Don't be fooled by the Browns' spot in the league-wide strength of schedule rankings.
The Browns, who are tied with the Jets for the 17th-hardest schedule in the league, will likely have a more difficult schedule in 2022 than what the ranking suggests. That's because multiple opponents have been active this offseason and completed significant moves to compete at a higher level.
Cleveland is set to play the Chargers, Patriots, Saints, Jets and Buccaneers, and road matchups include the Falcons, Bills, Panthers, Texans, Commanders and Dolphins. Two games apiece against each AFC North rival will be played at home and on the road.
Those teams combined for a 142-145-2 record, and six of them finished last season with a record below .500: The Ravens, Jets, Commanders, Texans, Falcons and Panthers. Three of them — the Ravens, Jets and Commanders — all made significant offseason moves that give them a strong shot at performing better.
The Ravens, for instance, drafted two of the top players of their respective positions of the class in S Kyle Hamilton and C Tyler Linderbaum and added S Marcus Williams in free agency. They'll also return QB Lamar Jackson and CBs Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey from injuries that forced them to miss significant time. The Jets benefitted from three quality first-round picks (CB Ahmad Gardner, WR Garrett Wilson, EDGE Jermaine Johnson II) and drafted the top-ranked RB of the class in Breece Hall. The Commanders upgraded their QB with Carson Wentz and drafted WR Jahan Dotson to boost their pass game.
Check out photos as players and staff work throughout the offseason
Now, lump in those potential upgraded teams with the Bills (11-6 in 2021), Patriots (10-7), Bucs (13-4) and reigning AFC champion Bengals (10-7) — all teams that don't appear to be regressing next season — and it's easy to see why a 17th-ranked strength of schedule can be deceiving. Don't forget about the Chargers (9-8), a team that battled the Browns to the final minute in their matchup last season, or the Dolphins (9-8), who now have All-Pro WR Tyreek Hill and an improved offensive line, or the Steelers (9-7-1), who always seem to be in the playoff hunt regardless of how their roster looks.
The Browns (8-9), of course, can be considered an upgraded team as well after the additions of QB Deshaun Watson and WR Amari Cooper to elevate the pass game and overall offense. The defense, meanwhile, finished fifth in the league in total defense last year and is largely returning its top young stars, and a complete overhaul on core special teams positions will certainly help the Browns improve as well.
The Browns are well-equipped to face anyone, but they still won't have nearly as many easier opponents as a 17th-ranked strength of schedule implies. Every season brings new and surprising risers and fallers in the standings, and the Browns appear to have several teams ahead who could be in the former category.
Browns 2022 opponents (2021 record)
Buffalo Bills (11-6)
New England Patriots (10-7)
Miami Dolphins (9-8)
New York Jets (4-13)
Los Angeles Chargers (9-8)
Houston Texans (4-13)
Washington Commanders (7-10)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4)
New Orleans Saints (9-8)
Atlanta Falcons (7-10)
Carolina Panthers (5-12)
Cincinnati Bengals (10-7)
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1)
Baltimore Ravens (8-9)