Cleveland Browns: Updated Win-Loss Predictions for the 2012 Schedule

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIAugust 9, 2012

Cleveland Browns: Updated Win-Loss Predictions for the 2012 Schedule

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    It appears the hits just keep on coming for the Cleveland Browns. Is the team headed for yet another disappointing season in the win-loss column?

    As reported by ESPNCleveland.com, stud cornerback Joe Haden may miss the first four games after testing positive for NFL-banned Adderall. If not, the Browns may be in the clear, but Haden's absence would set a horrible tone to start the season.

    But wait, there's more.

    Last year's first-round defensive tackle Phil Taylor had surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle in May, according to ESPN AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley. Taylor is likely out for the season.

    On top of that, the only starting linebacker from the 2011 team that will start Week 1 is D'Qwell Jackson. That's ironic, since Jackson missed the prior two seasons with pectoral injuries.

    Oh, and No. 3 overall pick Trent Richardson is dinged up as well.

    What can we expect from the 2012 Browns with so many devastating blows this early on?

    The results are actually more encouraging than you might expect.

Week 1: Home vs. Philadelphia Eagles

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    The Browns' 30th-ranked run defense certainly won't improve with the absence of Phil Taylor on the front four and Chris Gocong and Scott Fujita out of action as well.

    Rookie defensive tackles John Hughes and Billy Wynn will have to step up in a big way to create push up front. Fourth-round pick James-Michael Johnson will also be asked to fill a starting role in Fujita's absence.

    After the tragic death of Garrett Reid, the son of Eagles coach Andy, it's difficult to see how the team won't rally around their coach.

    On game day, the story will be about more than football, but in the actual game, the Browns will get rolled over by the lethal combination of LeSean McCoy and Michael Vick in the Eagle backfield.

    If Richardson's knee is healed from the procedure he underwent Thursday with Dr. James Andrews, it may not matter much.

    Give T-Rich one touchdown, but look for the inexperienced receiving corps to struggle alongside rookie QB Brandon Weeden against a tough, underrated defense.

    Final score prediction: Eagles 31, Browns 10

Week 2: Away at Cincinnati Bengals

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    Suddenly, the passing game takes flight.

    After a disappointing stinker at home, the Browns fight back on the road against a depleted Bengals secondary playing without a viable No. 2.

    Brandon Weeden throws for 300 yards. Second-round supplemental draft choice Josh Gordon has his coming-out party in the NFL for Cleveland with his first 100-yard game and two TDs.

    Assuming the worst for Haden, though, the Browns may be in trouble on the outside. Bengals wideout AJ Green would torch Dimitri Patterson, Sheldon Brown, or Buster Skrine at this point.

    Both teams are able to move the ball effectively. The Bengals, though, have the edge in the ground game with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and a relatively inexperienced Cleveland front seven.

    Browns safety T.J. Ward also has a monster game in run support.

    Early in year two, Bengals QB Andy Dalton stills locks in a bit too much at times on his favorite wideout Green.

    Rightfully so, but former seventh-round pick Eric Hagg reads Dalton's eyes on a single-high bomb to Green. Hagg races to the sideline and picks it off, setting up a chance for the Browns to drive for victory.

    Weeden orchestrates a game-winning drive, capped off by a Phil Dawson field goal. The Bengals begin to mount a charge at the end of the game, but their time runs out.

    These Browns may have injuries and suspensions to battle through, but they show they are not about to lay down.

    Final score prediction: Browns 30, Bengals 28

Week 3: Home vs. Buffalo Bills

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    This should be quite the interesting battle. Two franchises with such loyal fanbases who have been disenchanted in recent years, but are suddenly showing promise.

    Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and Browns rookie Brandon Weeden are only about a year apart in age, but they have been down drastically different paths.

    One thing that is common between them: they are what you'd call "gunslingers", undaunted by taking risks and fitting the ball into tight windows.

    The problem for Fitzpatrick is, he has a relatively weak arm compared to other quarterbacks. Weeden, meanwhile, has a cannon.

    The Bills defensive line is even more ferocious with the addition of Mario Williams, and they will definitely be aggressive in sending all sorts of blitz packages at Weeden.

