The Browns' 2011 schedule appears favorable early — and fearsome late. If you like to eat your vegetables last and only begrudgingly, this schedule is for you.
With three of their first four games at home, the Browns have an opportunity to build some confidence early in head coach Pat Shurmur's first season at the helm. The Browns begin the season on Sept. 11 by hosting the Bengals — whose quarterback, Carson Palmer, no longer wants to play for Cincinnati. After a challenging road game at Indianapolis on Sept. 18, the Browns host the Dolphins (Sept. 25) and Titans (Oct. 2) in succession. Miami lacks a potent offense, and Tennessee has a new head coach, new coordinators and could have a new starting quarterback after deciding to move on without Vince Young.
After the Week Five bye, the Browns play three of four games on the road — at Oakland (Oct. 16), at San Francisco (Oct. 30) and at Houston (Nov. 6) — but none of those opponents made the playoffs in 2011. The Browns' lone home game in this stretch is against a 2010 playoff team — NFC West winner Seattle on Oct. 23 — but the Seahawks were 7-9 a season ago.
The Browns conclude November with three more games against teams that did not make the postseason in 2011. They host St. Louis on Nov. 13 and Jacksonville on Nov. 20 before the rematch with the Bengals at Cincinnati on Nov. 27.
However, how the Browns will be judged in 2011 will likely come down to the final five games of the season, when they face formidable AFC North foes Baltimore and Pittsburgh twice. Consider the tests the Browns will endure in the final five weeks:
— They host Baltimore on Dec. 4, then travel to play Pittsburgh four days later for a Thursday-night game. The Browns were swept by both teams a season ago and are a combined 11-38 (including playoffs) vs. Baltimore and Pittsburgh since 1999.
— The game at Pittsburgh on Dec. 8 is the first of three consecutive away games the Browns will play in December. Cleveland travels to Arizona on Dec. 18, then visits the Ravens in Baltimore on Christmas Eve.
— The Browns finish with a New Year's Day home game against the Steelers, who have outscored them 100-16 in three victories in the club's three final-week meetings since 1999.