CLEVELAND – With games against the AFC West and NFC East, the Cleveland Browns face the third-toughest schedule in the 2012-13 NFL season.
Cleveland, who would finish the 2011-12 season with a record of 4-12 with the third easiest schedule in the NFL, go into the 2012-13 season with a sense of cautious optimism.
Despite a solid draft that landed the Browns their first legitimate home-run at running back since the days of Jim Brown in Trent Richardson, soon-to-be starter in quarterback Brandon Weeden, speedy wideout in Travis Benjamin and a new starter at right tackle in Mitchell Schwartz, Cleveland faces a tough and rugged road ahead in 2012.
Cleveland will play the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants and Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos on the road and face up-and-coming teams such as the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs at home.
While games against the AFC North rival Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens will prove to be tough and physical affairs, the five games featured in this article will highlight key match-ups that will be sure to be circled on every Browns fans respective calendar.
Week 1 – Philadelphia Eagles
In a matchup of dual-threat running backs in LeSean McCoy and Trent Richardson, the Philadelphia Eagles come to Cleveland in hopes of rebounding from a disappointing 8-8 record in 2012.
Armed with a game-changer under center in quarterback Michael Vick and and explosive wide receiver duo of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, the Browns defensive line—and secondary—will be tested for a full 60 minutes in containing Vick, stopping McCoy and clamping down on Jackson and Maclin in the passing game.
Due to the three-game suspension of linebacker Scott Fujita for his involvement in “Bounty Gate” and injury to defensive tackle Phil Taylor, look for rookie inside linebacker James-Michael Johnson and defensive tackle John Hughes to be tested early and often by the Eagle’s aggressive offense.
On offense, this will mark the much-anticipated debut of quarterback Brandon Weeden at home in front of the Dawg Pound, look for the Eagles to test Weeden’s mobility by blitzing early and often.
If the Browns revamped offensive line can find a way to give Weeden time to find targets downfield or Richardson out of the backfield on a screen, then it may be a long day for the Eagles defense.
Week 4 – @Baltimore Ravens
In Cleveland’s first—and only primetime matchup—the Browns dynamic duo of Weeden and Richardson get their first look at fiery linebacker Ray Lewis, running back Ray Rice and quarterback Joe Flacco on the road in Baltimore.
Baltimore, who would lose a heart-breaker —on the hands of Lee Evans and foot of place-kicker Billy Cundiff—in the AFC Championship game 23-20 to the New England Patriots, will look to rebound with a strong start in 2012.
With the likelihood that Ravens defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs may still be out due to a tore Achilles tendon, the Ravens defense may still be too tough and strong for the Browns to handle with rookie defensive end Dont’a Hightower, Lewis and nose tackle Haloti Ngata.
In a game that will be dominated by tough defense and hard running, the Browns defensive line will surely be tested by Rice on the ground and in the secondary in covering Ravens wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith.
If the Browns hope to take any step towards respectability and relevance in the AFC North, a win on the road in Baltimore would go a long way in fixing Cleveland’s current intra-division woes.
Week 5 – @New York Giants
Not so fast.
Despite the losses of Super Bowl XLVI hero Manningham and the tough and physical Jacobs to San Francisco, the New York Giants still have two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback Eli Manning and the electric wide receiver duo of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.
The Browns, who should be 2-2 at this point in the 2012-12 season, will hope to defeat the defending Super Bowl champions for the second time in four years and upset the defending champion for the fourth time in five years.
Cleveland would defeat New York, 35-14 in front of a nationally televised audience on Monday Night Football in 2008.
The Browns have defeated the defending Super Bowl champions in 2009 over Pittsburgh and New Orleans in 2010. Can Cleveland find a way to beat the Giants again in New York?
It may be possible.
If the Browns catch New York—most likely in the middle of a Super Bowl hangover stupor—and they make big plays on the ground with Richardson, then Cleveland may be able to escape Gotham with a win.
Week 12 – Pittsburgh Steelers
In what is the biggest game of the year of the year for Cleveland annually, the traditional grudge match against the arch-rival and nemesis Pittsburgh Steelers will give both Weeden and Richardson an up-close and nasty close-up into one of the NFL’s greatest rivalries.