    To combat this, the Browns will likely keep it on the ground, and will do so with a lot of success. Trent Richardson's knee should be fine by now, and he will go for about 130 yards and a touchdown. Look for him to start getting more involved in the passing game, too.

    Cleveland keeps it simple, benefits off of a couple misguided throws from Fitzpatrick, and grinds out a tough victory at home.

    Suddenly, the 2012 Browns improbably improve to 2-1 on the season, and Dawg Pound seems alive and well again.

    Final score prediction: Browns 20, Bills 13

Week 4: Away at Baltimore Ravens

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    Ruh-roh.

    It's a short week for both teams, but the Ravens don't have to travel.

    Even without All-Pro linebacker Terrell Suggs, Baltimore is going to be reared and ready to go after an opening-season loss at home to the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football.

    The Browns took advantage of a Bengal team that got up so much for the regular season opener in Week 2. On this week, on the road, the Browns get shredded.

    Ravens all-purpose running back Ray Rice makes sure everyone knows who's the best runner in the division, and rips off a huge game. 150 yards rushing, six receptions out of the backfield, and three total touchdowns.

    When Rice slips out to catch the ball, no one besides D'Qwell Jackson has the ability to tackle him at the first level. The Ravens control the clock, and Baltimore's Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith play pitch and catch all afternoon.

    Tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pita also cause the Browns matchup nightmares, and the absence of Joe Haden at cornerback would only make matters worse.

    Brandon Weeden makes rookie mistakes under center for Cleveland, getting picked off by ball-hawking legend Ed Reed and putting the ball on the ground after a sack.

    Trent Richardson manages to run for 80 yards, but the game has been decided by the time the Browns rip off a few big gains on offense late.

    Final score prediction: Ravens 35, Browns 20

Week 5: Away at New York Giants

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    The defending Super Bowl champion Giants are still searching for a running game between Ahmad Bradshaw and first-round draft pick David Wilson.

    Thankfully for the Browns, when the other team is virtually one-dimensional and must pass the ball, it actually helps.

    What will also help is that Cleveland's No. 1 cornerback Joe Haden will be suiting up for this one no matter what, which is likely to give Eli Manning something extra to game plan for.

    With a beat up Giants secondary, the Browns are able to establish the pass with quick timing patterns. The size of Greg Little and Josh Gordon give the G-Men difficulty on the outside.

    The Browns can't get any momentum on offense after establishing a halftime lead, though, which turns into an evenly-matched affair.

    In the fourth quarter, the New York crowd gets behind Manning and the offense as they are within striking distance.

    As he did so many times in 2011 on the way to his second Super Bowl MVP, Manning leads a fourth-quarter comeback. Back-to-back touchdown drives are sandwiched between the Browns failing to run out the clock with Trent Richardson.

    Entering the last 15 minutes, the Browns cling to a four-point lead, but see it evaporate right before their eyes against a championship-tested team.

    Final score prediction: Giants 27, Browns 17

Week 6: Home vs. Cincinnati Bengals

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    It's already a rematch of what was an exciting aerial display on September 16th.

    This time around, the Bengals get to play spoiler on the road against the Browns despite Cleveland's desire to push back to .500 by defeating a familiar foe.

    Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer gets a feel for his defense by this point in the season and does more with less—like he always does. No wonder the team signed him to an extension this offseason.

    Browns running back Trent Richardson gets locked down for the first time all season thanks to speedy linebackers Rey Maualuga, Thomas Howard, and Manny Lawson.

    The unit learns from the first game and step up to the No. 3 overall pick's physical style, and also prevents impact plays from tight ends Benjamin Watson and Jordan Cameron.

    The deflating loss on the road to the Giants the previous week is too much for the Browns to overcome. Brandon Weeden starts pressing in the passing game, leading to multiple turnovers.

    This time around, a more run-based Bengals offensive game plan allows the team to control the ball while the Cleveland offense becomes stagnant.

    Final score prediction: Bengals 24, Browns 13

Week 7: Away at Indianapolis Colts

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    Andrew Luck isn't your average rookie, and the Colts play surprisingly good, competitive football in 2012 thanks solely to the No. 1 pick out of Stanford.

    This will be a big game for both teams, since both will have begun the year 2-1 but are in the midst of a slump.

    Luck will have faced the Green Bay Packers at Lucas Oil Stadium and the New York Jets on the road leading up to this game. He is likely to struggle in those two contests, but those are also two of the most talented defenses in the league.

