Nfl Schedule-Makers Looked Favorably On Browns

The Deshaun Watson trade saddled the pressure on coach Kevin Stefanski. Some favorable scheduling perks turned up the heat.

The Deshaun Watson trade saddled the pressure on coach Kevin Stefanski. Some favorable scheduling perks turned up the heat.

NFL schedule-makers looked favorably on Browns

You must have an active subscription to read this story.

Click Here to subscribe Now!

Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for and 850 ESPN Cleveland.

My biggest takeaway from the Browns’ 2022 schedule is that it cranks up the heat on the seat of Kevin Stefanski. 

There already was a ton of pressure on the third-year coach as a result of the mega-trade for quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Jimmy Haslam didn’t sucker-punch the other billionaire NFL team owners with an unprecedented $230 million guaranteed contract for Watson merely to compete for a wild card. The Browns could do that with Baker Mayfield.

Haslam went “all in” for a Super Bowl.

The Browns’ opponents have been known for months. Their strength-of-schedule ranks 17th based on 2021 records. Browns opponents last year were 142-145-2 (.495).

A more accurate gauge of the Browns’ schedule strength is projected win totals touted by Las Vegas sports books. Using that metric, the Browns have the ninth-toughest schedule in the NFL, according to Sharp Football Analysis.

But what adds pressure to Stefanski’s task is the rhythm of the schedule, and that’s where the NFL took care of the Browns. Stefanski and the Browns received several relevant perks, removing the schedule as a reasonable excuse for a non-playoff season.

Such as:

* They open on the road against Carolina and then come home to face the Jets.

Five opponents on the Browns’ schedule lost 10 or more games in 2021. These are two of them. In the event Watson opens the season under NFL suspension, the Browns couldn’t have requested a more favorable start.

* They received two prime-time games at home – Game 3 against Pittsburgh (Thursday night) and Game 8 against Cincinnati (Monday night).

Hosting one prime-time game against a division rival is golden. Hosting two is a winning lottery ticket.

* After the Monday night game, the Browns have their bye – smack dab in the middle of the season.

Any head coach would give up two coaches challenges for that.

* The Browns are home for Thanksgiving weekend (Week 12 against Tampa Bay) and on Christmas Eve (Week 16 against New Orleans).

Traveling on holiday weekends is not an insurmountable challenge, but every coach and every team prefers to play at home on those occasions.

The worst you can say about the Browns’ schedule is they finish the season with two games on the road -- against Washington and then Pittsburgh.

Egads, a season-finale in Heinz Field? Stefanski need only ask fired Browns coaches Romeo Crennel, Pat Shurmur, Rob Chudzinski, and Hue Jackson the relevance of that.

Our breakdown of the storylines in the 2022 Browns’ schedule:

Game 1, Sept. 11, 1 p.m., at Carolina Panthers

A trade of Baker Mayfield to the Panthers collapsed on the second night of the draft when the Browns reportedly refused to eat any portion of Mayfield’s guaranteed salary of $18.858 million. Can we start a GoFundMe campaign to help facilitate a trade? The 2022 season must begin with the Browns playing against Mayfield. Please?

Game 2, Sept. 18, 1 p.m., home v. New York Jets

Garrett Wilson – a nice attraction. Zach Wilson – not so much.

Game 3, Sept. 22, 8:15 p.m., Amazon Prime Video, home v. Pittsburgh Steelers

The rivalry begins the post-Ben Roethlisberger era. Will it be native Clevelander Mitchell Trubusky at quarterback for the Steelers or tiny-mitted rookie Kenny Pickett?

Game 4, Oct. 2, 1 p.m., at Atlanta Falcons

Watson, if active, returns to his home state to play the team for which he served as a ball boy and then courted him hard before Haslam wrote “the check” to intercept the Falcons’ advances.

Game 5, Oct. 9, 1 p.m., home v. Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers’ 47-42 win in Game 5 last year exacerbated friction between Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr., and also Mayfield and Stefanski, and precipitated the demise of Mayfield and the Browns in 2021. This is a homecoming for Chargers coach Brandon Staley, a native of Perry, OH, and former John Carroll University defensive coordinator.

Game 6, Oct. 16, 1 p.m., home v. New England Patriots

Any visit by Bill Belichick is special. After the Patriots’ 45-7 mauling last year, the Browns capitulated to the pressure of playoff expectations.

Game 7, Oct. 23, 1 p.m., at Baltimore Ravens 

The Browns intercepted Lamar Jackson four times in Baltimore last year and couldn’t win. Smh.

Game 8, Oct. 31, 8:15 p.m., ESPN, home v. Cincinnati Bengals

Halloween night. Orange all over. Poor Joe Burrow seeks his first win ever against the Browns.

Bye week, Nov. 6

Simply ideal timing.

Game 9, Nov. 13, 1 p.m., at Miami Dolphins

New Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel was Browns receivers coach in 2014 when Josh Gordon was suspended 10 games by the NFL and then one game by the Browns.

Game 10, Nov. 20, 1 p.m., at Buffalo Bills

The Bills, preseason AFC favorites, could have the AFC East locked up by now.

Game 11, Nov. 27, 1 p.m. home v. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This could be Tom Brady’s last appearance in Cleveland. His only loss to the Browns in eight career games came in Cleveland in 2010. It was the highlight of Eric Mangini’s two-year coaching stint with the Browns.

Game 12, Dec. 4, 1 p.m., at Houston Texans

Watson’s first visit to Houston after demanding a trade in the 2021 offseason should be the highlight of the season for Texans’ fans.

Game 13, Dec. 11, 1 p.m., at Cincinnati Bengals

At this point, every divisional game is crucial.

Game 14, Dec. 16 or 17, TBD, at Baltimore Ravens

See above. A potential flex to prime time on Saturday or Sunday night.

Game 15, Dec. 24, 1 p.m., New Orleans Saints

Drew Brees and Sean Payton won’t be there.

Game 16, Jan. 1, 1 p.m., Washington Commanders

Would have to say this is the worst trip of the season. New Year’s Eve at BWI Airport hotel. Welp.

Game 17, Jan. 7 or 8, TBD, at Pittsburgh Steelers

Four Browns head coaches and three general managers have been fired during, or immediately after, losing the season finale in Pittsburgh. Two other coaches were fired after losing the season finale to Pittsburgh in Cleveland. Note to Stefanski: Kick the field goal.