Power Ranking the Cleveland Browns 2013 Schedule from Easiest to Hardest Games
A presumably improved pass rush and overall defense with offseason additions of Paul Kruger, Desmond Bryant and Quentin Groves give weary fans some optimism. Especially since AFC North rivals the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers have, on paper, taken a step back with key personnel departing.
However, gaping holes remain at cornerback, free safety and fullback. To a lesser extent, offensive guard and tight end are also roster concerns.
The majority of impact players are gone from free agency leaving the draft as the key variable for every club.
As lineups stand right now, let's dive in and see what teams the Browns should roll over and which ones will pose the greatest challenge.
16. Week 13- Home: Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew highlights
Every all-time series record and last game played result listed in this article can be found at Pro-Football Reference.
Browns trail in series 5-9
Nov. 20, 2011: At home, Cleveland edged out Jacksonville 14-10
It doesn't get too much easier than facing the hopeless Jacksonville Jaguars.
This sad franchise finished 2-14 in 2012 and is one of the few clubs that had more offseason holes than the Browns. The Jags just don't have a lot going for them.
Blaine Gabbert enters his third year as quarterback, missing six games a season ago. He possesses all the physical attributes to be successful (6'4", 235 pounds), but he simply hasn't put it together on the gridiron (career statistics courtesy of ESPN).
Running back Maurice Jones-Drew is the Jaguars' only consistent offensive weapon, but he is still on the mend from foot surgery. As usual, his performance dictates whether Jacksonville stands a chance.
First round pick Justin Blackmon didn't score a touchdown until Week 8, however, he did come on strong in the second half of 2012 as a reliable receiver. If the rookie can keep the off-field issues in check then he could become the difference maker Jacksonville was hoping for.
On the defensive side, Paul Posluszny is someone Cleveland must spend extra attention to.
The linebacker is a pass rushing and run stuffing machine. His 106 tackles, three interceptions, two sacks and pair of forced fumbles is the type of well-rounded play that can turn a game around.
Playing at home, this is definitely a must-win game for the Browns as their schedule gets considerably tougher.
Receiver Mohamed Massaquoi also makes his return to Northeast Ohio after Cleveland's new front office did not offer him a new contract. The often-injured WR (missed nine games the past two seasons) was the Jaguars highest-profile free agent signing this spring.
15. Week 16- Away: New York Jets
Clips of Jets QB Mark Sanchez interceptions, miscues and fumbles
Browns lead series 12-8
Nov. 14, 2010: New York came from behind in Cleveland to take the game 26-20 in overtime.
Distractions aside, this club lost several key components to free agency. Tight end Dustin Keller, running back Shonn Greene and safety LaRon Landry all left the Big Apple.
Although their offense is in shambles, the Jets' pass defense was rated second in the league.
Cornerback Antonio Cromartie was a big part of that, as was linebacker David Harris' 123 tackles.
If the green and white look anything like they did this past year, then Cleveland comes out on top, even if it is a road game.
The Browns managed to win only a single contest as the visitor in 2012.
This squad needs to avoid costly interceptions and get Trent Richardson going early and often. Pounding the rock effectively must be the orange and brown's primary focus.
14. Week 5- Home: Buffalo Bills
Buffalo running back CJ Spiller 2012 highlights
Browns lead series 10-7
Sept. 23, 2012: Buffalo dominated in Cleveland with a 24-14 victory.
Buffalo possesses the longest playoff drought in the NFL at 13 years. Cleveland is not far behind, having last made the postseason in 2002.
These two struggling franchises are similar in many ways and are going to meet up under the bright lights of Thursday Night Football on Oct. 3.
Each club hired a new head coach (Cleveland's Rob Chudzinski and Buffalo's Doug Marrone) in hopes of changing a losing culture.
Both teams have question marks at the quarterback position and feature strong, yet underutilized, running backs.
This matchup will come down to defenses that are strong in different areas.
Of course with defensive coordinator Ray Horton switching to a 3-4 base and revamping the front seven, Cleveland's statistics on 'D' don't mean very much.
