CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Browns’ 2022 schedule release on Thursday night ended weeks (actually, for most fans, probably months) of speculation.
Yes, we already knew which opponents the Browns would face, but with days and times set, everything is solidified for a team that faces plenty of questions, has plenty of storylines to keep track of, and has something to prove in the tough AFC when it comes to the postseason.
Of course, one of the biggest factors going into 2022 for the Browns will be quarterback Deshaun Watson. While the Browns completed a stunning trade for the three-time Pro Bowler in March, it’s not clear if he will be available for the early part of the season as the NFL is still conducting its investigation into Watson in connection with 24 massage therapists who have accused him of sexual misconduct during appointments – 22 have civil suits pending.
While it’s impossible to glean how long any possible suspension could be, it’s undeniable that Watson’s fate is something that will hang over this release schedule – and the team – until any decision by the league is handed down.
Watson’s murky future isn’t the only question, but it does weave in to other notable aspects of this year’s schedule.
Here are some takeaways after initially looking over all 18 weeks.
1. AFC North matchups are backloaded (sort of), creating some intrigue
Going into Thursday, I was thinking the NFL would focus on backloading division games to create more suspense down the stretch.
They did that with this schedule, just not completely in the way I anticipated.
Last year, the Browns played all six of their division games against the Ravens, Bengals and Steelers Week 8 and later. This year, while three of their last five games will be against division foes (Week 14 at Cincinnati, Week 15 vs. Baltimore, Week 18 at Pittsburgh), they also have three division games in their first eight contests (Week 3 vs. Pittsburgh). on Thursday night, Week 7 at Baltimore and Week 8 vs. Cincinnati on Monday night).
It will be interesting to see how a lesser emphasis on backloading affects the Browns’ ability to control their destiny – for example, between Week 15 against Baltimore and Week 18 in Pittsburgh, Cleveland plays two NFC teams in New Orleans and Washington.
If Watson does end up missing one or more early division contests, in second matchups with these opponents it will be interesting to see how well the offense is operating in these must-win games.
Also of note: the second games against both Baltimore and Pittsburgh might be Cleveland’s chance to sneak in more primetime games – The Browns only had two in Thursday’s release. The times on both of those contests are still to be determined.
2. Late away games could prove to be tricky
Speaking of those first eight games, five are at home, really saturating the early portion of this schedule with home games.
After their Week 9 bye, Cleveland has just three home games: Week 12 against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, Week 15 against the Ravens and Week 16 (Christmas Eve) against the Saints.
The road games come in three sets of two. If the playoff race is tight, it will be interesting to see if all those away games begin to catch up with Cleveland – especially as they play two division foes and a potential Super Bowl contender in Buffalo on the road.
3. The Browns have a perfectly-placed bye week, but a tough stretch after
In 2021, it felt like the Week 13 bye couldn’t come soon enough. They were hampered by injuries and a stagnant offense, and desperately needed the break.
It feels like they’re in a much better position in 2022 with the bye coming at the midway point of the season. But following the break comes perhaps the most interesting stretch for Cleveland.
The Browns take on a decent Dolphins team on the road, and then continue to Buffalo in Week 11 against Josh Allen. The following week Brady and the Buccaneers come to town, creating two high-caliber matchups for Cleveland’s defense.
After that, Cleveland hits the road to take on Houston (a game with plenty of storylines, including the Watson connection) followed by a road game against the Bengals and a home game against the Ravens in two contests that could determine the division race.
This stretch comes when, in theory, we should have a pretty good idea of who the Browns are. These games will determine that for certain.
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