Identifying the 6 Biggest Trap Games on the Browns' 2011 Schedule
Not quite so easy? Identifying the potential trap games against what appear to be the weaker opponents the Browns will face this season.
As a 5-11 team that beat both the Saints and the Patriots last season, the Browns should be well aware that sometimes weaker opponents can surprise you. They wound up on the right end of that equation twice last year. This season, there are as many as six games where, if they aren't careful, they could end up on the wrong end of it.
Of course, the chances that the Browns underestimate an opponent are less than the chances teams like the ones who did it to them last year are. Still, potential unexpected pitfalls are best identified and planned for well ahead of time. Possibly cursed as we are, we should know better than anyone that you can never be too careful.
Thus, following are six potential trap games for the Browns this season.
Please feel free to share your thoughts on how the Browns will fare in these matchups in the comments below!
1. Week 1 vs. Bengals
For the season opener, the Browns had the good fortune of drawing Cincinnati at home. It seems, at least on the surface, a good way to open 2011.
The Bengals, perhaps more than any other team in the league, are an absolute mess. Their quarterback basically quit. Their defense is virtually non-existent. Their offense is disorganized. And just for good measure, Cedric Benson managed to get himself arrested.
Again. Even if he manages to duck punishment, there's a good chance he'll leave Cincinnati as a free agent anyway.
All of this leaves the Bengals with nothing of note except, at the risk of oversimplifying, something like three wide receivers and some cheerleaders. If there were ever an opponent that appeared easy to mow down, it would be the Bengals.
But of course, it would be foolish to assume victory in this game or in the second showdown in Cincinnati in Week 12. Last season, the Browns were, in my opinion, a better team than the Bengals, yet they still only managed to split with them.
The gap between the two teams should be wider this year, but not so wide that the Browns shouldn't take the Bengals seriously.
They proved they could beat a better team when they took the second matchup with us last year, they're a division foe, and hence, know us better than most, and however disorganized it may be, they do have some potentially deadly talent to send out against us.
2. Week 6 @ Raiders
Maybe it's just the byproduct of Al Davis' latest round of crazy, but foes never seem to take the Oakland Raiders as seriously as they should. The Browns would do well to learn from others' mistakes before they face Oakland this season.
The Raiders (at least in recent years) are always perceived as somewhat of a disaster. Last season was no different, yet the Raiders wound up a respectable even if not spectacular 8-8. They did this despite a revolving door at quarterback, a head coach who was in hot water for his antics and a general sense of disorganization.
The Browns are of course a much more organized, disciplined and well-run team than the Raiders. But that may not mean they're better or even that they'll win if they are. Despite their internal chaos, Oakland's offense ranked 10th in the league in yardage last season.
With their quarterback issues theoretically sorted out or at least somewhat improved in 2011, the Browns defense will need to bring their A game if they want to keep the Raiders from running up the score. Their defense was awful against the rush but phenomenal against the pass. Second best in the league, in fact.
Due to their never-ending dramatics, it's always tempting to write the Raiders off. But it wouldn't be wise for the Browns to do so when they face them this season.
3. Week 7 vs. Seahawks
Given that it was won by a team with a .438 winning percentage last season, it's always tempting to write the NFC West off as a joke. And it kind of is. But that doesn't mean its teams (all four of which the Browns play this season) can't present problems for their opponents.
Seattle, the first NFC West team the Browns will see in 2011, was the aforementioned division winner. We can laugh about how pathetic it is that their division was so weak that they were able to win it at 7-9, but we would do well to remember that that division title (no matter which division) is one more of them than we walked away with last year.
Certainly Mike Holmgren might provide some extra insight for the Browns into his former team, but they would likewise be able to do the same to us. The advantages can manifest for both the former and the new team for any player, coach or executive who has switched sides.