During their head-to-head contest in Week 3 of this past regular season, Buffalo ran for a combined 138 yards, including 91 from the No. 3 running back, Tashard Choice, as the visitors embarrassed Cleveland.
However, this was a Browns squad with 17 rookies in only their third NFL game.
Receivers Josh Gordon and Greg Little are a year wiser and Cleveland also adds former BIlls wideout David Nelson to the mix. Throw in a healthy Trent Richardson and "Believeland" will exact revenge in 2013.
13. Week 6: Home- Detroit Lions
Detroit WR Calvin Johnson 2012 highlights
Browns trail in series 4-14
Nov. 22, 2009: Browns lost on the road in a thrilling 38-37 battle
Detroit finished the season on an eight-game losing streak, despite ranking second in the league for passing yards.
Johnson will get his yards in any game (1,964 and five touchdowns in 2012). The important point for Cleveland is to limit the big momentum-changing plays. No. 81 averages 16.1 yards per catch and being able to keep him in check will force Detroit to rush the ball.
The Browns are much better off taking their chances with the NFL's 23rd best running game. Signing free agent Reggie Bush is a good start for the Lions to improve their sluggish rushing game, but at 28, can he be an every-down back?
Brandon Weeden and Co. have a nasty defense to worry about.
Star DE Cliff Avril jumped ship to the Seahawks; however, Detroit can depend on Ndamukong Suh's eight sacks and 35 tackles off the edge. Acquiring defensive tackle C.J. Mosely and safety Glover Quin this offseason also adds experience as well as a history of consistent effectiveness.
Weeden getting a quick release is vital and is certainly something that offensive coordinator Norv Turner is going to work on throughout training camp. If the slow decision making continues, then BW will find himself getting slammed to the turf all afternoon.
Two big-armed quarterbacks could provide the making of an exciting back-and-forth gunslinger war in Northeast Ohio.
This is the first time that the Browns host Detroit in a regular season home game since 2005.
12. Week 8: Away- Kansas City Chiefs
Chiefs new head coach Andy Reid press conference
Browns lead series 11-10-2
Dec. 9, 2012: Browns dominated the Chiefs in Cleveland 30-7
Kansas City was the worst team in the National Football League in 2012.
The bleak future of no legitimate quarterback and Swiss cheese defense left little to look forward to. Star rusher Jamaal Charles was the only bright spot last season as he rumbled to over 1,500 yards.
However, one of the most successful sideline generals in league history recently signed on with the Chiefs.
The moustached leader secured his starting QB in Alex Smith via trade with the San Francisco 49ers and also re-signed dynamic wide receiver Dwayne Bowe.
Let's not forget that Kansas City owns the No. 1 overall pick in this April's NFL entry draft.
Numerous mock drafts suggest that Mr. Reid will select an offensive tackle if the team does not trade down. A smart move to improve a sloppy offensive line that allowed 40 sacks this past year.
11. Week 1: Home- Miami Dolphins
Miami QB Ryan Tannehill: The Good; The Bad; The Ugly
Browns lead series 8-7
Sept. 25, 2011: In Cleveland, the Browns squeezed out an exciting 17-6 win.
New faces to South Beach include Mike Wallace, Dannell Ellerbe, Dustin Keller and Philip Wheeler. Will this be a classic case of overspending on big names or have the Dolphins done enough to become contenders in the AFC East?
Two of this past draft's rookie quarterbacks to not make the playoffs battle it out in their sophomore seasons.
Both signal callers had their ups and downs, but let's compare the Year 1 statistics.
Miami's Ryan Tannehill threw for 3,294 yards, 12 touchdowns, 13 interceptions with a QB rating of 76.1.
Cleveland's Brandon Weeden delivered 14 scores, 17 interceptions and 3,385 passing yards. His QB rating was 72.6.
The winner seems to be Tannehill who also produced two extra wins than Weeden, leading his Dolphins to a 7-9 finish.
It will be interesting to track the progress of both men and who can come out on top when they square off.
