obvious passing situations will be the key to the Browns defense.
Prediction: Browns 16 – Ravens 14
-Week 6 hosting the Detroit Lions
What to watch for: Throw out the results of the Browns preseason win over the Lions. That didn’t count. The Lions team that the Browns will be facing in Cleveland in week 6 will be very different. The best wide receiver in the NFL, #81 Calvin Johnson will be playing in this one. Quarterback #9 Mathew Stafford has a monster arm, but has made questionable decisions in the 2012 season resulting in 17 interceptions and 4 fumbles. This year, he has the additional help of pass and run threat #21 running back Reggie Bush. Watch for Bush and Johnson to form an effective over/under pass threat. Detroit’s defense is anchored by #90 defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Stopping him up front from penetrating Brandon Weeden’s pass defense, as well as breaking up the Browns run blocking, will be a key to the game.
Prediction: Lions 21 – Browns 17
-Keys to the season for the Browns: The whole focus of the Browns offense must be #33 running back Trent Richardson. Last year, Richardson had a stellar 11 touchdown 950 yard season despite the fact that he was injured for much of it, and was underused by then head coach Pat Shurmur. In 2012, Richardson averaged 7.1 yards per carry despite those limitations. While his health has been an issue this preseason as well, the Browns have little choice but to use Richardson heavily and hope he can avoid further injury. Reliance on running should allow #3 quarterback Brandon Weeden to avoid forcing throws on 3rd and 10. The addition of #15 wide receiver Devone Bess cannot be understated. Along with Richardson, Bess can move the chains and give Cleveland more short yardage situations. Bess and Richardson will be the engines that drive this offense, and will be relied on for short gains.
The Browns defense underwent drastic changes this offseason, and what it is capable of is anyone’s guess at this point. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton has the tools and talent to have a top 10 unit…on paper. With an impressive linebacker stable, and one of the deepest defensive lines in the NFL, all eyes will be on the secondary. #23 cornerback Joe Haden is going to turn heads this season, and will be considered a shutdown corner in this league by seasons end. Teams with a talented second pass target will test this Browns secondary however. If the Browns can stuff the run, it will allow them to pass-rush more effectively. How effectively this plays out in the regular season remains to be seen. One thing is for sure. The Browns are going to be entertaining, and that is a good thing for the franchise and the fans.
Browns season prediction through the first 8 games: 4 – 4
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