Browns: A tough stretch to start, one to end year stand out in schedule
By Peter Smith
Oct 20, 2013; Green Bay, WI, USA; A Cleveland Browns helmet sits on the field during warmups prior to the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Green Bay won 31-13. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Two really difficult stretches stand out on the Cleveland Browns’ schedule. One is the first three games of the season and the other is the last four. The middle, from the early week 4 bye week to the game in Buffalo at the end of November is certainly not easy, but it is far less treacherous than those other two streches. There are some positives and negatives that could come from this slate this year for the Browns.
The home opener against Pittsburgh is on the road and while the Steelers were not a playoff team last year, they are a stumbling block the Browns have not been able to get past. This could be an opportunity for Mike Pettine and his team to make a statement. Last year, they had two winnable games and looked bad, especially in the second one. Following that up with home games against the New Orleans Saints and Cincinnati Bengals is going to be a tough slog through the first three weeks of the season. The Browns have to try to get a 1-2 record in those games, but 0-3 is certainly not out of the question there.
If the Browns have a rookie quarterback going out and leading this team, that is not exactly the slate a team would hope to have. At the same time, that week 4 bye normally is far too early in the year, but might actually benefit a young team trying to figure itself out. Whether it be a rookie to start the year or come in at week 4, that gives them two weeks to collectively exhale, take invnetory and try to get a rhythm coming out before the team comes out and visits Tennessee and former defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
That is followed up by the home game against the Steelers before getting to play Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay. Of those three, the Buccaneers are the one that could be poised for the biggest turnaround this year, but this is an area of the schedule where the team has to gel and find some wins.
The Browns then go on the road to play the Bengals on Thursday night, get 10 days to prepare to host the Texans, and play back to back road games against the Falcons and Bills. These are not easy games by any stretch but they appear to be winnable games. Atlanta will be healthy and could be back to being a playoff caliber team while Buffalo and Houston have to figure out where they are going.
The last month of the year is brutal. Hosting the Colts and Andrew Luck followed by the Bengals at home, then road games against the Panthers and Ravens to finish the season. All four of those teams made the playoffs last year and all four of those teams should be playoff contenders this year. If the Browns made that 9 game run count and built some confidence, they could make these games competitive or maybe steal one or two, but if they are floundering, this stretch of the schedule where teams will step on their necks and look to put them out of their misery.
The creamy middle of that schedule is where this team will have to capitalize and pick up a large number of wins if they have any chance of competing for the playoffs. While the playoffs are not terribly likely, depending on how successful they are in the draft, that part of the schedule is where the team can really grow and come together before hopefully putting up a great fight and giving a hint at what could be to come in the future in that last month of the year.