    The Browns' defense, with the exception of possibly the secondary, aren't as deep. As a result, Luck will have a good game, but the Colts really don't have a bell-ringer at running back.

    Also, outside of the secondary, the Colts don't have much on the defensive side of the ball, either. What they do have is a hard-nosed, defensive-minded coach in Chuck Pagano leading the way.

    Combine Pagano's intensity with what Luck brings to his side of the football, and it presents a formidable challenge for the Browns.

    The passionate Colts fans are clamoring for their team to right the ship, and Indy finds a way to pull this one out.

    Cleveland is likely to be favored in this one, but remember that teams win some games they aren't supposed to, and lose some that they should win.

    That's true in all major sports, and the NFL is no exception. These balance out over the course of 16 games.

    Final score prediction: Colts 24, Browns 23

Week 8: Home vs. San Diego Chargers

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    With a 2-5 record, Pat Shurmur starts to feel the seat heat up under the new ownership of Jimmy Haslam.

    As a result, the playbook opens up on what turns out to be a magical night at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

    Just when all hope seemed to be lost, the Browns get off the mat and play their most complete game of the season.

    The Chargers have a trademark, inexplicably poor outing in the middle of the season. The men in the trenches get after it for the Browns on both sides of the ball.

    Cleveland defensive end Jabaal Sheard gets after it with a two-sack showing, and defensive coordinator Dick Jauron keeps Pro Bowl QB Philip Rivers off-balance all night.

    Finally, too, a Josh Cribbs sighting! After being neutralized due to the new kickoff rules, Cribbs takes a kickoff to the house to give the Browns their most comfortable victory of the year thus far.

    Final score prediction: Browns 27, Chargers 7

Week 9: Home vs. Baltimore Ravens

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    Fresh off of a bye and a satisfying road win in Houston, the Ravens will have to make the stroll into Cleveland to face a Browns team riding a huge wave of momentum.

    Just short of the Week 10 bye, this is a crucial point in the season for the Browns. There is a huge difference between being 4-5 and 3-6.

    Unfortunately, the latter is this team's fate. It turns out to be a bloody, gritty, old-fashioned AFC North sock 'em matchup.

    In the end, the more battle-tested team prevails. The Ravens feel fortunate to get away with a victory despite three interceptions and under 200 yards from Joe Flacco.

    His team is still winning and headed for the postseason, but the media questions whether Flacco is the long-term answer under center.

    Meanwhile, the Browns head into the bye week on a sour note. Once again, the franchise seeks solutions on how to consistently win in the toughest division in football.

    Final score prediction: Ravens 13, Browns 10

Week 11: Away at Dallas Cowboys

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    The good news: warm weather. The bad news: Cowboys Stadium.

    The NFC East will be among the most competitive divisions in football this season, and with the AFC North as their out of conference opponents, it's sure to be all the more physical.

    There is a familiarity among some Cleveland Browns defenders who used to be coached by Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

    Some of that knowledge may be imparted when the Browns scout for this game, but the unconventional schemes Ryan can throw at any given opponent will likely be among the toughest Cleveland faces all year.

    This game goes back to the Browns' run defense.

    If it can't improve with the additions of defensive ends Juqua Parker and Frostee Rucker, or by one of the rookie defensive tackles stepping up in a big way, the entire team will be in trouble.

    Another factor in this game that won't make big headlines but is nonetheless very important: Lawrence Vickers.

    After lead-blocking for the best rushers in recent Browns memory, the team kicked Vickers to the curb after selecting fullback Owen Marecic in the 2011 draft.

    From there, Vickers was a big part of the success for the Houston Texans' dynamic running back duo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate.

    Inexplicably with his third team in three seasons, it should be business as usual for Vickers, paving DeMarco Murray's way to 1,000-plus yards with ease.

    Facing his old team in this game is bound to give Vickers even more fuel.

    Even with the familiarity of Ryan's style, the Browns are once again pushed to the brink of playoff elimination before Thanksgiving.

    Final score prediction: Cowboys 35, Browns 20

Week 12: Home vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    A Monday Night Football contest followed by yet another grudge match with the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field in Week 11 leaves grizzled veterans of the Steelers fatigued.

