The Coronavirus has taken a lot of sports away. And for those of you who don’t know me, I am a HUGE sports nut! So in these crazy times, whenever there is a nugget of interesting sports information about one of my favorite teams, I eat it up! I have always loved football. It’s my favorite sport, and even though some would call me a glutton for punishment, I am a passionate Cleveland Browns fan!
The Browns drastically underachieved last season, going 6-10 when many thought they would make the Playoffs, win the AFC North, or just maybe, seriously compete for a Super Bowl. The team was (and still is) extremely talented on paper. But games, division titles, and Super Bowls aren’t won or lost on paper. They are won or lost on the football field.
I think it’s safe to say that many Browns fans (myself included) would love nothing more than to just put the 2019 season in the rear view mirror. I already have. It’s time to look forward and move on. After a solid Draft by General Manager Andrew Berry, along with some key free agent signings that shored up the team’s weakest area in the offensive line, I was already looking forward to this fall. Then the NFL released the schedules for all 32 teams last week, and I saw many opportunities for the Browns to succeed this year! Let’s take a look shall we?
Week 1: at Baltimore (September 13th)
The talent the Browns have will immediately be tested when they travel to M&T Bank Stadium to face the defending AFC North Champion Baltimore Ravens, led by their dynamic quarterback, 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson. The Browns surprised many people last season when they went into Baltimore and absolutely embarrassed the Ravens, 40-25. Baltimore had a fantastic 14-2 season, with one of their two losses being a black eye to the Browns. While the Browns have improved themselves in both Free Agency and the Draft, I see them falling in the season opener in a close loss, as the Ravens get a measure of revenge for last year.
Pick: Ravens 23, Browns 20
Season record: 0-1
Week 2: vs Cincinnati (September 17th)
The Browns won’t have much time to lick their wounds from a heartbreaker at Baltimore, as they will have a quick turnaround, and face the Cincinnati Bengals at home in front of the Dawg Pound on Thursday Night Football. Browns fans are always passionate. But after all that everyone has had to go through with the COVID-19 pandemic, I expect the first home game of the season to be an absolute MADHOUSE! 70,000+ barking and howling Browns fans will make FirstEnergy Stadium sound like the world’s largest kennel! I expect the Browns to feed off that energy. The defense, led by fearsome pass rusher Myles Garrett, will pressure Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow into several bad throws, and sack him numerous times. The defense will have a field day. On the other side of things, I expect Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield to have plenty of time to throw behind an improved offensive line. The running game, led by Pro Bowl tailback Nick Chubb, will run all over the Cincinnati defense. The Browns win this one big in front of the home fans!
Pick: Browns 31, Bengals 13
Season record: 1-1
Week 3: vs. Washington (September 27th)
After a dominant performance against a struggling Bengals team that went 2-14 last year, the Browns get another home game against a rebuilding team in the Washington Redskins. I felt awful for former Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins. In his rookie season as the starter for the Redskins, he was basically tossed to the wolves with no help whatsoever, and his team limped to a 3-13 record. Things won’t be much better when a bunch of Dawgs are chasing after him in his Ohio homecoming! The Browns beat up on another struggling team at home in Cleveland.
Pick, Browns 30, Redskins 14
Season record: 2-1
Week 4: at Dallas (October 4th)
After two straight wins, the Browns look to make it three in a row as they travel to Dallas. Or as fans sometimes call it, “Jerryworld” in a nod to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Like Cleveland, Dallas had high expectations but a disappointing season, going 8-8 in 2019. The Cowboys have also had issues signing their franchise quarterback, Dak Prescott, to a new contract that is agreeable to both parties.
However, like the Ravens were in Week 1, the Cowboys are also another test for the Browns against a playoff-caliber team. And like the Ravens, I see this one as a loss for them. The Browns seem stuck on taking that “next step.” The step where they go from beating bad teams and climbing the ranks, to competing with, and frequently beating playoff contenders. They haven’t taken that step yet. They either play up or down to their competition. And I see that trend unfortunately continuing. Dak Prescott gets harassed by the Browns defense, but tailback Ezekiel Elliot and rookie wide receiver CeeDee Lamb bail him out before the Browns can bring him down. The Cowboys make just enough plays to beat the Browns in Big D.
Pick: Cowboys 23, Browns 17
Season record: 2-2
Week 5: At Indianapolis (October 11th)
This next game is a toss up. The Browns and Colts are in the same boat. One team was 6-10 last season, while the other was 7-9. But the Colts went out and signed veteran quarterback Phillip Rivers, who last played for the Los Angeles Chargers. Even though he’s 38 years old, he’s a 3x Pro-Bowler, and the last time he faced the Browns as a member of the Chargers, he led LA to a blowout win in Cleveland. A big part of this was because he was a master at breaking down the defense before the ball was even snapped. Simply put, a lot of the time, he knew what the Browns were trying to do, and he was able to counter their defensive scheme before they got to him. I look for new Browns Defensive Coordinator Joe Woods to have his hands full shutting down the veteran quarterback. Coach Frank Reich and the Colts beat the Browns in a close one.
