Following confirmation that there will be 17 games in the NFL regular season, the Cleveland Browns 2021 strength of schedule will be a challenge. Finishing third in the AFC North last season after an impressive 11-5 record meant a third-place schedule would be awarded to them. That would’ve been a good thing if it didn’t mean they are now ninth in strength of schedule.
The Cleveland Browns Strength of Schedule Is a Real Challenge
A Tough Schedule Was Unavoidable
This year, Cleveland’s opponents have a combined winning percentage of .520. Compare that to 2020 when it was .451 (29th).
As explained by Scott Patsko of cleveland.com, the league’s schedule makers use a rotation of conference matchups to prepare each season’s schedule. In 2020, the entire AFC North faced the entire NFC East, where no team had a winning record, plus the entire AFC West. 2021, that rotation shifts, matching the AFC North with AFC West and NFC North.
Being in the AFC North alone already makes their schedule this difficult. After all, theirs was the only division with three playoff teams and three winning records in 2020. It’s interesting to note that their only 2021 opponents with a winning record last season are the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs, and Green Bay Packers. However, they were a combined 50-14 and remain as threatening as ever.
The Browns will play fellow third-place teams New England Patriots, and Houston Texans. Cleveland’s 2021 schedule includes three of the six teams that won at least 12 games last season. They will truly be tested on the road. They’ll be facing the kings of the AFC West and NFC North, Chiefs and Packers.
The Old Rivals Have A Worse Deal
The Browns have their work cut out for them, but they’re not exactly being thrown to the wolves. Their two major rivals, Steelers and Ravens, have it much worse. The Steelers have a schedule of .563, the strongest of the league. Games against the Packers, Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, and Tennessee Titans, plus the Ravens and Browns mean they have to face six teams who won at least 11 games in 2020. The Seattle Seahawks could add to their grief as a 17th game.
Meanwhile, the Ravens are second in strength of schedule (.559), facing at least eight playoff teams from 2020.
What Impact Will A 17th Game Have?
The crossover rotation will mean the Browns’ 17th game will likely be against the third-place Arizona Cardinals. There is also a good chance that certain single-season team records can be broken with an extra game. For instance:
Mayfield needs to average only 235.3 passing yards per game to become the second Browns quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a season.
Being in the top 10 in strength of schedule certainly poses a challenge, but it’s something the Browns are equipped to handle. They’ve proven themselves very capable and can continue to do so.
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