Today marks the release of the 2009 NFL regular season schedule, an important day for any football fan, but especially for we masochists who call ourselves Browns fans. The Browns' 2009 schedule lacks the sex appeal of its 2008 counterpart, but if it nets us a few more wins, or at least saves us the embarrassment of trotting out Bruce Gradkowksi or Ken Dorsey as our starting quarterbacks, we can probably live with a little less national exposure. Last year's schedule was one of the toughest in football, and featured five nationally televised night games. This time around, the Browns are faced with the eighth weakest schedule in the league and two nationally televised night games (I'm just as shocked as you are). Let's take a look at this year's competition, week by week, along with a little analysis and some arbitrarily predicted outcomes for which I do not intend to be held accountable.
Sunday, 9/13, Browns vs. Vikings, FOX, 1:00
Adrian Peterson and the Vikes will be a tough matchup for a Browns team that has done little to upgrade its porous run defense. The good news is that if the Browns can bolster the linebacking corps in the draft and keep the defensive line healthy, they might have a shot at containing Peterson. If you can do that, you force either Sagemary Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson (whoever Brad Childress chooses from that gem of a competition) to beat you. The fact that picking up Rosenfels is considered better than a lateral move gives you an idea of how lousy Jackson has been. It just made too much sense for this team to give away draft picks for a Matt Cassel or a Jay Cutler, as a solid starting quarterback might have made them a sexy pick for the Super Bowl. The Browns will hang with these guys at home, but in the end they just can't overcome Brad Childress' mustache.
Final: The ‘Sota 24, Browns 20
Sunday, 9/20, Browns at Broncos, CBS, 4:15
No team has been the subject of more offseason controversy than the Broncos, who were forced to ship quarterback Jay Cutler to the Bears after his feelings were hurt when they tried to trade him for the aforementioned Matt Cassel. Denver is left with two first round picks for the next two seasons and Kyle Orton at quarterback, and they're constantly mentioned as a potential suitor for Brady Quinn. My money's on Quinn staying put, but who knows whether or not the Broncos will add a quarterback in the draft. So much of that team's plan was predicated on having Cutler, and the defense is still mediocre on their best day. With that in mind, I'll take our Belichick protégé over Denver's.
Final: Browns 20, Donks 16
Sunday, 9/27, Browns at Ravens, CBS, 1:00
The Ravens aren't without holes, but they still have a solid defense even with the departures of Rex Ryan and Bart Scott, and Joe Flacco looks like a keeper. This will be the first game of the season when the Browns aren't very competitive.
Final: Ratbirds 27, Browns 10
Sunday, 10/4, Browns vs. Bengals, CBS, 1:00
The Browns would be the most mismanaged team in most divisions, but not in the AFC North. No, that undesirable title falls to the hapless Bengals, who are one of the few teams fortunate enough to have a bona fide franchise quarterback. Unfortunately, they have little else. The Bengals recently signed Tank Johnson, apparently continuing their mission to collect every single convict in the league. This franchise has officially entered The Tyson Zone. At least we know that Plaxico Burress will land on his feet.
Final: Browns 28, The ‘Nati 17
Sunday, 10/11, Browns at Bills, CBS, 1:00
The Bills seem like they've been stuck in neutral for about a decade now. What can save them? A past-his-prime Terrell Owens! The Browns and Bills have actually played two very close games the last couple of seasons, including the Snow Game in 2007, and Brady Quinn's first (and um, only) professional victory last year in Buffalo. We should have another competitive game this year, but I think the Browns will get the better of their fellow residents of Lake Erie for the third consecutive season.
Final: Browns 20, Buffaloes 17
Sunday, 10/18, Browns at Steelers, CBS, 1:00
Don't look now, but the Browns are 3-2, and some of us are even whispering about the playoffs. Staring down the barrel of schedule's toughest stretch, the rest of us encourage the whisperers to put down their crack pipes. The Steelers will take care of the Browns with relative ease, bringing the team and the expectations back down to earth. We'll have to deal with television close ups of large, hair-lipped women, and larger, toothless men who haven't showered since the Reagan administration. To make matters worse, they'll all be waving little yellow handkerchiefs in a display of vintage Appalachian stupidity. Talk about adding insult (and possibly retinal damage) to injury. Is it a stereotype if it's true?
Final: Toothlessbergers 34, Browns 13
Sunday, 10/25, Browns vs. Packers, FOX, 1:00
If you're as big a fan of Football Outsiders as I am, you know that the Packers were much better than their 6-10 record might indicate. The Pack will compete for the NFC North in Aaron Rodgers' second season at the helm, and this will be a tough matchup for the home team. If the Packers draft Beanie Wells, watch out.
Final: Cheeseheads 27, Browns 16
Sunday, 11/1, Browns at Bears, CBS, 1:00
We're looking at another solid NFC North team here, and they'll be looking to build on their 9-7 record with the addition of franchise signal-caller Jay Cutler. Rookie running back Matt Forte propelled many a fantasy team to glory last season, and he'll be aiming for another 1500-plus total yards this season. If Chicago's offense gels with their new quarterback early, then they could be very good.
