Last week the NFL announced the schedule of games for the 2014 season and now all the teams know the path they must travel on their passage to the postseason. But not all routes this season are created equal. Some are filled with mountainous opponents standing in their way, while others have mere shallow streams to easily step over. Toughness of schedule can result in an undue playoff run as was seen in the Kansas City Chiefs lastCleveland Fans Are Great
season, but it doesn't guarantee success once an elite team is encountered after the regular season.
The Cleveland Browns found themselves in a schedule last year against opponents who averaged a winning percentage of 0.510 resulting in a record of 4-12. Peak of the season was at week five when the Browns were 3-2 and looking promising with quarterback Brian Hoyer. After season ending injury of Hoyer, the Browns were only able to come away with one other win of the season on week nine against the Baltimore Ravens. Relative to last year, Cleveland is facing a slightly easier schedule. Toughness of schedule is ranked at 26th for 2014 and the average winning percentage of opponents will be 0.465. Only five games in 2014 will be against teams that made the playoffs in 2013. The toughest stretch will be coming in the last four weeks of the regular season, matching their late season sturdiness against the solid playing of Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Carolina, and then Baltimore to finish out. Coming off an early bye week on September 28th will see the easiest stretch of 9 games against opponents with an average winning percentage of 0.347. Besides the luck in the middle of the season and the toughness at the end, Cleveland will have a rough start of the season in September with two AFC North foes and the New Orleans Saints. That's where this analysis begins, in September. A quick start against solid teams will energize the fan base and help set a good pace for the seemingly easier games in the middle of the season to accumulate enough wins and growth to compete with the better teams at seasons end.
- Away: Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 7
- Home: New Orleans Saints on Sept. 14
- Home: Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 21
- Bye Week on Sept. 28
September 7: Pittsburgh Steelers
Season opener going into Pittsburgh will be a great first test for new coach Mike Pettine. Although the Steelers didn't make it to the playoffs last season with a record of 8-8, they have been a perennial contender in the AFC North for years. It would make a statement for Pettine to come in and win the first game in Pittsburgh especially since the last two years the Browns have ended their seasons with loses to the Steelers resulting in the firing of incumbent coaches. Also keep in mind that Cleveland hasn't won in Pittsburgh since 2003. This will be a tough game to win for Cleveland. Last year, Pittsburgh's defense held Cleveland to a total of 18 points and 95 yards rushing in the two games they played each other netting two losses for the Browns. They will need to get more points on the board and get the running game going if they intend on winning the opener.
September 14: New Orleans Saints
These two teams haven't played each other since the season opener in 2006 when Sean Payton won his first game as head coach of the Saints. Ever since then, Payton and Drew Brees have been a powerful combination and a force to be reckoned with. Again the Browns have their work cut out for them facing the NFL's 10th ranked offense and 4th ranked defense. Averaging 25.9 points per game and 307.4 yards passing in 2013, the Browns will need to find a way to disrupt the passing game and keep touchdowns from piling up if they intend on a win. Picking up a plug and play corner in the draft would be a big help in containing teams like the Saints. Karlos Dansby was a great addition in free agency to rush in on Drew Brees. This game will be all about whether or not the defense can keep the score close.
September 21: Baltimore Ravens
Similar to the Steelers at 8-8 and missing the playoffs, the Ravens are no stranger to success with their franchise quarterback Joe Flacco. However, since winning the Super Bowl, Baltimore dropped to the 25th ranked offense and 18th ranked in passing in 2013. Last year saw a split in wins when the two faced each other. Baltimore came with a win in a close game on September 15th and then Cleveland won the other close game on November 3rd. In last year's win, Cleveland's defense came up with one interception and a sack as well as holding the top rusher as Flacco with just 25 yards. The Browns rank 8th last year in pass defense and will be expected to stifle the pass game especially if they can pick up an early corner in the draft. Picking Jake Matthews at #4 in the draft will help provide Hoyer pass protection to get plenty of completions to Pro Bowlers Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron.