Cleveland Browns 2012 Schedule: Power Ranking the Games from Easiest to Toughest

Barbara Bruno@allprofootballContributor IIApril 20, 2012

Cleveland Browns 2012 Schedule: Power Ranking the Games from Easiest to Toughest

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    You may have heard that the Browns have the third-toughest schedule in the NFL in 2012. It is also mathematically the single most-difficult season facing any team that did not make the playoffs in 2011.

    Since the NFL’s “broadcast partners”—read TV people—get so much input into the final schedule, it’s easy to see how being fair to a team that they don’t value in any time slot could be far from their bottom-line minds.

    However, hope springs eternal and 'tis the season for speculation.

    With the NFL Draft one week away, it’s time to expand the guesswork to the upcoming 2012 regular season football schedule. And they say Fantasy Football only starts in September. Right.

    Okay, I’ll play. For the purposes of this article we are going to assume the following first premises about the Cleveland Browns:

    1)        Colt McCoy is getting a shot at keeping the starting QB job with an actual offseason and at least a few new weapons.

    2)        The Browns are going to draft Trent Richardson and he is going to be the next Adrian Peterson. No, I have no crystal ball and yes, I could certainly be wrong. But, hey, I have to take a stand somewhere.

    3)        Cleveland will pick up at least one WR who can start opposite Greg Little. Said WR (we'll call him Mr. X) and Little will develop some kind of rapport with McCoy this summer.

    4)        Someone figures out how to provide at least minimal pass protection on the right side of the line. One will expect that side to still be a weakness, but it has to be improved or this article is a waste of ink—ether—whatever.

    5)        The Browns will figure something out at safety, whether it’s a new kid, Sheldon Brown or that Eric Hagg/Usama Young steps up.

    6)        Between Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker, the D-line will be more consistent all the way across.

    It’s quite a wish list. And of course I’ll be indulging in similar dream scenarios for all 13 opponents. Perhaps I should try clicking my heels together. Oh wait, that was Kansas. Never mind.

    Given that “easy” AFC North divisional games don’t exist, the least difficult Browns’ game in 2012 should be…

Week 7: Indianapolis Colts on the Road

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    At least the Browns have a defense.

    The Indianapolis Colts will have a rookie quarterback, an aging WR who’s only caught passes from Peyton Manning, no running game, no center and a piecemeal set of defenders.

    By week seven, we’ll know if Andrew Luck is the next big star. We won’t know for sure if he might be or might not be a future great quarterback.

    But remember that everyone was shell-shocked by the force of the Cam Newton explosion before the end of the third preseason game. Heck, I was forced to start telling everyone how wrong I’d been about him after the first preseason game!

    That is a star.

    So, by Week 7 we’ll know if Luck has that kind of star power. Frankly, I think the charisma factor is with Robert Griffin III, even if Andrew ends up winning more Super Bowls than Joe Montana.

    If Luck is a good, promising young signal-caller then this game is totally winnable for the Browns. But if he’s a rocket, then Lucas Oil Field will be jumping and the Browns will have a tougher afternoon.

    Even so, given all of the aforementioned first premises, Cleveland should win this one. Easily.

    If they can’t, the final month of 2012 will be slogging up a mountain of mud.

Week 14: Kansas City Chiefs at Home

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    There’s been a bit of buzz recently that Kansas City may be open to trading back from their No. 11 overall draft slot. If they do, it will be to draft volume since there are needs almost everywhere.  

    If they don’t, the Chiefs may well take the best quarterback left on the board. Which may be Brandon Weeden.

    The pundit congress has elected Ryan Tannehill as the third-best QB this year. And of course, many think that Cleveland will grab the young Aggie with the fourth pick. Review Slide 1 to see that I am not among them.

    But I can’t see Miami passing him up at pick No. 8. So, I doubt that Tannehill will be the new KC QB. But, unless Romeo Crennel is more impressed with Matt Cassel than I suspect, the Chiefs will draft a QB to make sure that Dwayne Bowe gets the football.

    RB Jamaal Charles is reportedly recovering well, but no doubt this Chiefs team will also have some young blood at tailback. Not to mention a certain large ex-Brown named Peyton Hillis. Word to the wise, unless speedy but somewhat fragile Dexter McCluster has gotten himself injured— beware the kid wearing No. 22.

