With the release of the Cleveland Browns' 2014 NFL schedule a week and a half ago, I'm going to take a very early look at how I rank the "excitement level" of the games from my initial impression.
These are very loose rankings, and it is difficult to rank AFC North games in particular because we face each team twice. My rankings take into account a combination of opponent notoriety (if they are a winning team), how often we face them, special circumstances (prime time, opening day), and other storylines.
Ranking the Browns' 2014 NFL Schedule
|1||Week 1||Cleveland vs. Pittsburgh||
The last time these two teams met on the first game of the season was in 2007, when the Steelers dominated the Browns 34-7. Over the last three years, these two teams have oddly met only late in the season:
2013: Week 12 and 17
This year, I like the change of pace in the Browns' schedule: they aren't beginning the season at home, and they get Pittsburgh early. It's always good to try to make a statement in the division early on.
|2||Week 14||Indianapolis vs. Cleveland||Late in the season, the Browns will get to see several former key players return to Cleveland: RB Trent Richardson and ILB D'Qwell Jackson. Special assistant Rob Chudzinski will also make the trip back, raising the stakes for this game.|
|3||Week 2||New Orleans vs. Cleveland||The Saints are an opponent teams fear because of Drew Brees, but that doesn't guarantee that he will spoil the Browns' home opener. The Saints were 8-0 at home last year, but just 3-5 on the road.|
|4||Week 3||Baltimore vs. Cleveland||The Ravens added a couple of new weapons for Joe Flacco this offseason in Steve Smith and Owen Daniels. Cleveland can't afford to drop two division games in three weeks to start the season, and this game is the team's last before the bye.|
|5||Week 10||Cleveland vs. Cincinnati||This year, the Browns' first game against the Bengals comes in early November and will be played in prime time on Thursday Night Football. The off period after this game kind of acts as the another bye later in the year.|
|6||Week 13||Cleveland vs. Buffalo||By virtue of typically finishing last places in their respective divisions, this will be the 7th time in 8 years that these two teams have squared off. Mike Pettine will also be returning to the team he was defensive coordinator of in 2013.|
|7||Week 6||Pittsburgh vs. Cleveland||Two weeks after the bye, the Browns play their final game against the Steelers, this time in Cleveland. Can the Browns finally pull off a season sweep of the Steelers?|
|8||Week 15||Cincinnati vs. Cleveland||This game is ranked somewhat high because the Bengals have now twice killed the Browns' playoff hopes: once in 2007 (with Derek Anderson), and last year after a disastrous second quarter against them.|
|9||Week 16||Cleveland vs. Carolina||Not including AFC North teams, the Panthers are the only team left of the schedule from me to choose from in which there was some..."excitement" to the team last year, and that was because of Cam Newton and their awesome defense.|
|10||Week 17||Cleveland vs. Baltimore||This year, the Browns finish the season at Baltimore. The last time these two teams met to end the season was in 2005, when the Browns beat the Ravens 20-16 in Cleveland.|
|11||Week 12||Cleveland vs. Atlanta||My expectation is that the Falcons will have a bounce back year...they have to, right? We'll see -- maybe all they really have now are Matt Ryan, Roddy White, and Julio Jones. That's a talented trio, but what about the rest of their team?|
||Cleveland vs. Tennessee||The Titans showed a lot of fight last year in finishing 7-9, so they'll be a tough team to beat after the bye week for Cleveland. Ken Whisenhunt and Ray Horton probably have some extra motivation to beat Cleveland too.|
||Houston vs. Cleveland||This is where the games start looking more and more like duds, although the reason I have the Texans as the "best of the worst" is the fact that they'll get a top impact player at No. 1 overall. J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney already sounds frightening.|
||Tampa Bay vs. Cleveland||The Buccaneers underachieved last year, but with Lovie Smith as the team's head coach, I think he can get things in order for them. The Buccaneers' secondary is too talented to not have more of an impact on gameday.|
||Cleveland vs. Jacksonville||I guess we can't make fun of Brandon Weeden or Blaine Gabbert any more. I'm still kind of pissed that the Jaguars beat the Browns last year, and I'm sure Joe Haden deep in the back of his mind wants to make amends for the game-winning touchdown he allowed to Cecil Shorts.|
||Oakland vs. Cleveland||Woof. Oakland games are the worst. They made a lot of moves this season, which basically meant that they added every past-their-prime, veteran player on the market. I don't see it working out too well for them.|
What do you think? Are there any games that you would have drastically changed the ranking of on my list?