    Traveling to Cleveland won't make things any easier.

    At this point, the Browns are in desperation mode. As many fans know, too, nothing cures an underwhelming season like beating the Steelers.

    It will be the first time these two teams square off on the year, and with the Steelers' running back situation still very much up in the air, they may be forced to throw the ball a lot.

    Not to mention, top receiving target Mike Wallace may not even be around, which would drastically change the Pittsburgh offense.

    Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger should be as banged up as he has in his entire career at this point, and the Browns simply have the right set of circumstances fall their way on this Sunday.

    The Steelers will not have faced a more physical running back than Cleveland's Trent Richardson to this point in the season.

    Look for the Browns offensive line to fire off the ball, and for the team to play inspired football in a fight to save coach Pat Shurmur's job.

    Final score prediction: Browns 21, Steelers 13

Week 13: Away at Oakland Raiders

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    The multimillion dollar question for the silver and black will be this: is Darren McFadden healthy?

    It is worth that much not only for the money the team is paying for him, but it will also likely determine how relevant the team is at this point in the season.

    A talented Cleveland Browns secondary will be able to put up a fight against the young, explosive receivers of Oakland in Denarius Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Jacoby Ford.

    Assuming the best for Run DMC, though, the Raiders will be in playoff contention in a wide-open AFC West division. 10-year veteran gunslinger Carson Palmer will be in the midst of a career year, and McFadden will be one of the most productive backs in the league.

    All of these factors spell trouble for the Browns. The victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers will have taken all the effort and will the team could muster.

    That said, the Raiders defense isn't striking much fear into anyone. Brandon Weeden will find success throwing the ball, and Trent Richardson should break the 1,000-yard mark on the season with a big game.

    It will be a close, high-scoring affair. However, the hostile environment of the Black Hole along with the time zone change will give the Raiders the edge in this one.

    Final score prediction: Raiders 38, Browns 34

Week 14: Home vs. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Some juicy storylines here.

    Not only is brusing running back and Madden cover boy Peyton Hillis returning to Cleveland, former Browns head coach Romeo Crennel returns to town with arguably the NFL's most talented young roster.

    Unfortunately, one of the biggest investments and perceived risks in this year's NFL Draft is proving to be disappointing thus far for K.C.

    Nose tackle Dontari Poe has freakish athletic ability. As the No. 11 overall pick, he was expected to start from Day 1, but as Adam Teicher of The Kansas City Star reports, those expectations proved to be too high.

    Ahead of Poe on the depth chart is undrafted second-year player Anthony Toribio.

    If that's the case, it could change the complexion of what the Chiefs are able to do on defense. Still, Crennel is an expert on that side of the ball, and should force the Browns into some mistakes.

    Also a source of concern is strong safety Eric Berry, who along with stud running back Jamaal Charles and emerging tight end Tony Moeaki, blew out his ACL last season.

    With so many crucial players returning from injury, it's hard to pin expectations on the Chiefs at this point in 2012.

    If Charles isn't quite himself, the Browns could stuff the box and force Matt Cassel to beat them throwing the football. Cassel has proven he can get it done at times,  but doesn't consistently look like a franchise quarterback.

    His below average arm strength is also sure to play a factor in the December Cleveland weather.

    Based on the circumstances, this is one of the few matchups the edge at quarterback would have to go in the Browns' favor.

    As long as Brandon Weeden is smart with the football and Trent Richardson can continue to produce in the running game, the Browns have a shot at the upset in this one.

    Final score prediction: Browns 24, Chiefs 16

Week 15: Home vs. Washington Redskins

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    In a contest that will likely stir a lot of emotions in Cleveland Browns fans, the team will square off against the quarterback they tried to trade for in the draft in Robert Griffin III.

    Considering his Olympic-caliber speed and polished passing ability, Griffin has the most dual-threat upside of any quarterback in recent memory.

    His quick, efficient performance in Washington's preseason opener was impressive. Griffin completed four of six passes for 70 yards and a 20-yard TD pass to new No. 1 target Pierre Garcon.

    It may not be a sign of things to come, but it was a heck of a start for the No. 2 pick, who is strapped with plenty of weapons on the outside in Garcon, Santana Moss, Josh Morgan, and Leonard Hankerson.