Final: Da Bears 24, Da Browns 17
Week 9: Bye
The Browns head into the bye week at 3-5, with a chance to lick their wounds after three straight losses. As it is early November by this point, Cleveland is preparing for the NBA Champion Cavaliers to begin their title defense.
Monday, 11/16, Browns vs. Ravens, ESPN, 8:30
After such a disappointing season which featured three Monday night appearances, it's surprising that the Browns were granted even this lone Monday nighter. The Ravens will be well on their way to another playoff birth, and although the Browns will put up a good fight, it won't be enough. Ray Lewis will celebrate by enjoying a nice murder.
Final: Stolen Franchise 23, Browns 20
Sunday, 11/22, Browns at Lions, CBS, 1:00
Facing yet another Belichick disciple (Jim Schwartz), the Browns will break their four-game losing streak while venting some frustration on the still woeful Lions. After General Motors files for bankruptcy, Detroit and the surrounding area look more like a demilitarized zone than an American city. Shaun Rogers breaks Matthew Staffords left tibia during a third quarter sack.
Final: Browns 31, Team That's Not Even Good Enough For a Goofy Nickname 9
Sunday, 11/29, Browns at Bengals, CBS, 1:00
With the Browns at 4-6 and still mathematically in the playoff hunt, a visit to Paul Brown Stadium is just what the doctor ordered. By this point in the season, 20 Bengals are on Injured Reserve; 12 due to injury and 8 due to incarceration. The Browns climb within one game of .500 with a comfortable victory.
Final: Browns 30, Bungles 17
Sunday, 12/6, Browns vs. Chargers, CBS, 4:05
For the second straight season, the Chargers will win the AFC West almost by default. Philip Rivers quietly matched Drew Brees' NFL-leading 34 touchdowns last season, and Rivers was the owner of the league's best quarterback rating. Home field advantage and weather will come up big for the Browns here, and they almost pull of the upset. Despite a valiant effort, a late Rivers drive sets up a Nate Kaeding field goal to sink the Browns, dousing their slim playoff hopes.
Final: Bolts 17, Browns 16
Thursday, 12/10, Browns vs. Steelers, NFL Network, 8:20
Do we really have to play these jerks on a short week, and on national TV? Ugh. The Browns will beat the spread but lose the game. Three Steelers fans will be hospitalized after pushing a handful of Browns fans too far in the Muni Lot. Hundreds of Terrible Towels will lose their lives during the pre-game festivities.
Final: Inbred 23, Browns 17
Sunday, 12/20, Browns at Chiefs, CBS, 1:00
With Scott Pioli running the show and Matt Cassel in tow, the Chiefs will be one of the league's pleasant surprises, and they'll have an outside shot at a Wild Card birth. Things are looking up in Kansas City, and it's hard to believe that they parted with draft picks for Herm Edwards just a few years back. Don't sleep on this offense if they select Eugene Monroe with the third overall pick. Those of us watching on television will once again collectively think about how stupid it was to steal Florida State's tomahawk chop. "Arrowhead Stadium" remains one of the coolest stadium names in the NFL, and these guys are much tougher to rip without Herm Edwards running the show. YOU PLAY...TO WIN...THE GAME... but the Browns fall short on the road.
Final: Chefs 24, Browns 14
Sunday, 12/27, Browns vs. Raiders, CBS, 1:00
JaMarcus Russell showed some flashes during the final three games last season, but was that a sign of things to come, or simply an aberration? If the Raiders can get Russell a weapon other than tight end Zach Miller, Russell could move into the upper half of the league's quarterbacks, and they might find that guy in the form of Jeremy Maclin or Michael Crabtree. I'm still not excited about a run defense that gave up almost 160 yards per game, or a West Coast team playing on the North Shore in late December. The only certainty for the Raiders is that Al Davis will sink farther into the abyss of senility.
Final: Orange & Brown 28, Silver & Black 17
Sunday, 1/3, Browns vs. Jaguars, CBS, 1:00
The health of their offensive line (or lack thereof) is what shafted the Jaguars in '08, but the defense also gave up about four more points per game. Is David Garrard the efficient field general we saw in 2007, or the mediocre quarterback we saw last season? Can Maurice Jones-Drew survive the pounding of a full season as the featured back? Will the NFL ever just admit their mistake and move this team to Los Angeles? The Browns ride Jamal Lewis to victory in what will prove to be his final game wearing burnt orange and seal brown.
Final: Browns 20, Jags 17
So that about wraps it up. I'm predicting a 7-9 season for our heroes, which should keep the Browns outside of serious playoff contention all season, but also gives them some momentum to build on for the following season. See you all at the 2010 TCF Mother of All Draft Parties, at which point the Browns will use the 12th overall pick to select Florida's Brandon Spikes to pair with D'Qwell Jackson at inside linebacker.