The Browns have been victorious the last three occasions that they hosted Miami.
10. Week 15: Home- Chicago Bears
Chicago QB Jay Cutler highlights
Browns lead series 9-5
Nov. 1, 2009: Browns got thumped in Chicago 30-6
Missing the playoffs with a 10-6 record was enough for Chicago to say goodbye to head coach Lovie Smith after nine years of service. Former Canadian Football League head coach Marc Trestman is now in charge.
Weeden will need to avoid the 5'8" ball-hawking cornerback, Tim Jennings, at all costs.
Jennings led Chicago with nine interceptions and 21 passes defended. Don't forget about his outside CB partner Charles Tillman, who after 10 seasons is still a legitimate threat.
The Browns need to take away Cutler's favorite receiving target in Brandon Marshall so that the visitors have to rely primarily on the run.
This way Forte can be swarmed and it will force some quick three-and-out drives.
Adding Bennett made Kellen Davis expendable, and he is now wearing an orange helmet. Backup QB Jason Campbell also departed the Windy City, as he currently battles for the starting job in Cleveland.
The Browns are 7-1 all-time vs. Chicago in Cleveland and the Bears' lone victory came all the way back in 1980.
9. Week 4: Home- Cincinnati Bengals
Bengals receiver A.J. Green highlights and interview
Browns trail in series 37-42
Oct. 14, 2012: In Cleveland, the Browns were victorious 34-24
The Battle of Ohio shall take place for the 80th and 81st occasion in 2013.
Last season, Cincinnati made the playoffs for the first time in consecutive years since 1981 and 1982. Cleveland hopes to get one step closer to that goal by taming the Bengals.
Splitting the 2012 series, both teams were victorious at home. Strangely enough, both entertaining affairs found the winner scoring 34 points.
Four of Cleveland's five wins came in the friendly confines of the newly named FirstEnergy Stadium. That comfort of sleeping in your own bed is what makes this matchup slightly more appealing for the orange and brown.
The Bengals' pass defense quietly made its way to the seventh most effective in the NFL.
However, the Browns were successful through the air in their head-to-head encounters.
Brandon Weeden had a four-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio and tossed up 553 total yards.
The upbeat tempo of these young offenses should create more exciting viewing in 2013.
Getting into shootouts is entertaining, but it can be dangerous for Cleveland if they don't effectively restock their depleted secondary.
8.Week 12: Home- Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger E:60 profile
Browns trail in series 57-63
Dec. 30, 2012: Steelers picked up the win in Pittsburgh 24-10
The Browns are 2-8 in the last 10 meetings vs. their arch rivals. Their Nov. 24 matchup will mark the 120th game between the two clubs.
2012 was a strange journey for Pittsburgh as they missed the playoffs for only the second time in the last six years.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was injured for three games, beginning in late November, and his team never recovered.
The uncomfortable philosophy clash between offensive coordinator Todd Haley and Big Ben added to the troubles of an offense already struggling with a subpar rushing attack.
Pittsburgh's runner by committee averaged just 96.1 yards per game. Rashard Mendenhall participating in only six matches was the main factor in that.
Mendenhall became a free agent and is now a member of the Arizona Cardinals. The Steelers are in a lot of trouble on the ground right now.
Cleveland thrilled the home crowd by forcing an incredible eight turnovers and outlasting third-string QB Charlie Batch 20-14 back on Nov. 25.
They'll be looking to be pick up another "W" in 2013 and on paper this looks more doable than ever.
A young, rising cornerback in Keenan Lewis could not be retained and left as a free agent to the New Orleans Saints. Superstar receiver Mike Wallace is also gone, having taken his talents to South Beach as part of the Miami Dolphins offseason acquiring bonanza.
Fan favorite Jerome Harrison isn't going to be terrorizing any quarterbacks in black and gold as the team released him. Plenty of holes to fill and as of right now, not a lot of answers.
Could this finally be the swing in the balance of power that Browns fans have been waiting for?
