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Browns 2012 schedule analysis: No breathers

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Posted April 17, 2012 @ 11 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

Oh, did the Browns ever get a favorable draw to begin the 2011 season. Only two of their first 11 opponents had made the postseason in the previous campaign, and one of those teams was Indianapolis, which was defanged by the loss of QB Peyton Manning. While the prospect of playing the Texans and 49ers on the road in the fall ultimately became much more formidable than it appeared in the spring, the Browns, by any measure, got an ideal setup.

As you know, Cleveland didn't capitalize, going just 4-7 before a five-game stretch to close the season that featured a pair of games vs. Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Ultimately, those four wins were all the Browns could muster last season.

What about the Browns' 2012 slate, you ask?

Well, for starters, it is loaded with 1 p.m. ET starts — 13 of them, including all eight home games. The Browns play one prime-time game: a road meeting with Baltimore on Thursday, Sept. 27.

Such a scheduie reflects the consensus low expectations for Cleveland entering 2012, lower even than a season ago. To wit: The Browns were seven-point favorites in the 2011 season opener vs. Cincinnati. By contrast, they are six-point underdogs in their 2012 home opener vs. Philadelphia in Week One, according to online sportsbook BetOnline.

While the Eagles didn't make the postseason in 2011, they are talent-laden — a tough matchup for Cleveland on paper. And when you look at the Browns' schedule, it becomes immediately clear that they could have it tough early in the campaign. Four of their first six games are against 2011 postseason entrants. Three of those games — a pair of meetings with Cincinnati and the road tilt with Baltimore — are against AFC North clubs. The Browns did not win a single game against their division rivals a season ago.

The Browns' bye week does not come until Week 10. Sandwiched around the week of rest is a home game with Baltimore (Nov. 4) and a road meeting at Dallas (Nov. 18). The Ravens' credentials need not be rehashed for a Browns-centric audience. And the Cowboys, like the Eagles, have quite the talent edge on the Browns, it appears.

Where do the Steelers appear on this schedule? Oh, yes, Pittsburgh. The Steelers visit Cleveland in Week 12, then host the Browns to finish the season. Pittsburgh has defeated Cleveland in the regular-season finale in each of the last two campaigns on its way to the postseason.

The Browns, who have reached the 10-season anniversary of their only playoff berth since returning to NFL play in 1999, would love nothing more than for that Week 17 game to be played for something more than pride. For that to happen, they are going to have to successfully navigate a schedule with no obvious soft underbelly.

But here is the thing with schedules. They can turn marshmallow-like as the leaves start to fall.

The Browns' ardent supporters can only hope.


Browns' 2012 regular-season schedule (all times Eastern)

Sunday, Sept. 9 — vs. Philadelphia (1 p.m., FOX)

Sunday, Sept. 16 — at Cincinnati (1 p.m., CBS)

Sunday, Sept. 23 — vs. Buffalo (1 p.m., CBS)

Thursday, Sept. 27 — at Baltimore (8:20 p.m., NFLN)

Sunday, Oct. 7 — at N.Y. Giants (1 p.m., CBS)

Sunday, Oct. 14 — vs. Cincinnati (1 p.m., CBS)

Sunday, Oct. 21 — at Indianapolis (1 p.m., CBS)

Sunday, Oct. 28 — vs. San Diego (1 p.m., CBS)

Sunday, Nov. 4 — vs. Baltimore (1 p.m., CBS)

Sunday, Nov. 11 — BYE

Sunday, Nov. 18 — at Dallas (1 p.m., CBS)

Sunday, Nov. 25 — vs. Pittsburgh (1 p.m., CBS)

Sunday, Dec. 2 — at Oakland (4:15 p.m., CBS)

Sunday, Dec. 9 — vs. Kansas City (1 p.m., CBS)

Sunday, Dec. 16 — vs. Washington (1 p.m., FOX)

Sunday, Dec. 23 — at Denver (4:05 p.m., CBS)

Sunday, Dec. 30 — at Pittsburgh (1 p.m., CBS)

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