Pick: Colts 21, Browns 17
Season record: 2-3
Week 6: At Pittsburgh (October 18th)
The Browns/Steelers game is almost always interesting. Yes, Cleveland has only beaten Pittsburgh a handful of time since their return to the league in 1999. But the rivalry heated up a little last season. The two teams split the season series in 2019, with the Browns and Steelers each defending home turf. The Browns convincingly beat the Steelers in Cleveland 21-7 in 2019, and forced rookie quarterback Mason Rudolph into four turnovers. Near the end of the game, Rudolph antagonized Myles Garrett, with Garrett hitting him in the head with his helmet in the process. That was like lighting the fuse to a powder keg! Two weeks later the Steelers beat the Browns in Pittsburgh, 20-13, denying the Browns their first win in Pittsburgh since 2003, and their first season sweep of the Steelers since 1988.
Ben Roethlisberger knows a thing or two about beating the Browns. He’s only lost to Cleveland three times in his 16-year career. He’s big, strong, tough to bring down and he’s a future Hall of Famer. The Browns defense will do enough to keep Cleveland in the game, and get decent pressure on him. But he’ll return from Tommy John surgery and do well like he always seems to do against Cleveland. Plus there is something about playing in Pittsburgh that does not bode well for the Browns. They haven’t won in Pittsburgh since 2003, and they’ll have to wait another year to try again.
Pick: Steelers 24, Browns 21
Season record: 2-4
Week 7: vs. Cincinnati (October 25th)
At this point, the Browns are reeling. They’ve suffered three straight losses, all to three prospective playoff teams. They are on the brink of falling out of the Playoff hunt early. But right on cue, the antidote arrives in the form of a home game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Like in their first meeting, the Browns defense gets after Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow. And on the other side, the Browns impose their will on the Bengals with the running game, and roll to their first win in four games.
Pick: Browns 24, Bengals 13
Season record: 3-4
Week 8: vs. Las Vegas (November 1st)
This has the potential to be another winnable game for the Browns. The 2019 Raiders season was a tale of two different teams. In the first stretch of the season, they started 6-4, and won close games. But by the end of the year, they had lost five of their final six games. Many of them were blowout losses, and they slid to 7-9. Add in a relocation from Oakland to Las Vegas, and it’s probably been a rough year or so to be a Raiders fan. This one is a gut feeling for me, but I don’t see the Raiders as a playoff team. And the Browns have managed to beat bad or middle of the pack teams thus far. It’ll be a long trip from Cleveland back to Vegas after the Browns get another win.
Pick: Browns, 24, Raiders 17
Season record: 4-4
Week 10: vs Houston (November 15th)
After a bye week, the Browns defend home turf against the Houston Texans, a team that won the AFC South and went 10-6 a year ago, before falling to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the Playoffs. So far this season, the Browns have struggled with taking care of business against true playoff teams, and I see that trend continuing. If the team used the rest they got during the bye week, it could be good for them heading into a big football game like this. They’ll compete against Houston. Unfortunately, the Texans prove to be too much for a talented but young Browns team.
Pick: Texans 28, Browns 17
Season record: 4-5
Week 11: vs. Philadelphia (November 22nd)
The Browns get a chance to right the ship at home, as they battle the Philadelphia Eagles in Cleveland the week before Thanksgiving. The Eagles, while winning the NFC East last year at 9-7, seem like the Browns in that they often play up or down to their level of competition. Before they rebounded to win their division last season, Philly had a few embarrassing losses, including to bad teams like the Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons. The tendency to play up or down to the level of their competition is a weakness. A weakness the Browns exploit, as they finally learn how to get a win against a fellow playoff contender!
Pick: Browns, 21, Eagles 17
Season record: 5-5
Week 12: at Jacksonville (November 29th)
The Browns escape the chilly Northeast Ohio weather, and fly down to Florida to lock horns with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars may have had a magical 2017 season in which they won the AFC South, and came within striking distance of appearing in the Super Bowl that year. But those days are long gone, with the Jags going a combined 11-21 in 2018 and 2019. They have fallen back to the bottom part of the league. The Browns enjoy some nice, warm, Florida weather, and a red-hot day by Baker Mayfield and the offensive unit. The Cleveland Browns beat up on yet another bad team, as they win this one going away to get above .500!
