Strength of schedule: Cleveland Browns 2021 Opponents whose stock has risen
1. Arizona Cardinals
The last time the Browns and the Cardinals met was a worrying indication over which Oklahoma No. 1 overall pick quarterback had the brighter future. Baker Mayfield had the better individual numbers on the day, but Kyler Murray’s Cardinals got the W on the day, and in games since has only looked more and more the superstar talent that his team hoped for when they went all-in on him with the number 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
At 4-0, the Cardinals have already had their fair share of game experiences, from comebacks to blowouts, but the constant has been the MVP level of play from Murray. He’s had plenty of pressure to avoid, and there are questions about the offensive line going forward, but for now, the offense looks a more refined version of the one that broke down late last season.
Rookie Rondale Moore has been an excellent replacement for Larry Fitzgerald’s production, who along with Christian Kirk has given Murray some lightning-fast options at receiver, and more importantly reliability apart from DeAndre Hopkins. Even AJ Green has had a nice impact in his twilight years. Chase Edmonds and James Conner have been nice compliments in the run game as well, rounding out what could be the most complete offense in the NFL.
We can’t go without mentioning the improved defense as well, and notably, Chandler Jones continues to be a remarkable pass rusher as he shows out in search of a big payday. He’s worth one, but the rest of the defense has started to match his output. They were particularly impressive on the road in LA, shutting down a Rams offense that rolled in its first three games. The secondary is much improved over last season, and young linebacker Isaiah Simmons has helped add to the strength of the defensive front.
It is still early in the season, and like the rest of the teams in this piece, the Cardinals are no guarantee, but they play a style of football that will seriously test the Browns. Murray is an MVP caliber quarterback, something the Browns still have trouble dealing with despite improving the last couple of seasons.
It’s the sort of games discussed in this piece where anticipation and level of play can give a feeling of importance as a test of a team’s true strength. The Browns are expected to grow and improve, and perhaps having a few surprisingly strong opponents is a good thing in that regard.