The Cleveland Browns are about to endure a tricky five-game stretch

Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Browns are about to endure a very tricky five-game stretch. Though it won’t make or break the year, it could very well shape their season.

When the 2022 Cleveland Browns schedule was unveiled, they looked poised to come out of the gate 4-0. The Carolina Panthers, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Atlanta Falcons didn’t present an intimidating gauntlet to open the season.

With a 4-0 start to the season now out the window, the Browns now have to get ready for a tricky five-game stretch.

Browns’ upcoming five games

  • Week 4: At Atlanta Falcons 
  • Week 5: Vs. Los Angeles Chargers 
  • Week 6: Vs. New England Patriots 
  • Week 7: At Baltimore Ravens (the Browns’ biggest rival) 
  • Week 8: Vs. Cincinnati Bengals (Monday Night Football and Round 1 of the “Battle Of Ohio”) 

This five-game stretch doesn’t look daunting, but it doesn’t look like it will be butterflies and rainbows either. Cleveland is going to see all three of their AFC North “friends,” with two of those games taking place at FirstEnergy Stadium in primetime.

No matter the record of the two teams, divisional games are always difficult. The reputation of AFC North games is one where you need to wear your hard hat because they’re going to be physical, low-scoring defensive battles.

Week 5 against the L.A. Chargers will pose a tall order for the Browns. The Chargers are projected to be the biggest challenger to the Kansas City Chiefs for the AFC West division title. Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert is already being portrayed as a superstar and they’ve surrounded him with plenty of weapons like wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams plus running back Austin Eckler. Defensively, L.A. went out and acquired linebacker Khalil Mack as well as defensive back J.C. Jackson.

Since the Falcons’ home division is the NFC South and the Browns’ home division is the AFC North, the two teams get together once every four years. The NFL schedule rotates, so Cleveland knows which NFC division they’re facing each year. The rotation goes NFC East, NFC North, NFC South, followed by the NFC West.

Cleveland won the past two meetings with the Falcons and most recently won 28-16 in Week 10 of the 2018 season at FirstEnergy Stadium. In both 2018 and 2014, the Browns faced quarterback Matt Ryan. However, Atlanta moved on from their all-time passing leader this offseason. When Cleveland heads down to Atlanta in Week 4, they’ll be facing 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.

Each opponent within this five-game stretch will present its own unique challenges. The Chargers and Bengals each have high-powered offenses. With Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert at the controls, L.A. and Cincy have the ability to put up 30-plus points on any given Thursday, Sunday, or Monday.

The Falcons and Ravens are both bird teams, no team has ever beaten all five bird teams in one season. Marcus Mariota and Ravens QB Lamar Jackson have similar playing styles in that they are both athletic quarterbacks who have the ability to make a play with their legs.

New England has owned the Browns in recent years. The last time the Patriots lost to the Cleveland Browns was way back in 2010 to the tune of 34-14. Since then, New England has defeated Cleveland four times in 2013, 2016, 2019, and 2021. Except for a close 27-26 victory over the Browns in 2013, New England has won the matchups comfortably including a 45-7 beatdown in Foxborough last season. New England laid that smackdown on Cleveland without Tom Brady. The Patriots are like the non-AFC North boogeymen for the Browns.

The Browns will not have their $230 million quarterback during this tough stretch of games, and his suspension conveniently ends when Cleveland travels to the “Space City” to face the Houston Texans, his former team. These games will be in the hands of backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett. He’ll need to steady the ship and keep the team afloat until then.

Until Watson comes back, the Browns are going to be very reliant on the dynamic duo of running backs, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. As of right now, Chubb and Hunt are the reason Cleveland is succeeding, but a dependence on the run game can cut both ways. Being such a run-heavy team, the Browns can control the clock and win relatively low-scoring games. That said, Cleveland put up 30 points in Week 2 against the New York Jets (which should’ve been enough to win) and they put up 42 points against the Chargers last season.

Defensively, the Browns have allowed 24.0 points per game through three games. In this five-game stretch and the three games following, Cleveland will be facing a mix of good or elite quarterbacks steering dynamic offenses.

In Week 1, the Browns faced the Baker Mayfield-led Panthers offense. Carolina’s offense is solid, but not great. Despite this, it took a last-second field goal to win in Week 1. In Week 2, Cleveland went up against the Joe Flacco-led Jets. Similar to Carolina, New York’s offense is solid, but they’re not the Chiefs or anything near that level. Yet the Browns had defensive lapses in the final minutes which opened the door for the Jets to steal the game. Cleveland’s first elite offensive test won’t be until Week 5 against LA.

The Browns could have gone into their Week 5 showdown against Justin Herbert, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Austin Eckler, Khalil Mack, J.C. Jackson, and the Chargers with an undefeated record. Due to multiple defensive breakdowns against the pesky Jets, that’s not going to happen.

Cleveland bounced back from their meltdown against the Jets with a win on Thursday Night Football in the “Dawg Pound” against the Steelers by a score of 29-17. The win improved their record to 2-1. Cleveland leads the AFC North, but that could change depending on what happens with the Ravens in New England.

Now, they’ve got 10 days to get ready for Mariota, rookie wide receiver Drake London, second-year tight end Kyle Pitts, and the Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta for  Game 1 of this five-game stretch. The Browns are currently a -3.0 point favorite against the Falcons.

Cleveland should be 3-0 right now, but the pesky New York Jets had other ideas. Cleveland must put that loss behind them and get ready to endure a very tricky six-game stretch. Though these five games won’t make or break their season, Cleveland’s season will be shaped by them. If the Browns want to prove their relevancy, they’ve got to come out of these five games with a winning record.