Pick: Browns, 34, Jaguars 17
Season record: 6-5
Week 13: at Tennessee (December 6th)
This is one the Browns definitely have circled on the calendar. Why? Because the Titans absolutely EMBARRASSED them in Cleveland last season 43-13. I have rarely hurt that much from a Browns loss. And those who know the Browns and their fans know that we’ve suffered through many excruciating losses. I worked for the Cleveland Browns last season as a Guest Services agent. The hype surrounding the 2019 team was something I had never seen before. Thousands of fans bought into it. I was one of them. I thought 2019 was finally going to be the year the Cleveland Browns would return to the top of the division and the NFL for the first time in decades. Boy did Tennessee bring that down to earth with a THUD. And on opening week to boot.
The Browns remember this, and use it as fuel to go after the Titans in Nashville. They get in a dogfight with Tennessee, and it goes down to the wire. Unfortunately, Cleveland loses a very close, defensive battle.
Pick: Titans 17, Browns 16
Season record: 6-6
Week 14: vs. Baltimore (December 14th)
This is arguably the biggest game of the season for the Browns up to this point. Revenge game. Rivalry game. Division and Playoff implications on the line. Under the lights for the whole country to see on Monday Night Football. And at home in Cleveland in front of the CRAZIEST fans in the league!
If Baker Mayfield and the Browns wanted to put together a signature win for 2020, this is it right here. And they get it done. Feeding off the electric energy of the Dawg Pound, the Browns bring their A-game. The blocks by the offensive line are solid. The throws are on target. And they grind out yards in the running game against a tough Ravens defense. The Browns defense seals the win, containing Lamar Jackson and forcing him into a desperation throw that’s intercepted by Denzel Ward as time expires. BROWNS WIN!
Pick: Browns 20, Ravens 17
Season record: 7-6
Week 15: At New York Giants (December 20th)
Coming off the high of beating their bitter rivals in one of the biggest games in years, the Cleveland Browns travel to the Big Apple to take on the New York Giants in MetLife Stadium. The Giants don’t bother me as much as the Browns possibly having a victory hangover after beating the Ravens. But rookie head coach Kevin Stefanski has been all business since the day he arrived in Cleveland. And he’ll help the Browns take a businesslike mentality into this one. In a duel featuring the top two picks from the 2018 NFL Draft, Baker Mayfield and the Browns get the better of Saquon Barkley and the Giants. Barkley stands out as one of the few bright spots for the Giants here, as the Browns struggle to shut him down.
But unfortunately for the Giants, the Browns defensive front gets to second-year quarterback Daniel Jones, sacking him hard and often. And when he’s upright and not picking turf out of his facemask, Jones struggles to find open receivers, as the Browns secondary has everyone covered. It’s a good day in the Big Apple for Baker Mayfield and the Browns.
Pick: Browns 31, Giants 13
Season record: 8-6
Week 16: At New York Jets (December 27th)
Two days after Christmas, the Cleveland Browns return to MetLife Stadium again to battle the New York Jets. Jets quarterback Sam Darnold gets to face the Browns for the second time in his career, after being out for a good chunk of 2019 with the flu. Unfortunately for him, his day against Cleveland doesn’t go well. The Browns defensive line overwhelms him like they did to Daniel Jones one week earlier, and Cleveland rolls to their third straight win!
Pick: Browns 24, Jets 13
Season record: 9-6
Week 17: vs. Pittsburgh (January 3rd, 2021)
It all comes down to this. The 2020 season ends against the Browns’ chief rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Like they did going into the game at home against the Ravens a few weeks ago, the Browns have revenge on their minds when Pittsburgh rolls into bitterly cold, snowy Cleveland to ring in 2021.
But don’t expect these teams to exchange warm New Year’s greetings. The Browns and Steelers love to hate each other. They’ve been beating the snot out of each other since 1950. And they’ll be doing it long after we’re gone.
A cold, snowy game forces both teams to rely more on the run than the pass. This is where the Browns have the edge over the Steelers. By this point in the season, I’d imagine any defensive front would be a little tired and banged up. And tackling Browns running back Nick Chubb would be the last thing they’d want to do. The man is like a boulder rolling downhill when he picks up speed. A 227-pound bowling ball! And who could forget fellow Browns running back Kareem Hunt? Those two make one of the best backfields in the NFL!
Chubb goes over 100 yards for the game, and Kareem Hunt chips in as both a runner and pass catcher. And while the Steelers are so focused on slowing down the Browns two-headed rushing attack, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield is able to take his shots downfield when he gets the chance. And he picks the Steelers apart like a doctor performing surgery.
This is too much for Pittsburgh. The Browns beat the Steelers at home in the last game of the year, sending the Dawg Pound into an absolute frenzy! The Browns not only beat the Steelers to end the year, they may have just punched their ticket to the Playoffs for the first time since January 2003!
Pick: Browns 21, Steelers 17
Season record: 10-6
Playoffs: AFC Wild Card