Cleveland Browns 2011 Predictions: Outcomes for the First 8 Regular Season Games
One preseason game down for the Browns and three to go before we're off and running on the 2011 regular season, and that means it's time to start analyzing the matchups the Browns will be facing this year.
First, let's acknowledge the elephant on the page here—it is way, way too early to start predicting the outcome of regular season games.
Truthfully, I'm really not in the business of predicting scores or even wins anyway. I'll leave that to Princess the camel, who is quite possibly the world's most accurate football analyst.
However, analyzing how the matchups between the Browns and their opponents is a different story. Of course, until rosters are set and the teams start to come together, it's tough to provide any sort of absolute comparisons between opponents, but it's never too early to take a shot at it anyway, right?
Following are my predictions analyzing the matchups for the Browns in the first eight games of the season, focusing on examining the strengths and weaknesses of each opponent and how they could help or hurt the Browns each week.
Look for part two, analyzing the matchup for the Browns in games 9 -16 of the 2011 season, this Friday.
Note that the Browns bye week this season is Week 5 (Sunday, October 9th)
1. Sunday, September 11 vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 1:00PM
At first glance, starting the season against the Bengals at home looks like a tremendous gift from the schedule makers. Cincinnati's entire organization is a mess from top to bottom, and they are widely believed to be the worst team in the league.
Careful Browns...sounds like a trap game to me.
While it's nice to start of the season with a very winnable game, especially since the Browns will be debuting new systems on both offense and defense and could use the wiggle room in Week 1 to adjust, they need to be careful not to get too overconfident.
The Bengals are certainly in bad shape; there's no denying that. But I don't think they (or any other team in the league for that matter), are bad enough to be looked at as an automatic win for the Browns. Division matchups are always trickier than those against non-divisional opponents of the same caliber of talent.
So in other words, a bad division rival is still more of a threat than an equally bad team from outside. The Bengals, as bad as they may be, still have some advantage in that they know us very well.
Luckily, that means we know them pretty well too. The key to this one may be the ability of the Browns offense to run the score up. They should be able to take advantage of Cincinnati's shaky, disorganized defense, and while the Bengals do have some talent on offense (particularly at WR), their quarterback issues should allow the Browns D to shut them down pretty effectively.
Bottom line: Could it be that folks in Cincy are missing the days of Sam Wyche? It's going to be a bad year for football in the Queen City, and the Browns are in a good position to take advantage of that.
2. Sunday, September 18 At Indianapolis Colts, 1:00PM
Prepare for battle, Browns fans. Week 2 is going to be a rough one when the Browns travel to Indianapolis to face the Colts.
The good news is the Colts aren't what they used to be in the heyday of the Peyton Manning Era. The bad news is that even a weakened Colts team is still pretty darn good.
Manning's health is in question to start the season, but you can bet the Colts will still be a force to be reckoned with.
Fortunately for the Browns, this isn't an unwinnable game by any stretch of the imagination. The Colts' core is old, and the defense is very shaky, and based on what we saw in 2010, the Browns seem to have a knack for pulling off upsets against teams that look far superior going in.
If the Browns want to have a shot to pull off an upset in this one, the running game will be key. If there is ever a week for Hillis and company to mow down a suspect opposing run defense and score from the ground, this is it.
Bottom line: Even with age and diminishing skills against them, the Colts are still a tough, tough opponent. The Browns will have to fight hard to stay in this one.
3. Sunday, September 25 vs. Miami Dolphins, 1:00PM
It looks like it could be a transition year for Miami, who appear to be poised to get better but still have a long way to go before they'll be competitive in their division.
In some ways, the Dolphins are at a similar point in their development to the Browns, though in my (possibly biased) opinion, the Browns are actually further along and better built to succeed over the long haul. At the risk of appearing overconfident, I like the Browns chances against Miami in Week 3.
But that doesn't mean it's going to be easy. Miami lost some ground when key free agents walked away this offseason, but they'll probably be better than they look on paper. The most popular guess for the Fins is a 5-11 season, but even if they really are that bad, the Browns will need to be careful not to wind up being one of their five wins.
Bottom line: There are quarterback issues, running back issues and all sorts of other minor holes in Miami's 2011 team that will make for a rough season in South Beach. The Browns could definitely take this one, but they'll need to tread carefully.
4. Sunday, October 2 Vs. Tennessee Titans, 1:00PM
Considering all the messiness and drama that went on in Tennessee in 2010 and during the offseason with Jeff Fisher and Vince Young, the Titans have really cleaned up relatively well in a fairly short period of time.
The drafting of Jake Locker and the free-agency addition of veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck has diminished the issues the Titans had at QB hugely, but they're still a bit thin at receiver, and their defense is downright awful.
For the Browns, this is a fortune draw for this season, especially early on when Cleveland could use some weaker matchups while they fine tune their new systems on both sides of the ball.
