Thursday, April 12, 2007

Thanks for Nothing

The Browns announced their 2007 schedule yesterday. On the surface, it doesn't look all that bad. The Browns play only four teams that had winning records in 2006 (Baltimore, New England, the Jets and Seattle), and play four other teams that couldn't manage more than six wins last season (Miami, Oakland, Houston and Arizona). Overall, this is a schedule that on paper gives the Browns a fighting chance to improve. I say "on paper," because the trouble is that unless the Browns play very well right out of the gate, their season may still be over almost before it starts.

The Browns' schedule is so front-end loaded that Don Imus has a better shot at getting an honorary degree from Rutgers than the Browns do of winning more than one game out of their first five. They start out with back-to-back games against division rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, break things up with a game against the woeful Raiders, and then face another daunting set of games against Baltimore (13-3) and New England (12-4).

The first part of this schedule is a coach killer if I ever saw one, and the bad news for Romeo Crennel is that even if makes it through these five games, he still isn't out of the woods yet. After the Patriots game, the Browns get a bit of a break, and play two games against teams they should at least have a shot at (Miami (6-10) and St. Louis (8-8)). Following those games, they quickly get thrown back into the fire again, with a game at home against the Seahawks (9-7) followed by road games against Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

After this, they enter the more forgiving part of the schedule, playing only one team with a winning record (the Jets (10-6)) in their last six games. The thing is, they could very easily be 2-8 going into that home stretch. If the season plays out like that, the Browns are likely to be a pretty beaten down team that will be a longshot to make much headway even against the weaker teams that they will close out the season against.

It doesn't have to turn out like this. I think the Browns have better talent than their 2006 record indicated. They've made some free agent acquisitions that helped to address some of their biggest needs. If they get some contributions from the draft and a little luck on the health front, the Browns may be more competitive than many people expect them to be. My only point is that the schedule does them no favors, and if they don't figure out a way to compete early in the season, they may not compete at all.

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