So it’s that time again. The best time of the year...football season. With the NCAA starting up this past weekend, and the NFL kicking off 2008 on Thursday, anticipation has not been higher in Cleveland since the late 1980s. It is a season full of expectations for the Browns, but they do have a daunting task ahead of them.
The have one of the league’s toughest schedules, as they must face the potent AFC South and NFC East. Both divisions produced three playoff teams in 2007. They also must face their nemesis, the hated Pittsburgh Steelers, on the shores of Lake Erie in primetime on Week Two and again in Week 17 in Pittsburgh.
This following a lackluster preseason where they looked disjointed and unorganized, and the first teams rarely played together as a complete unit. Injuries, although minor, managed to disrupt any sort of flow as Derek Anderson, Braylon Edwards, and Jamal Lewis all missed significant time in camp.
The defense has looked just like last year’s version, giving away rushing yards like they were candy, failing to get any sort of pass rush, and were not able to generate turnovers. Even special-teams ace Josh Cribbs has come down with the dreaded “high-ankle sprain,” and his status for the start of the season remains in doubt.
With all that said, how will the 2008 season play out? Here’s how I see it going.
Week One Dallas
The Cowboys, not the Steelers, were the Browns' chief rivals prior to the merger in 1970, so it’s only fitting they open up the campaign in 2008 with both teams having high expectations.
I think the game will be closer than many will think, but I see the Cowboys taking advantage of the Browns’ sluggish preseason and weak secondary for a Dallas win.
Week Two Pittsburgh
This is where the season hinges. Week Two versus the "Appalachian Inbred." At night. On National TV. The Browns have narrowed the talent gap with the Steelers, but the mental hurdle remains. Can they believe they can beat the Steelers and finally make a statement? I think they can, but I don’t know...
Week Three at Baltimore
The Browns have always matched up well against the Ravens. I see the Ravens as still not having their QB-situation sorted out, and the aging Ravens' defense can be made vulnerable. The Browns will be able to score, the Ratbirds will not.
Week Four at Cincinnati
Mike Brown continues to tarnish his father’s great legacy. I see the Browns amped up for revenge on their misstep in The ‘Nati in 2007 in another high-octane offensive shoot-out.
Week Five BYE
Week Six New York Giants
Monday night, after a bye, versus the defending Super Bowl Champs. The Browns caved under the bright lights in exhibition season but I don’t see them doing that again. It will be closer than the preseason game, but I see the Giants out-muscling the Browns for the win.
Week Seven at Washington
The 'Skins have a new coach, new offense, and play in a rough division. The Browns have dominated the series with Washington to the tune of 33-9-1, including 16-36-1 in DC. I see that trend continuing.
Week Eight at Jacksonville
A carbon copy of the Giants game. I don’t see the Browns folding, but the Jaguars are just more physical up front and will control the tempo of the game.
Week Nine Baltimore
The only thing that may change for the Ravens is the QB but not the final result.
Week 10 Denver
A Thursday-night home game after a Sunday home game. Tough, but not insurmountable. The Broncos have been mediocre since the retirement of John Elway and Terrell Davis, and I do not see them being a better team than the Browns.
Week 11 at Buffalo
Buffalo is a tough place to play, but this game falls in mid-November and not late December. The Bills are much improved, but I don’t see them pulling out this game.
Week 12 Houston
A third-straight improved team, a third-straight team the Browns are better than. I see this game playing out just like it did in 2007; the Browns being comfortably ahead all game but the Texans hanging around until the end.
Week 13 Indianapolis
A true litmus test for the Browns. Similar to the Patriots' game last year, when the Browns hung tough, but New England was just better. The Browns have a little chip on their should since the Colts tanked Week 17 last year, but right now, Indianapolis is just better. LOSS
Week 14 at Tennessee
The old Klingon proverb goes, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” They may not be able to get revenge on the Colts, but I see them taking down the Titans. Vince Young will not be able to exploit the Browns' secondary, and I see Kamerion Wimbley or Sean Jones spying him all game.
Week 15 at Philadelphia
The Browns have dominated the series, going 31-14-1 versus the Eagles but haven’t won since they were reincarnated in 1999. Philly is a difficult place to play, and I see Donovan McNabb haunting us for taking Tim Couch instead of him. LOSS
Week 16 Cincinnati
Week 16 in 2007, the Browns blew their playoff chances by laying a stink pickle in Cincinnati. I see some Week 16 redemption in 2008. WIN
Week 17 at Pittsburgh
No mater how Week Two plays out, Pittsburgh is a tough place to play and always has been for the Browns. They haven’t won there since 2003 and haven’t swept the season series since 1988.
So that puts the Browns at 9-7 or 10-6, depending on the outcome of Week Two versus the Steelers. I see the Steelers at 9-7 or 8-8, depending on the outcome of that same game, due to them having to play New England and San Diego instead of Buffalo and Denver.
If the Steelers win Week Two, I see the Browns and Steelers both finishing 9-7, with the Steelers winning both head-to-head contests and therefore the tiebreaker. If the Browns win Week Two, I see them finishing at 10-6 and finally claiming their first division title since 1989.
To quote "the Nature Boy" Ric Flair, “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man,” and until the Browns can knock off the Steelers, they will be regulated to second-citizen status in the AFC North.
Browns fans think they can do it, but it’s up to the Browns themselves to prove it to us, the league, the media, and most importantly, themselves.