    But unless Cassel has a Renaissance (pun intended) or Weeden is the 2012 version of Andy Dalton, they probably won’t have a top quarterback and that is something that the Cleveland DBs can probably exploit.

    Cleveland will be coming off of a road (hopefully) win in Oakland, while the Chiefs will have entertained the dynamic Carolina Panthers in Week 13. The KC defense should be a tired bunch after facing Newton and Steve Smith—not to mention that Panthers running game.

    Weather isn’t a factor with these tough, cold-weather teams, except as it might affect the passing game. By Week 14, the new Browns WR (remember Mr. X?) should have largely “figured it out” and be able to contribute opposite Greg Little. Contrast that with a Chiefs secondary that traded away CB Brandon Carr (even though they still have Eric Berry and Brandon Flowers) and Cleveland could have something to exploit.

    Matchups to watch:  KC WR Dwayne Bowe versus Cleveland CB Joe Haden and Chiefs’ pass-rushing nightmare Tamba Hali (12 sacks 2011) versus Colt McCoy (via O-line).

    Kansas City should have a rebound year after being thoroughly snake bit in 2011, but at least a few Browns will want to beat Hillis after StrepGate.

    And don’t expect a lot of Dawg Pound love for new KC second-string QB, Brady Quinn. Reaction may be a bit more mixed regarding Romeo Crennel’s reappearance in the head coaching ranks on the opposite sideline.

    Cleveland should be able to win this one at home.

NFL Week 15: Washington Redskins at Home

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    Well, won’t this be fun? RGIII sizzle and Colt McCoy wholesomeness. It’s the battle of the Boy Scouts.

    Both offensives will have at least five new pieces; therefore their stats from 2011 are virtually useless. So, one looks to the defenses for illumination.

    The Browns tallied 32 sacks (five, surprisingly, by Ahtyba Rubin) and only nine interceptions (three of which were by Mike Adams—who is now a Bronco).

    Nevertheless, Cleveland was acknowledged as one of the more dominant pass defenses in the NFL last year. Now if Haden and company can just get their hands on some more balls.

    The ‘Skins racked up 41 sacks and 13 INTs. Slight advantage Washington.

    Much as I am firmly in the “RGIII is the next great thing at QB” camp, even Peyton Manning had a dismal first season. And he had Marshall Faulk!

    A Browns victory will rest on the mainly shoulders of the offensive line. If they can keep Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan away from Colt, then No. 12 might be able to avoid DeAngelo Hall and complete a few passes.

    In 2011, the Redskins gave up an average of 117.8 yards per game on the ground. Trent Richardson, come on down!

NFL Week 13: Oakland Raiders on the Road

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    The Browns had better hope that Darren McFadden isn’t entirely healed. If McFadden is healthy and Carson Palmer has more than 10 minutes to learn the game plan, the Raiders are going to be better in 2012. Possibly a lot better.

    One statistic of note is that the Raiders O-line only gave up 25 sacks in 2011. And that was protecting about ten different quarterbacks who were running around doing heaven-knows-what back there.

    So the Browns pass rushers will have their work cut out for them. Especially if they have to be looking out for McFadden, too.

    But despite the army of offensive coaching talent brought on board this season (Al Saunders, Steve Wisniewski, Greg Knapp), it’s still a new staff and a new offensive plan in Oakland.

    Theoretically, this should give Cleveland the edge as Pat Shurmur proves to us all that he is the West Coast prodigy  Mike Holmgren assures the fan base he is.

    By Week 13, the fans should know whether or not this theory holds water.

NFL Week 8: San Diego Chargers at Home

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    The Chargers will go one of two ways in 2012: They will circle the wagons, focus and save their coach’s job. Or they will fall apart after being gutted of talent the last three offseasons in a row.

    But the Chargers have five nationally televised games in 2012, so perhaps the infamous “broadcast partners” know something.

    Given half a chance, Philip Rivers is the fifth-best quarterback in the NFL. The question is whether or not Norv Turner is capable of giving him half a chance, between questionable game-management skills and A.J. Smith’s ego-based personnel decisions. (Though, to be begrudgingly fair, Smith has been quite sensible this offseason.)

    Despite an acknowledged slump and some embarrassing gaffs, the Chargers offense still gained almost 400 yards per game last year, so this is the break point for the Browns’ offense to come of age.

    Shurmur, McCoy and the boys will have had the offseason and seven weeks together. They must score points to win this one.