The Seahawks' offense was lousy last year (28th in the league in yardage), but we were worse. While we may be improving and they may be on the decline, we're still coming off a season in which our numbers were awfully close to theirs. Their defense ranked significantly lower than ours did, but the bottom line is they still won more games than we did, even if it was only a handful of them.
Beatable? Yes. A cake walk? Definitely not.
4. Week 8 @ 49ers
Last season, the 49ers finished 6-10, and quite frankly, were lucky they even managed to eke out six wins. They had quarterback issues. Their coach was openly fighting with his players on the sidelines. Somewhere, Bill Walsh died a little inside, watching what was once one of the league's most successful and classy organizations implode into a pile of rubble wrought from in-fighting and poor management.
But the 49ers, for all the mistakes they may have made in recent years, aren't complete fools. They appear to have drafted relatively well this spring, and they brought in Jim Harbaugh to coach, who did well in his four years at Stanford and appears to have the right tools to succeed as an NFL coach.
San Francisco's defense struggled a bit against the pass last season but did very well against the run. That will be a problem for the Browns if they have to rely heavily on their ground game, as they did last year.
It's difficult to tell how they'll fare offensively this season, given that they are expected to be facing both strategic and personnel changes of some significance. But it doesn't appear, at least at this point, that they'll be weak enough that they can be written off.
5. Week 10 vs. Rams
Of all the teams on this list who might be potential trap game opponents for the Browns this season, St. Louis might just be the most concerning.
They've faced none of the serious controversy or off-field issues that most of the teams listed here have. They are a team that is theoretically on the upswing like the Browns rather than on the downswing like a lot of the others we've mentioned.
In many ways, they have a lot in common with the Browns. They're a young team with a couple of very talented players who could guide them to success if they just manage to get their supporting cast up to par. And they have more proven talent on offense than the Browns do in Sam Bradford and Steven Jackson.
We should be afraid of facing that offense. If we aren't, then what in the world were we doing hiring their offensive coordinator to be our new head coach?
Further, as is the case with Seattle, we have both the advantage and disadvantage of facing someone whose former staff member now belongs to us. He knows them well, but they also know him well. Statistically, the Rams weren't particularly impressive on offense last season in terms of total yardage, but anyone who saw them play knows that if things start to click, they'll be a troublesome opponent.
Defensively, they were awful against the pass and worse than average against the run, so that at least is good news for the Browns when they face them. Still, this won't help the Browns much if the Rams' potentially great offense puts up huge numbers on the scoreboard unless they can do the same.
6. Week 15 @ Cardinals
Sometimes matchups become potential trap games not because of the team you're playing, but because of when they're scheduled. For the Browns, their bout with the Cardinals December 18th could be one such instance of that.
I'll be honest: Arizona probably scares me less than any other team on the Browns' schedule this season in and of themselves. But the problem is that there are extenuating circumstances surrounding this game that make it about more than just Browns vs. Cardinals in a vacuum.
The issue is with the Browns' schedule immediate before and after the Arizona game. Before they go to Arizona in Week 15, the Browns host Baltimore in Week 13 and then go to Pittsburgh in Week 14. Those are two opponents who will likely wear us out more than anyone else. Not to mention the discouragement we'll suffer if we lose both of those games.
Worse, immediately after the Arizona game, we see Baltimore again in Week 16 and Pittsburgh again in Week 17. That puts Arizona smack in the middle of quite a frightening sandwich. Some of us joked when the schedule came out that we should thank the schedulemakers for the "bye week" they gave us between Rounds 1 and 2 with Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
And the Arizona game may indeed turn out to be a gift. But there's also a chance that being smashed in between big-time showdowns like it is, it may wind up being a landmine. The Browns will be worn down from the first two games with the Ravens and Steelers and possibly unfocused while looking ahead to the second two games with our division foes.
They would do well to be very careful of that. Potentially losing to Baltimore and Pittsburgh is always painful, but if those losses were to precipitate a loss to the lowly Cardinals as well, it would sting beyond belief.