7. Week 11- Away: Cincinnati Bengals
Bengals QB Andy Dalton miked up
Browns trail in series 37-42
Oct. 14, 2012: Browns were victorious in Cleveland 34-24
Having only one win on the road in 2012 suggests that any trip away from Northeast Ohio will be more difficult. Against a division opponent doesn't help that situation.
However, the Browns are coming out of their bye week.
The Browns' main man to fear from Cincinnati is the high-octane receiver A.J. Green.
No. 18 has lit up the orange and brown in four career games. This past regular season, Green scored a combined three touchdowns for 193 yards vs. his state rival.
Isolating the South Carolina native to short completions where he can be contained is extremely important.
The likelihood of that will depend largely on whether Cleveland picks up a starting quality cornerback and free safety in next week's draft.
In Week 2 last year, the Browns were edged out 34-27 in Cincinnati's jungle where Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson had a pair of career firsts.
Weeden threw for over 300 yards, while Richardson rushed north of 100.
Regardless of the outcome, it should be an entertaining matchup.
6. Week 17- Away: Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers offense highlights
Browns trail in series 57-63
Dec. 30, 2012: Steelers took it in Pittsburgh 24-10
Pittsburgh grabbed a hollow 24-10 victory at Heinz Field in the 2012 season finale as both squads were already eliminated from the postseason.
The Steel Curtain defense was ranked first against the pass and second in stopping the run.
Down the stretch, it didn't matter, as the Steelers folded in five of their last seven.
Cleveland will be looking to defeat the Steelers in Pittsburgh for the first time since 2003.
The black and gold's slide to mediocrity is in full swing...this is based on their roster pre-draft of course. It could be a different conversation come the end of April.
5. Week 9- Home: Baltimore Ravens
Ravens QB Joe Flacco Superbowl press conference
Browns trail in series 7-21
Nov. 4, 2012: Browns lose 25-15 at home
Cleveland has not defeated Baltimore since Nov. 18, 2007. That is about to change.
In 2013, the Browns step out of their own shadow. The Ravens, of course, were the former Cleveland franchise before the late Art Modell moved them to Maryland in 1996.
An aging defense, Ray Lewis' retirement, letting Ed Reed walk away, trading Anquan Boldin and outside linebacker Paul Kruger joining the Browns, all point to a chance of breaking the losing streak to the defending Super Bowl champions.
Elvis Dumervil has the potential to be a terrific signing as he is expected to fill the void created by Kruger's departure as a pass rushing OLB.
That potent attack of Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and Torrey Smith is still a dangerous threat.
The Browns had a chance on the last play of their Week 4 encounter to tie things up with a TD pass. Unfortunately, Brandon Weeden threw the ball out of bounds in the end zone.
The rematch at Cleveland Browns Stadium was much more lopsided, as the visitors grinded out a 25-15 victory.
4. Week 3- Away: Minnesota Vikings
Vikings RB Adrian Peterson highlights
Browns trail in series 3-10
September 13, 2009: Minnesota left Cleveland Browns Stadium up 34-20
One name, two words, 2,000 yards: Adrian Peterson.
The man cannot be contained and came nine yards short of the all-time single season rushing record.
Peterson carried the ball on 348 occasions and had little to no help from the 31st-ranked passing game.
While Minnesota generally struggles defending the pass, bad news for the Browns is that they allowed the 11th fewest rushing yards per matchup.
An important part of stuffing ground gains comes via the nasty linebacker Chad Greenway. The seven-year pro led his club in tackles (148), as well as contributing three sacks and an interception.
This means that it could be a tough day at the office for Cleveland's feature back, Trent Richardson.
QB Brandon Weeden should be able to exploit the Vikings' smaller cornerbacks with his pair of large physical receivers Josh Gordon and Greg Little, at 6'3 and 6'2, respectively.
He will have to keep an eye on ball-hawking safety, Harrison Smith, who returned two of his three interceptions for touchdowns in 2012.
Minnesota made headlines this offseason from both additions and subtractions to their lineup.