    On paper, the Chargers are by far the stronger team going into 2012. But this game is at the end of October, so anything is possible.

Week 11: Dallas Cowboys on the Road

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    The Cowboys have their own tough-schedule woes in 2012. 

    They have the same under-performing issues as the Chargers and the same coaching questions as the Browns. Though I’d take Jason Garrett into football battle a far sight faster than I would Shurmur (or Norv Turner for that matter).

    If Dallas can beat the Giants on opening night, they just might cruise along for a couple of weeks before they have to rise to the occasion again against the Bears. The Cowboys are such head cases, that winning early might establish a momentum that could carry them over the hump and back into the playoffs.

    But if it starts badly at the Meadowlands, we’ll see how warm Garrett’s seat will get. Unfortunately for “America’s Team,” when the Super Bowl Champs host a rival at home in the kickoff game—the Champs almost always win.

    The Browns will have two weeks here to figure out how not to let DeMarcus Ware kill Colt McCoy, since they’ll be coming off the bye.

    Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron will have been spending the year working on both pass rushing and run D. This would be a good week for that work to pay off.

    The Cowboys will be coming off a road trip to Philly. And that could be a rough game, since the Eagles will be on a mission to put last season’s soap opera behind them. The Browns need to hope that LeSean McCoy completely “tuckered out” the Cowboys run defense so that whoever is toting the rock for Cleveland has a shot at a productive afternoon.

    Playing on "The Star" is never easy and Tony Romo has his own agenda to win in 2012. Last year, Romo threw 31 touchdown passes. McCoy and Seneca Wallace combined threw 16. Hmmmm.

    Two subplots not to be missed:

    1) Much-beloved FB Lawrence Vickers is now a Cowboy

    2) Much-respected defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is now a Cowboy. With a full offseason and some new defensive personnel, Ryan’s scheming should take flight in 2012.  Expect many, many gratuitous sideline shots of the flowing grey locks and scowling face of the angry Ryan twin.

    Frankly, the Browns best chance is to be overlooked as Dallas slogs through its own NFC East battles on the way to a must-redeem season conclusion.

Week 3: Buffalo Bills at Home

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    The only good thing about having to face the new Buffalo Bills defensive line is that Cleveland gets them in Week 3. I’m sure it’s going to feel something like facing the Grizzly Bear as an adolescent: It might be clumsy, but it could still kill you.

    On the positive side, if whoever ends up playing on the right side of Browns offensive line can handle this group—things will be looking considerably brighter by the Lake. In fact, it could represent a turning point for the franchise. How’s that for a positive spin?

    Buffalo is earning top honors for their pricey free-agency activity. Mario Williams had better be the second-coming of Reggie White for that kind of contract. But when you have to get past Tom Brady to make it to the postseason, what’s a team to do?

    The Bills kept several offensive weapons in-house, so Ryan Fitzpatrick will have another shot at earning his big payday.

    Buffalo swears they’ll sign Fred Jackson before the season starts. Bills fans had better demand it, because C.J. Spiller is right up there with Shonn Greene and Knowshon Moreno when it comes to fizzle. If Mr. Jackson isn’t toting the rock, the Browns’ chances in this game improve dramatically.

    In 2011, the Bills only managed 231.4 yards per game through the air. Combine that with Cleveland’s second-ranked 184 passing yards allowed total, and you see why Buffalo needs a runner. Add in the fact that Buffalo proved utterly incapable of performing outside of their home stadium and this could be a win for the boys in rust.

    Keys: the aforementioned O-line success and the Browns linebackers versus the Bills halfbacks.

Week 6 and Week 2: Cincinnati Bengals Home and Away

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    Well, these games are a lot more frightening than in days past, aren’t they? It’s amazing what a decent defense and one good QB/WR combo can do for a team, isn’t it?

    I mean the Bengals, of course, but couldn’t I mean the Browns in 2012? Right? Back to mystery man: WR X. Wherever you are, you’re my hero.

    Bengals rookie WR A.J. Green scored seven touchdowns on 65 receptions. Greg Little scored two TDs on 61 catches for almost 300 fewer yards. No one expects Green to slump, but Little simply has to catch up or this rivalry isn’t taking a positive Browns’ swing any time soon.

    If Little and McCoy can get on the same page and if the Browns have a dynamic running game (you know what I mean), these contests with the Bengals may end in celebration rather than dejection.

