CLEVELAND — On Thursday evening, every team in the NFL released its schedule for the 2022 season. The Cleveland Browns were no exception to that as the world found out they’ll open up with the Carolina Panthers Week 1 on the road, close out the season Week 18 in Pittsburgh against the Steelers and have 15 other games in between.
"The Schedule Game" will be played all across sports radio throughout the day -- I may even be guilty of it myself -- as immediately figuring out which games the Browns will win or lose is a must as soon as we become aware of when they’ll be playing each of their previously known opponents.
Here are six thoughts on the 2022 schedule for the Browns:
The start of the season
The Browns and starting the season off strongly don’t go hand in hand.
Since the team returned to action back in 1999, it has won just a single Week 1 game -- 2004 against Baltimore -- and tied one Week 1 game -- 2018 vs. Pittsburgh. Other than that, it’s been nothing but losses.
Current Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski is 0-2 to begin seasons since taking over the helm of the Browns, but this is without question the best chance he’s had at a Week 1 victory. Aside from that, the early season portion of the schedule for the Browns is very manageable.
It’s likely that the Browns are going to be favored in at least their first four games, regardless if quarterback Deshaun Watson is available or not. After the opener against Carolina, the Browns host the New York Jets in Week 2 and the Steelers in a Thursday Night Football matchup in Week 3 before traveling to the Atlanta Falcons in Week 4.
A 4-0 start for the Browns could be very real.
One more thing on Carolina…
Right now, this matchup isn’t an overly exciting one. The Panthers aren’t projected to be very good and it certainly lacks a storyline that would attract the casual viewer.
But if the Browns and Panthers revisit their trade talks centering on quarterback Baker Mayfield, this becomes one of the juiciest games on the schedule for the Browns. It would be hard to find a better storyline for the Browns than starting the season against the only quarterback that has won a playoff game for the franchise since returning to action in 1999.
Two primetime games, but one of them is early
One of the more interesting aspects of the schedule for the Browns was always going to be how many times they play on primetime. As things stand right now, the answer to that question is two, but could be elevated higher depending on how the NFL decides to flex things out.
There’s the aforementioned Thursday Night Football game between the Browns and Steelers in Week 3 as well as a Monday Night Football matchup between the Browns and the Bengals on Halloween Night at FirstEnergy Stadium. There are also two dates late in the season that have not yet been set: the Week 15 home game against the Ravens and the Week 18 road game against the Steelers.
If the Browns have the chance to win the AFC North in the final week of the season, there’s a good chance that game is moved to Sunday Night Football, or at least into the 4:25 p.m. window.
The Ravens game could find itself as a Saturday standalone game, much like the Browns/Raiders game last year was meant to be (which was ultimately moved due to a COVID-19 outbreak). That would be ideal for the Browns, considering they’re playing on a Saturday the following week against the New Orleans Saints.
The tough stretches
The Browns own one of the NFL’s easier schedules on paper, with their opponents' winning percentage in 2021 coming out to .495 (tied for 17th). But it’s not a schedule without some really difficult stretches.
We mentioned the manageable start to the season, but following Week 4, the Browns' next four opponents are the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots at home in Weeks 5 and 6, a road game in Baltimore in Week 7, and the Monday Night Football showdown against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 8.
After that Bengals game, the Browns have their bye in Week 9, then travel to Miami in Week 10, to Buffalo in Week 11, and host Tampa Bay in Week 12. Those two stretches are certainly the most difficult of the season for the Browns. It’s also worth noting that each time they play Cincinnati and Baltimore, the games are in back-to-back weeks. The Ravens will come to town in Week 15, as the Browns are coming off of a Week 14 trip to the shore of the Ohio River.
How the season wraps up
After the Week 15 matchup at home against the Ravens, the Browns have three games that they should be favored to win to close out the season. The Week 16 game will be played on Christmas Eve at home against the New Orleans Saints, the Week 17 game will be in Andover, Maryland, against the newly named Washington Commanders and the season will wrap up in Pittsburgh against the Steelers. While none of these teams should be considered pushovers, they are all games that if the Browns are healthy, they should be able to find a way to win.
One of the more intriguing things about the schedule release was it could potentially give a glimpse into whether or not Watson will be suspended by the NFL this season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
Watson has been accused by 22 different women of sexual misconduct or sexual assault. While he is not being charged criminally in the matter, Watson does have civil court yet to come, and that may not happen until following the 2022 NFL season.
The NFL, of course, doesn’t need to wait for the civil trial to be completed before making a ruling of its own. A suspension of four games is something that sort of makes sense with the non-marquee opponents early in the year, but putting the Browns on national television Week 3 with Jacoby Brissett as quarterback dispels that notion a bit.
It’s hard to say that anything was really revealed by the NFL as far as Watson goes on Thursday night.