It's obviously debatable, but there might not be a team that had a tougher September schedule than the Cleveland Browns.
Not only were the Browns facing three straight Super Bowl winning quarterbacks (Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and Joe Flacco), there were also three of the most creative and challenging defensive coordinators – Dick LeBeau, Rob Ryan and Dean Pees. The X's and O's that go into preparing for these trios were likely some of the most strenuous game plans to put together all season long.
Cleveland's offense and defense were tested to its core. Brian Hoyer and the offense passed with flying colors, especially against New Orleans during the game-winning drive in Week 2. The defense has several kinks to work out, but the unit had several bright spots including Paul Kruger and Tashaun Gipson.
At the team facility in Berea, it remains one day at a time. When players and coaches return from the bye on Tuesday, they'll be fresh off a four day break with recharged batteries and a renewed sense of purpose. And they'll solely be thinking about how to beat the Tennessee Titans and improve to 2-2.
After seeing the Browns play the Steelers, Saints and Ravens all within a field goal, it's hard not to play prognosticator and look at the looming month of October. The Browns needn't get ahead of themselves, of course, but after being dealt a tough hand to begin the 2014 season, the opportunity to jump above the .500 mark is there for the taking.
*October 5 – @Tennessee Titans *
Losses: Cowboys, Bengals, Colts
Synopsis: In their three consecutive losses, the Titans are averaging 11.3 points per game and have found nothing they can lean on offensively. On defense, stopping the run has been especially painful. Tennessee is giving up an average of 127 yards per game.
Question mark – What is the quarterback situation? Jake Locker is injured (wrist) so both Charlie Whitehurst and Zach Mettenberger both saw action Sunday against the Colts – and it wasn't pretty. They didn't get much help, though. Whitehurst led the Titans in rushing with a mere 40 yards. It's still too early to tell if Locker will suit up against the Browns this Sunday. If he can't don't be surprised if the Titans roll the dice and start Mettenberger, to see if the rookie from LSU can ignite an offense in desperate need of some spunk.
Offensive ranking: 25
Defensive ranking: T-14
October 12 – Pittsburgh Steelers
Wins: Browns, Panthers
Losses: Ravens, Buccaneers
Synopsis: Steeler fans woke up grumpy on Monday morning knowing their team choked one away in the final seconds against the Buccaneers. Though Pittsburgh beat Cleveland to open the season, after nearly blowing a 24-point lead it wasn't exactly a performance they hung their hat on,. The Steelers' lone dominant performance of the season is also losing its luster. The Carolina Panthers look like one of the NFL's bigger disappointments in 2014, having been blown out in their last two games.
Question mark – Is this really a Pittsburgh defense? For most of the last 20 seasons, when the Steelers needed a stop on defense, they dialed it up with ease. This isn't exactly your father's Steelers team – who now relies on the big arm of Ben Roethlisberger and the speed of Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell. Pittsburgh's defense let one of the NFL's youngest offenses, led by Mike Glennon, to march halfway down the field in 40 seconds to win the ball game at Heinz Field. It was an inexcusable loss and it put the defense on notice, regardless of their decent league ranking in terms of yards given up.
Offensive ranking: 5
Defensive ranking: T-14
October 19 – @Jacksonville Jaguars
Losses: Eagles, Redskins, Colts, Chargers
Synopsis: Jacksonville hasn't exactly had the world's easiest schedule to start the season, but then again, what opponent will they be favored over? The Jaguars closest loss came Week 1 against the Philadelphia, and that turned into a 17 point loss when the Eagles scored 34 unanswered.
Question mark – Where is the running game? Toby Gerhart is leading the way with only 114 yards and a 2.6 yards per carry clip after four games. This type of effort is setting up rookie quarterback Blake Bortles for inevitable failure. Although he played decently in first dart against the Chargers, Bortles is not yet ready to carry a team on his own. Look for defenses to force Jacksonville's hand.
Offensive ranking: 31
Defensive ranking: 32
October 26 – Oakland Raiders
Losses: Jets, Texans, Patriots, Dolphins
Synopsis: Last Sunday's 38-14 loss to the Dolphins is one of the more embarrassing defeats and has potential to keep the Raiders in a season-long downward spiral. The game was played in London and Oakland came out flatter than pita bread. Even worse, their rookie quarterback, Derek Carr, suffered injuries to both his MCL and ankle, and will likely be out for a portion of the season.
Question mark – Head coach Dennis Allen: Initial reports out of Oakland have the hot seat placed squarely on the third-year coach. Some are speculating Allen won't even survive the season. Until Oakland wins a football game, this distraction will be inevitable.
Offensive ranking: 32
Defensive ranking: 20
November 2 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Losses: Panthers, Rams, Falcons
Synopsis: Two weeks ago against the Falcons, Tampa looked like the worst team in the league – by far – following a 56-14 trouncing by the Falcons on national television. Then last Sunday, their young quarterback Mike Glennon played arguably his best NFL game in Pittsburgh, salvaging the season on the road.
Question mark – Who are the Bucs? Heading into the year, it appeared as if Tampa viewed themselves as a legitimate contender for the NFC South. They brought in the proven Lovie Smith, a boatload of free agents and drafted skill players like Mike Evans to make an immediate impact. The Bucs clearly didn't start the season like a team destined to make the playoffs, but the switch to Glennon at quarterback seems to have quelled the issues on offense we saw with veteran journeyman quarterback Josh McCown.
Offensive ranking: 30
Defensive ranking: 25
Video: talks about his strong rookie start