    Cedric Benson is out in Cincy, leaving Bernard Scott and whoever they draft. Benson may be a pain in the neck, but he was one of dying breed of tough runners. And nobody needs tough runners like the AFC North.

    If the Bengals have an average rushing attack and if the Browns do get Richardson—and if Richardson is as advertised—Cleveland can win.

    Actually, they can win anyway, since even last year the games were not blowouts. We’d all just be a tad bit more optimistic if things fell this way with the respective RB corps.

    With both teams up in the air on their offensive backfields, these two games hit the midway point in the degree-of-difficulty sweepstakes for the Browns 2012 season.

    Since the Bengals passing unit has the advantage of having been a unit, Cincy will probably win the Week 2 game in The Jungle. But the Dawgs will get revenge in Week 6.

Week 1: Philadelphia Eagles at Home

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    The Browns’ chances of an opening day victory increased dramatically with the injury to Eagles tackle Jason Peters. The learning curve for an offensive lineman is significant and it just might be too much to ask a new guy to be fully up to speed by Week 1.

    And who that new guy will be is also up in the air. Some say to move RT Todd Herremans over to the left side. Dandy—except that:

    1) Michael Vick is a left-hander, so Herremans is a bit more valuable to his quarterback “right” where he is.

    2) Backup RT was Winston Justice. Oops—no longer with the team.

    Backup LT King Dunlap was re-signed, but he is a very valuable and versatile sixth man. However, he did make a major leap in consistent production last season, so it’s possible that he’ll be promoted and some rookies will vie for backup at both right and left tackle.

    If the Eagles decide to start some new offensive linemen, the front may be unstable and that would be terrific news for the Browns defense (especially former Eagle DE Juqua Parker, who would probably love to record a sack or two in this one).

    But before the Dawg Pound gets too excited, remember that the “lack of time” issue cuts both ways as Colt McCoy will be taking his new WR corps (including Mr. X) out for their first spin without training wheels.

    Enter a spectacular performance by Trent Richardson, who will zig, zag and cut his way past those improved Philly linebackers on his way to scoring the winning TD!

Week 9 and Week 4: Baltimore Ravens at Home and Away

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    We are now entering the “any given Sunday” portion of this breakdown. Cleveland will probably win at least one of these last six contests.

    If the Browns are as improved as every fan hopes they will be here in the blush of spring, and if they catch some breaks (like maybe Ray Lewis sprains his ankle or Ray Rice holds out all year), Cleveland might win two of these last six matchups. Believing in probable wins beyond that crosses into needing-a-drug-test territory.

    Week 9 gets the nod as slightly less daunting for two reasons

    1) Later in the season increases the chances that Cleveland’s new passing attack will be clicking

    2) Later in the season increases the chances that Baltimore’s old defense will be tiring

    Not that I would count on either scenario. But it’s possible unless the Ravens are very lucky in the draft and can build up some depth. However, they will be coming off of their bye week. Hmmmm.

    Unfortunately, exactly the opposite could happen in Baltimore in Week 4.

    If Ray Rice does play and if the Browns have Richardson, this game could easily be decided on the ground.

    Particularly, if the improved Browns D-line can rattle the super-confident Joe Flacco. No injuries wished upon anyone, but the Ravens just signed Curtis Painter to be the backup signal caller. Curtis. Painter. The world’s gone mad.

NFL Week 5: New York Giants on the Road

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    Seriously? It’s not bad enough that Cleveland has to play the defending Champs; they have to do it in the Meadowlands? Why not let the Giants play the Jaguars at home, too? Geez.

    Although traveling Dawg Pounders may be in full howl, and 2012 is not 2011, a quick stats comparison is a bit sobering

    1) The Giants passed for 299 yards per game; the Browns 193.1

    2) Total offensive yards per game: Giants, 385.1; Browns 288.8

    3) Do I need to remind anyone about that whole 13 points per game thing? I didn’t think so.

    Okay, the good news is that the Giants tend to lose focus in the middle third of the season. Despite Tom Coughlin’s skill and discipline, it is quite possible that Big Blue could look right past the Browns to what is potentially their toughest game of the season: Week 6 versus San Francisco. In Harbaugh territory.

    Oh goody.

NFL Week 16: Denver Broncos on the Road

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    Let’s see. One the one hand we have Colt McCoy in Week 16 with the next great thing at running back and a new outside WR (all together now—Mr. X!). On the other, we have Peyton Manning with a whole new team in Week 16.

