Cleveland Browns: Game-by-Game Predictions for Second Half of the Season
An unexpected close win for the Browns this week against San Diego puts them at 2-6 for the season at the halfway point. I'm sure it's not where the team would have liked to be after eight games, but the Browns have been competitive up to this point.
A catch here, a turnover there, this season may have had a different complexion going into the last half of the 2012 campaign. Playoffs are a distant long shot at 2-6, but this team does still have a lot to play for.
The Browns coaching staff is auditioning, week in and week out, to keep their jobs. Owner Jimmy Haslam has already "retired" Browns president Mike Holmgren, so the remaining front office and coaches will be on a short leash. They must be in a position to win every game from here on out.
This being said, it will be an exciting second half of the season. The slides that follow chronicle how the Browns will fair.
Week 9: Baltimore Ravens at the Cleveland Browns
In their first meeting on Thursday Night Football, the Ravens survived a close one that went down to the last second, 23-16. They had the advantage of playing at home where they are 4-0 this season. The heart of their defense, Ray Lewis, was also on the field.
This time around the game is in Cleveland. That in itself is not a scary prospect for visiting teams, but it is an important distinction for the 5-2 Ravens who are a different team on the road. They average only 15 points a game on the road (versus 32.2 at home). That has resulted in a 1-2 road record this season.
The Ravens also have one of the league's worst rush defenses (No. 30), giving up an average of 174.7 yards on the ground on the road.
The Browns have modified their train of thought on offense and have been running a more balanced offense the last few weeks. They also average 20.8 points at home.
Look for the Browns to work Richardson and Hardesty for at least 30 carries and play low risk football. This results in the Browns first winning streak of the season and pulls them to 3-6 on the season and, equally important, 2-2 in the division as they head into their bye week.
Week 11: Cleveland Browns at the Dallas Cowboys
This is game is a mismatch for the Browns. Statistically, everything falls in Dallas' favor. Rob Ryan has the Cowboys playing great defense this year. The Cowboys are ranked third in passing this season, giving up 187 yards per game. They give up 90 yards a game on defense.
Offensively, the Cowboys have an astonishingly low rush per game average at 32.7. This would appear to be a blessing for the Browns defense, which gives up 143 yards a game on the road. The reality is, the Cowboys just don't run the ball very often at home at 18 (third lowest in the league).
Dallas has been tough to figure out this season. There are stretches where they look like a playoff team, and others that look like they won't win a game the rest of the season. This unpredictability means the Browns have a shot. Unfortunately, it is a long shot, contingent on turnovers. Dallas' talent level and their big-play ability means they take this one and the Browns fall to 3-7.
Week 12: Pittsburgh Steelers at the Cleveland Browns
The AFC's oldest rivalry picks up once again in Week 12. The Steelers have dominated the Browns since 2000 (22-3), so I use the term "rivalry" loosely. The Browns played them tough last season, losing by a combined 15 points, but this is a different Cleveland team.
At this point in the season, this game could be a crucial win for the Steelers, who could be 5-5 coming into Cleveland based on their schedule.
The Steelers continue their dominance over the Browns in the new millennium. It will be a close game, but with the Steelers in the thick of a playoff hunt, Roethlisberger will find a way to win. Browns fall to 3-8.
Week 13: Cleveland Browns at the Oakland Raiders
The most telling statistic in this matchup is that of Oakland's defense at home. They have the staunchest run defense in the league at home giving up only 46.7 yards a game. Meanwhile, their pass defense gives up 253 yards a game and an average of two touchdowns. This is very close to Brandon Weeden's numbers on the year who averages 253.4 and 1.29 TD per game.
Oakland (3-4) is a much better team at home (2-1) and the AFC West is up for grabs (tops currently Denver at 4-3).
The above stats should equate to a Raiders victory to a rational thinker, but I can't bring myself to do that.
A Browns win will require one of two things to happen: Weeden will have to play beyond his season average or Trent Richardson will have a career-defining day against one of the league's toughest run defenses.
Weeden has shown some ability to keep this team in games with his arm. This is the game he proves that he can win a game with it. Browns go to 4-8.
Week 14: Kansas City Chiefs at the Cleveland Browns
Prior to the Browns-Chargers game, I had mentioned to multiple people on different occasions that the Browns were the best 1-6 team in the league. This statement was met with unanimous laughter. I was being serious. This team could have been 3-4 going into the Week 8 matchup against the Chargers.
What's my point? The Kansas City Chiefs are the worst 1-6 team in the league. The Browns will show the difference between a team with a bad record and a flat-out bad team.
Browns win handily and bump their record up to 5-8.
Week 15: Washington Redskins at Cleveland Browns
Robert Griffin III is probably rookie of the year based on his statistics through Week 8. Rookie Brandon Weeden will have a lot to prove in the Week 15 matchup.
Weeden was characterized as a consolation prize in the draft after the Browns lost the bidding war for RG3, and saw his favorite college target Kendall Wright drafted just two selections before the Browns were able to pick him. Washington also gives up a league-worst 314 passing yards per game.
A combination of a Browns QB with a chip on his shoulder, desperation time for the Browns coaching staff and a bad Redskin pass defense equals a win for the Browns.
Browns go 6-8 and ride a three-game winning streak into Mile High Stadium.
Week 16: Cleveland Browns at the Denver Broncos
A mile high on a three-game winning streak means it's going to be a hard fall. Peyton Manning has the Denver offense clicking on all cylinders over the last two games. Provided Manning is playing Week 16 against the Browns, I don't see this changing.
The Browns haven't had much success against the Broncos, their last win coming in 1990 and they have never beat them in the new era (0-5).
Peyton Manning potentially playing for a playoff spot/home-field advantage is too much for the Browns. Broncos take this one. Browns go 6-9.
Week 17: Cleveland Browns at the Pittsburgh Steelers
The final game of the season will weigh heavier on the Browns than it will on Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh may be playing for their playoff lives, but that doesn't compare to the Browns coaching staff playing for their jobs.
At this point in the season, the Browns (6-9) are out of any playoff picture, but they still have a lot to play for. They will be highly motivated to beat the team that their new owner Jimmy Haslam owned a percentage of, on their home turf.
It will be close, it will be exciting, and it will rekindle a rivalry that has become one only in name. The Browns win and make owner Jimmy Haslam think long and hard before making any other front office or coching changes. The Browns finish the season at 7-9.
Analysis of the 2012 Season
A 7-9 record after a 1-6 start should be enough for Haslam to keep the remaining staff in tact, but being that I'm not him, it's hard to say.
I will say, if the Browns reach this mark, they will have surpassed every NFL analyst's expectation that had them ranked as the worst team in the league (and that's most of them).
The conclusion of the 2012 season should have Browns fans excited for 2013, and "wait until next year" will actually have meaning behind it.