Rough around the edges or not, the Browns new West Coast Offense should be able to take advantage of Tennessee's terrible defense. And if the Cleveland defense brings their A-game, they should be able to contain the relatively weak Titans receiving corps.
Bottom line: I can't imagine anyone in Tennessee misses Vince Young, but I can't imagine anyone was too terribly excited to see dinosaur Matt Hasselbeck arrive in town either. They won't be awful, but they won't be good either. If the Browns play their cards right, they should come out on top in this one.
5. Sunday, October 16 at Oakland Raiders, 4:05PM
Well, this one should certainly be interesting. You know the Raiders, they're always kind of ridiculous, but they're also never as bad as everyone always seems to think they're going to be.
Pound-for-pound, this may be one of the better even matchups for the Browns this season. The Browns have a lot more raw talent and a better foundation, but on paper, the Raiders are probably the better team. For now, anyway.
Oakland is nothing if not unpredictable, and it's tough to say how the Browns will fare five weeks in with new coaching, new systems on offense and defense and young, inexperienced players.
So the winner here may have a lot to do with how quickly the Browns can get their legs under them this season. If the Browns play up to potential, they're the better squad. If they're not quite there yet at this point in the 2011, the nod goes to Oakland.
Bottom line: On paper, it looks like it could be one of the closest matchups the Browns will face this season, but things rarely work out as neatly as they do on a scouting report. This one could go either way.
6. Sunday, October 23 vs. Seattle Seahawks, 1:00PM
I really like Seattle as a dark horse to be competitive this season, which isn't great news for the Browns when they have to face them in Week 6. I'm no fan of Pete Carroll, but he's done a nice job so far in helping this team to progress.
Seattle, much like Cleveland, has done a good job of building up a group of talented youngsters who give the team a future that looks pretty promising. Their roster isn't exactly burgeoning with stars, but they have all the makings of a quietly competitive squad.
I'm not sure Tavaris Jackson is capable of being anyone's savior, but he's better than he looked in Minnesota. Still, the Browns best shot to win this one may be for their defense to take advantage of him.
Jackson can run, for sure. And it's a good thing too, because he's behind a semi-weak line made weaker by Russell Okung's injury. If the Browns can get to the quarterback, they could shut down the Seahawks' offense and then take advantage of a Seattle defense that is still learning on the other side of the ball.
Bottom line: Winnable for the Browns, but very, very tough. The Seahawks are far from invincible, but they're a formidable opponent.
7. Sunday, October 30 At San Francisco 49ers, 4:15PM
It's interesting how many teams that are of relatively comparable capability to the Browns are on their schedule in the first half of 2011. Either the schedule makers have an interesting sense of humor, or it's going to be a dogfight every week.
The 49ers are another such team, transitioning from a very, very bad phase into the beginnings of a brighter future. Like the Browns, they're under new management this season, and also like the Browns, they have talent, but a lot of it is relatively green.
Strictly speaking, the Browns are probably better built to improve faster and to a greater degree over the next couple of years, but as far as the point both teams will be at in Game 7, it's a pretty balanced matchup.
The Niner defense isn't too shabby, and Jim Harbaugh definitely knows what he's doing, but there are still some missing pieces in the Bay Area. Their questionable quarterback situation is something the Browns could potentially take advantage of, depending on how truly questionable it really turns out to be at this point in the season.
Bottom line: I'll very cautiously take the Browns here but acknowledge that there's a huge chance of getting burned on calling a win in this particular game.
8. Sunday, November 6 At Houston Texans, 1:00PM
One thing is for sure—the Texans' offense could give anyone fits, and that's likely what they'll do to the Browns in their eighth contest of the season.
Thanks to his surprisingly stellar performance in 2010, Arian Foster is now possibly the NFL's most overrated player, but that doesn't mean he won't still be pretty darn good in 2011. I fully expect Andre Johnson to continue to be impressive, and anyone who thinks Matt Schaub isn't seriously underrated is, in my opinion, completely nuts.
So suffice it to say that the Browns defense is going to get quite a workout in this contest.
Luckily though, the Texans have an Achilles heel. A big one. That's their defense, which was, to be blunt, absolutely awful last season. They were dead last in the league in pass defense and pretty bad against the run as well.
Granted, the Houston defense should be markedly improved this year, but a mess like that doesn't get cleaned up overnight.
Bottom line: I don't think the Browns defense will have much luck stopping the Texans impressive offense, so to win this game, their own offense will have to do a bang-up job of exploiting the Texans shaky defense.
On the whole, the Texans look like a favorite for a wild card spot, and their offense is among the league's best, so a win here would be very tough to pull off.
Dont forget to check back this Friday for Part II: Predictions and Analysis of Games 9 - 16 for the Browns in 2011!
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