    Frankly, this could go either way.

    Football fans across the land are assuming—read hoping—that No. 18 will be back to form by October.

     According to’s Bucky Brooks assumptions that Manning will be learning an entirely new offense seem to be unfounded as Peyton was one of the first to arrive at offseason activities and shows signs of installing the Mile High version of Indy’s complicated and baffling system. I’m shocked. 

    Conversely, only a few folks have true faith in Colt. However, anyone who actually watched the games in 2011 saw young Mr. McCoy hold his poise remarkably well and lead some truly wonderful game-winning drives. When it came to the 2011 Browns, “highlights” didn’t tell the whole story.

    And, who knows? Champ Bailey has to fall off of the age cliff someday. Maybe it will happen before Week 16.

    These defenses will probably be just about even in ability this upcoming year, so once again it’s all going to come down to the O-line and the quarterback. And the altitude.

    The biggest factor (and probably the only factor) in the Browns’ favor is Week 15. Cleveland will have quite possibly won their home game versus the Redskins, while Manning and company will be traveling back across the country after a black-and-blue matchup with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.

    John Fox has underestimated teams before and failed to prepare properly down the stretch. Peyton Manning—not so much.

    This is a brutal matchup, but youth and the schedule give Cleveland the barest of chances.

NFL Week 12 and Week 17: Pittsburgh Steelers. Twice.

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    No matter where or when you play them, the Steelers are the strongest opponents the Cleveland Browns will face—frankly, until further notice.

    Sure, the Browns get one game on home field in Cleveland against their divisional foes. And the last time the Browns played the Steelers at home, James Harrison knocked Colt McCoy out for the year.

    Aside from crowd noise, the location of the game is negligible. Weather and fan bases are practically identical. Defensive strategy is the same. Offensive strategy is becoming more alike these days now that Ben Roethlisberger has matured into a top-six QB able to complete passes at any level in any corner of the field.

    As long as Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown wear Black and Gold, Steelers nation will never abandon the deep ball and the days of The Bus are fading into memory. Ben Roethlisberger threw seven more TDs than Colt McCoy in 2011 and averaged 60 more yards per game through the air.

    Joe Haden is a legit All-Pro cornerback, but even he is going to have to hustle against Wallace. Which leaves Dimitri Patterson on Antonio Brown and linebackers/mystery safeties on Heath Miller and whoever ends up as the featured RB. This scenario will cost Dick Jauron some sleepless nights.

    But the Steelers’ secondary isn’t bulletproof and even Troy Polamalu is mortal these days (but don’t tell him I said so). If McCoy, Little, X and one of the TEs can step up, ably supported by the sure-to-be-stellar Richardson, then Cleveland could pull off an upset.

    But not two. Unlike other opponents, divisional rivals don’t overlook each other. Despite the fact that Cleveland is 3-22 against Pittsburgh since 2000 (ouch), you know Mike Tomlin does not want 2012 to be the year that it becomes 5-22.

    Well, at least the Browns will finish the season with a bang and not a whimper as they face Manning and Roethlisberger, against whom Cleveland has a combined record of 1-19.

    As we complete our fantasy tour of 2012:

    This schedule could be a black eye to the parity people, who keep swearing that you can go from worst to first in any one year. Or it could be one big false prophecy for the Dawg Pound’s doomsayers.

    On the one hand, the only undeniably positive aspect of the entire year is that the bye is on Week 10. Other than that, nothing rosy jumps out at the would-be optimistic fan.

    Being cellar-dwellers in the AFC North is bad enough without adding in games against the NFC East. Sure, Philly and Washington may have seemed easy once upon a time. But that is sooo last season.

    And perhaps the NFL forgot that Jim Harbaugh resurrected the 49ers? So much for playing the AFC West.

    On the other hand, it’s not as if the NFL does not have recent examples of dramatic football turnarounds—read Detroit. And despite the “toughest schedule of any non-playoff team” designation, the combined record of opponents is .527. It’s not as if it’s .700!

    So, buck up, Dawgs. The Browns shall dig in and make it their mission to shock fans everywhere with an unexpectedly brilliant performance against all odds.

    Trent Richardson will pack the stands and Colt McCoy will rally the troops, becoming the Little-Ricky-Schroeder-That-Could. It might happen.