After the 2012 NFL schedule was made public a few weeks ago, Browns’ fans and radio talk show hosts immediately turned it into a negative, saying than Cleveland would likely go 4-12 again, or perhaps even 3-13 because they have the 3rd toughest slate in the league.
Certainly, Pat Shurmur’s team isn’t playing college or high school teams, but that statistic is a little misleading.
One reason is that the statistic takes into account the teams’ divisional schedule, and last year, three teams from the AFC North made the playoffs, two of them (Pittsburgh and Baltimore) winning 12 games. No other division in football had two squads that both won that many games.
That doesn’t make the games any easier, but Cleveland plays the Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals every year! They know that going into the season. In fact, do you know who has the 4th toughest schedule in the NFL according to 2011 win/loss records? The Ravens. And really, their schedule is tougher because they have the Browns in that stat.
Everyone is all worried because Cleveland inter conference match up in 2012 is the big, bad NFC East, featuring the Super Bowl champion New York Giants. However, how many of you realize only one team, that being the Giants, in that division had a record over .500 last season?
Dallas and Philadelphia, the Browns opponent in the opener last year, both had records of 8-8.
Last year, Cleveland played the NFC West, another division where only one team won more games than they lost, that being San Francisco, who went 13-3.
The fear here is based on reputation. The Giants, Eagles, and Cowboys are historically strong franchises, so fans assume that Shurmur’s team will lose those games. Heck, after 12 games last season, Philly had the same record as the Browns, with both teams being 4-8.
Another reason Cleveland’s schedule looks worse on paper is that they only play one team, Indianapolis, who had a terrible record in 2011. Because of their fourth place finish in the division last year, the Browns play the other 4th place teams in the AFC. However, Buffalo was 6-10 and Kansas City was 7-9.
If you rank all of the records of the teams finishing last in their respective divisions, you will find that those teams had the best records. Remember, the strength of schedule takes into account the entire league, so NFC last place teams finished 5-11 (Washington), 4-12 (Tampa Bay), 3-13 (Minnesota), and 2-14 (St. Louis).
When you take into account that a seven game difference would give the Browns the 14th most difficult slate for 2012, which would be kind of in the middle, tied with Cincinnati (another team whose stat includes the four win Browns), playing the last place teams with the best schedules swings things considerably.
The AFC North also pairs up with the AFC West this season, and virtually every team in that division finished .500, except for the Chiefs (7-9), this is somewhat redundant, but again, there are no terrible teams to lower the winning percentage of opponents.
No matter what the statistics say, any success the Cleveland Browns will have depends on their play within the division. Last year, they went 0-6. If they can manage to win two games in 2012, they will have a better season mark. Until, Shurmur’s team can compete against the Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals, and win, their record will not be good.
No matter who else is on the schedule.