To close out the 2022 regular season, the Cleveland Browns traveled down the Ohio Turnpike to Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA to take on their AFC North foe, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Regardless of the outcome, the Browns weren’t going to the playoffs. Since this season is now over, it’s time to look ahead to the 2023 season which presents a very interesting set of opponents for the Browns.
Given how little Deshaun Watson played, it’s hard to get a read on who the Browns really were this season. Watson was suspended for the first 11 games on the schedule and didn’t make his Cleveland debut until Week 13 on the road against his former team, the Houston Texans.
Leading up to Watson’s return, the Browns needed to stay in the race. That way, Watson could come in and get them across the finish line. The finish line, in this case, was winning the AFC North and getting back to where they were in 2020, which was the AFC Divisional Round (before falling to the Kansas City Chiefs 22-17).
Cleveland gave Watson quite a hole to dig out of as they stood at 4-7 going into the game against the Texans. They won their final game without Waston, as they defeated Tom Brady in what was likely his final game against the Browns in Cleveland, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 23-17 in OT. Including the game against Tampa, the Browns won three of their final six games to finish the season 7-10.
With a 7-10 record, Cleveland finished in last place in the division. As such, they’ll receive a last-place schedule for the 2023 season.
Because of the rotation of the NFL schedule, the AFC North will be facing the AFC South next season. For the Browns, that means they’ll host the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars (the reigning AFC South champions) and visit the Indianapolis Colts and the Houston Texans (for the fourth consecutive year including 2020).
The AFC North and AFC South last linked up in 2020. That season, the Browns got out their brooms as they swept the division.
In 2020, they defeated the Colts 32-23 in Week 5, and it was the fourth consecutive game in which the Browns scored 30+ points (they were a point short of 50 in Dallas the week prior). Then Cleveland defeated Houston 10-7 in Week 10, with Watson at the controls for the Texans. Both games were in the Dawg Pound.
Next, the Browns squeaked past the Jaguars 27-25 in Duval County in Week 12. Prior to that win, the Browns had lost three straight games to the Jaguars (2013, 2014, and 2017). Lastly, Cleveland went to Nashville and defeated the Titans 41-35. The win in 2020 was revenge for the 2019 Week 1 beatdown the Titans put on the Browns to the tune of 43-13, a game in which 18 penalties were called on the Browns for 182 yards (six penalties were called on the Titans for 54 yards).
As they prepare to face the AFC South in the 2023 season, the Browns should have confidence knowing that they won all four games against that division the last time they saw them, even though the Colts, Titans, Jaguars, and Texans have gone through significant roster changes since then.
The AFC North will also be facing the NFC West. For the Browns, that means the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals will invade FirstEnergy Stadium and the Browns will head to the Pacific Northwest to take on the Seattle Seahawks and to Hollywood to square off with the Los Angeles Rams. The last time the Browns faced the NFC West in 2019, they got swept.
In 2019, the most frustrating loss was against the Rams on Sunday Night Football in Week 3. Los Angeles came into the Dawg Pound and defeated Cleveland 20-13. With 33 seconds remaining, the Browns had possession on fourth and goal. Baker Mayfield took the snap and was immediately forced out of the pocket by the Rams’ pass rush. Mayfield was able to get the pass away towards the right corner of the end zone, intended for Damion Ratley, but it was intercepted by current Brown John Johnson III.
The second most frustrating loss of the four was a few weeks later in Week 6 when the Seahawks came to town. Early in the second quarter, Cleveland held a 20-6 lead. Although there have been some remarkable comebacks throughout NFL history, a 20-6 lead is sizable. The Seahawks were able to slowly but surely chip away at the deficit until they got the eventual game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter, winning 32-28.
The Browns are a different team from the one that got swept by the NFC West in 2019. Regardless, Cleveland should have vengeance on their mind when they face the 49ers, Cardinals, Seahawks, and Rams.
As mentioned earlier, the Browns finished in last place in the AFC North this past season. As a result, they’ll host the New York Jets out of the AFC East and they’ll visit the Denver Broncos out of the AFC West.
The Browns will be seeking revenge against the Jets due to how their game went down in Week 2 this season (which I correctly predicted to be the home opener). The Jets scored two touchdowns in 90 seconds to beat the Browns 31-30.
Cleveland narrowly defeated the Broncos 17-14 on Thursday Night Football in Week 7 of the 2021 season at FirstEnergy Stadium. The last time the Browns played the Broncos in Denver, Week 9 of the 2019 season, Denver came away with the 24-19 win. Browns fans will always have a strong dislike for the Broncos because of “The Drive” and “The Fumble” in the late 80s.
Cleveland will have the opportunity to take advantage of facing two of their fellow basement dwellers and make a push toward the postseason.
Beginning in the 2021 season, the NFL extended the season to 18 weeks and 17 games. The extra game comes from the NFC division that the Browns played prior to last. Since the AFC North played the NFC North in the 2021 season, Cleveland will host the Chicago Bears since they finished in last place in the NFC North.
The last time the Browns hosted the Bears, in Week 3 of the 2021 season, Cleveland whooped Chicago 26-6. Moreover, Cleveland sacked Chicago QB Justin Fields nine times. Myles Garrett had four and a half sacks on his own. The Bears had the worst record in the 2022 season, so they wound up with the No.1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Nobody knows if the Bears will stay in the No.1 position, but either way they have the opportunity to change the trajectory of their team.
To round out the 2023 schedule, Cleveland will match up with their “friends” from the AFC North: the Baltimore Ravens (Cleveland’s biggest rival), Cincinnati Bengals, and the Steelers.
In 2022, the Browns split the season series with the Ravens, Bengals, and Steelers. The Browns defeated all three teams at home (29-17 against PIT, 32-13 against CIN, and 13-3 against BAL). However, Cleveland lost against all three teams on the road (23-20 at BAL, 23-10 at CIN, and 28-14 at PIT).
Although the 2023 schedule has not yet been released, the Browns could very well be in a position to have a bounce-back year and be a factor in the AFC again. They will have a full season with Deshaun Watson and plenty of last-place teams to take apart.