The Pittsburgh-Cleveland tilt will also give Weeden and Richardson a taste of the cold, harsh and windy weather in Northeastern Ohio and also give Browns fans a real up-close look at how strong Weeden’s arm really is under windy conditions in late November.
In a game that will be decided by field position, timely running and tough defense, look for another tight and close game to be decided by a timely turnover, big play downfield or a big sack of either Weeden or Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger—who will be playing on a re-vamped line with two rookies in offensive tackle Mike Adams and guard David DeCastro—and a rookie running back in Chris Rainey.
If Cleveland can replicate its two physical games against the Steelers last year—one in which Cleveland would briefly knock out Big Ben with a high ankle strain—look for Cleveland to emerge victorious.
If Cleveland can find a way to get Richardson untracked with some timely screens to keep Pittsburgh honest, look for Weeden to take some shots down the field to wide receivers Travis Benjamin and Greg Little off of play-action.
This game should also mark the projected return of starting defensive tackle Phil Taylor from a torn pectoral muscle, his return one the defensive line should provide a much-needed boost in what will be a physical, hard-hitting contest.
Week 16 – @Denver Broncos
To close the 2012 season, the Cleveland Browns find themselves in the shadow of the Rockies a mile high against four-time MVP quarterback Peyton Manning and the defending AFC West champion Denver Broncos.
Dating back to the days before John Elway, Denver has always been a tough place to play for the Browns, as Cleveland is 3-11 all-time in Denver against the Broncos and 5-21 overall in a series that goes back to 1970.
Denver, who would win the AFC West last year under Tim Tebow, now has this generation’s greatest quarterback in Manning to help Denver maintain its long and twisted history of mastery and torture of Cleveland.
In a game that should be close, look for Manning to break Cleveland’s hearts with a Elway-like drive to wrap up the Broncos second consecutive AFC West title in style, despite career days from both Weeden and Richardson.
For Cleveland, they will find a way to pressure Manning and make plays on defense, but Manning and his surgical accuracy and up-tempo pace—along with the high altitude—will catch up with the Browns in the end.
Conclusion – Browns Take Big Steps Towards Contention in 2013
To conclude, these five games offer something different and unique for the Browns in 2012, and while the schedule is brutal, the Browns will have laid the foundation of a formidable run-heavy, play-action attacking form of the West Coast offense that will score more points on the ground and in the air, and with a strong-armed quarterback in Weeden, there is no reason why the Browns cannot win between 6-8 games in 2012.
While this offense will not resemble the high-flying Rob Chudzinski led-offense that would go 10-6, one cannot help but notice some of the eerie similarities between the 2007 team and this current 2012 team.
In Weeden you have a strong-armed quarterback that can throw deep much like Derek Anderson did in 2007—and much to the quiet hope of Browns fans—many hope that Weeden does not throw interceptions nor make bad decisions like Anderson either.
The Browns have a potential No. #1 receiver in Little who is about to go into his second year, much like former first round pick Braylon Edwards—minus the drops—Edwards would have a breakout year by catching setting franchise records for touchdowns with 16 and receiving yards with 1,236.
On the ground, you have a rookie running back in Richardson, who has the ability to be a real game-changer for the Browns in both the running and passing game, while former Browns running back Jamal Lewis was more of a north-south smashmouth runner, Lewis would be used as a occasional receiver out of the backfield as he would have 248 yards receiving and score two touchdowns.
It may be a stretch to say that tight ends Jordan Cameron has Kellen Winslow II-like athleticism and that Evan Moore has Steve Heiden/Joe Jurevicius-like versatility due to his soft hands and ability to be used as either a tight end or wide receiver, but considering how this current team is set up, big things will be expected by both.
In 2007, the Browns would draft a left tackle Joe Thomas in the first round to protect would-be franchise quarterback Brady Quinn, in 2012 Cleveland would draft a right tackle in Mitchell Schwartz in the second round to protect it’s new franchise quarterback in Weeden.
While Schwartz is not Thomas, Weeden is not Anderson, Richardson is not the second coming of Lewis and Little is not Edwards 2.0, one cannot help but sense that this 2012 Browns team has the potential to put up numbers—and hopefully wins—in the same fashion.
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