    Not to mention, tight end Fred Davis played well in 2011, and Chris Cooley is an H-back type who provides a lot of versatility.

    By Week 15, perhaps NFL defenses will have caught up to Griffin and whatever it is he may be doing.

    In my humble opinion, though, I doubt it.

    This will be the final game in Cleveland Browns Stadium for the 2012 campaign, so it will come down to the wire regardless.

    Griffin has the arm to weather whatever storm may await in Cleveland, but it remains to be seen if an established back can fill in for the rookie quarterback to lean on.

    The Redskins also have an underrated front seven, stocked with depth and talent. That will provide enough resistance against the Browns' run-oriented attack.

    Final score prediction: Redskins 28, Browns 20

Week 16: Away at Denver Broncos

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    It's still hard to believe No. 18 is wearing a Broncos jersey.

    The greatest regular season quarterback of all-time will single-handedly make his team relevant in the playoff picture at this point in the season, while the Browns will have only pride to play for.

    The AFC West is sure to be competitive, and Denver likely won't be resting its starters at this point. That's bad news for Cleveland.

    Free safety Mike Adams joined the Broncos this offseason, and can provide inside knowledge to Manning about what the Browns try to do on defense. You know, as if he needs it anyway.

    With so much game film on what is likely to be a struggling, young, but promising Cleveland team, Manning should have a field day at the line of scrimmage.

    It will be a chess match between Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, along with Manning, against Dick Jauron's tricky schemes on the other side.

    A hungry, aging Champ Bailey will demand a great game from his secondary, which suddenly looks a lot better with the additions of Adam, Tracy Porter, Drayton Florence, and Jim Leonhard.

    Cleveland should run it with success in this game, and their only hope of winning is to play keep away from Manning and Co.

    It's possible that the Browns will play spoiler in the Mile High City, but with Manning at the helm, the Broncos will get the "W."

    Final score prediction: Broncos 28, Browns 23

Week 17: Away at Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Is it possible for the Cleveland Browns to sweep the bully from Pennsylvania? Certainly.

    The problem is, the Steelers will be resting all their starters for the playoffs and the Browns will be scrapping in a game that will still hold significance to them.

    Pittsburgh will still probably play its starters for some amount of time, but will likely give way especially if they have a first-round postseason bye.

    New owner Jimmy Haslam noted in his opening press conference the priority he has placed on the Steelers-Browns rivalry (via the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot):

    Even though I understand the rivalry between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, I get it. Our main goal is to return that to a real rivalry.

    This would be the first time the Browns have swept the Steelers since the 1988 season.

    While it may be a small consolation to beat a rival twice in one season when the team misses the playoffs, it will be a source of positivity moving forward for the Browns franchise.

    Final score prediction: Browns 20, Steelers 3

Summary of 2012 Season

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    Record: 6-10

    Assessment: The Cleveland Browns end 2012 on a high note with a victory in Heinz Field against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but it caps off another losing season.

    To be fair, the schedule is brutal and many youngsters are big-time contributors on offense.

    Encouraging signs of life came to the passing game for the first time in years, but rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden shows off his risk-taking style, for better or worse.

    He threw too many interceptions to keep the Browns consistently competitive, but also provided excitement with big throws and explosive plays for touchdowns. His TD-INT ratio ends up being around 21-18.

    Josh Gordon has a surprisingly productive first year as a pro, leading the team with 70 receptions, 895 yards, and six touchdowns.

    Greg Little continues to blossom, and tight end Jordan Cameron makes a huge leap in his second pro season.

    Trent Richardson lives up to the hype as the No. 3 pick, running for over 1,300 yards on just under 300 carries, while catching roughly 40 passes out of the backfield.

    On defense, the young secondary continues to flex its muscles. Joe Haden has a Pro Bowl-caliber year, and the blindingly fast Buster Skrine establishes himself as a starter late in the season.

    I am a firm believer the Browns are headed in the right direction. Injuries, depth issues and inexperience in the front seven seem to be too much to overcome against most of their upcoming opponents, though.

    Future: The Browns should show the new ownership enough to keep the coaching staff and front office virtually intact. This is the team's most talented roster since reentering the league in 1999.

    This may not be a successful year in the win-loss column, but the team is destined for a bright future that will truly manifest itself in 2013.