Gone is superstar wide receiver Percy Harvin in a mega-trade for draft picks with the Seattle Seahawks. Fellow receiver Michael Jenkins was cut, as was cornerback Antoine Winfield.
3. Week 2- Away: Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore RB Ray Rice highlights
Browns trail in series 7-21
Nov. 4, 2012: Browns lose in Cleveland 25-15
Good news for the orange and brown is that they contained dynamic running back Ray Rice to under 100 yards on the ground in each of their 2012 meetings.
A formidable accomplishment against a 1,143-yard rusher and something Cleveland must continue to do next season.
Wide receiver Torrey Smith always seems to burn the Browns, many times with a huge momentum-swinging drive. Can he be equally effective as the primary target now that Anquan Boldin has left for San Francisco?
Joe Flacco will get Smith the ball, but it is a matter of Cleveland's defense eliminating the home-run play.
Let's face it: Baltimore did not win the AFC North and Super Bowl by accident. Even with all their offseason player departures, they shall still find a way to play tough at M&T Bank Stadium.
However, Cleveland's youth movement is on the rise and the Ravens have slipped enough to allow for a series split this year.
2. Week 7- Away: Green Bay Packers
Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers highlights
Browns trail in series 7-10
Oct. 25, 2009: The Packers rode into Cleveland and dominated 31-3
It is bad news for any team having to go into Lambeau Field, and this past season proved that once again.
The Packers were 7-1 at the frozen tundra, which sits over 73,000 rabid cheeseheads and is home to a guy named Aaron Rodgers.
With an unbelievable passer rating of 108 and throwing for over 4,000 yards, Rodgers is, simply put, the man in Green Bay. His 39 touchdowns against eight interceptions and a 67.2 completion percentage puts an exclamation point on his dominance.
However, Green Bay does not currently possess a go-to running back. Their leader on the ground was Alex Green, who collected under 500 yards and did not score. In fact, Rodgers used his feet to get to the end zone twice and was second in team rushing.
The Packers are obviously one-dimensional, yet they keep winning. A lot of that credit goes to the offense, but let's give the defense some love, too.
Rookie corner Casey Hayward came out of nowhere to lead the squad in interceptions (6). He also forced a fumble and defended 21 passes.
The secondary's strength continues with their top tackler, safety Morgan Burnett. Tendering a contract to CB Sam Shields helps keep depth at the position, especially since veteran Charles Woodson was cut.
Ideally, Cleveland upgrades at cornerback and safety in the offseason. The addition of another shutdown cornerback on the outside will be a key factor when trying to limit Rodgers' effectiveness.
If not, then Green Bay's passing attack will avoid Joe Haden and pick apart the rest of the field.
The Cheeseheads lost a pair of talented wide receivers in Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. Driver retired and Jennings signed with the Minnesota Vikings.
Neither was playing their best football, so right now it looks like a smart move by Green Bay.
1. Week 17- Away: New England Patriots
New England QB Tom Brady college and NFL highlights
Browns lead series 12-9
Nov. 7, 2010: Cleveland pulled off a huge upset at home 34-14.
Following a 1-2 start to this 2012 campaign, the Patriots rebounded and looked like, well, the Patriots.
The only glaring weakness in New England's armor is their pass defense, which sits at a lowly 29th overall.
Cleveland did secure a David vs. Goliath victory two years ago and, in 2012, averaged 214.7 passing yards per game.
However, that club had Colt McCoy as its starting QB and came during Peyton Hillis' flash-in-the-pan breakout rushing season. The game was also played at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
On paper, this current group of Browns can hang with anyone, mainly because of their defense.
They only lost by more than 10 points once in the first 14 weeks of the year. Then, of course, the wheels fell off during the Washington matchup and caused a downward spiral the rest of the way.
If it was being held in front of the Dawg Pound, I would like Cleveland's chances better. New England is fierce at home and was 6-2 in Foxboro last season.
The Browns need to hope that the hosts underestimate them like they did back in 2010.
Follow Andy McNamara on Twitter @AndyMc81