NEWS

Browns to face tough '08 schedule

Steve Doerschuk

The seven-man ESPN panel voting on final 2007 team rankings, first to worst, paints an ominous picture for the 2008 Browns.

One interpretation: Be on your toes or get sucker-punched.

The Browns already know everything about their 2008 schedule except where and when — specifics will be announced in April. It’s etched in stone that Cleveland’s home opponents will include:

- Indianapolis, No. 2 in the final ESPN regular-season poll.

- Dallas, No. 3.

- Pittsburgh, No. 8.

- New York Giants, No. 9.

The Browns also know they will make trips to:

- Jacksonville, No. 4.

- Pittsburgh (double jeopardy against No. 8).

- Washington, No. 10.

- Tennessee, No. 11.

That means half the schedule, basically, will be played against teams ranked among the league’s top third. The 2007 schedule included only four games — Pittsburgh twice, New England, Seattle — against teams in ESPN’s final top third.

It can be argued the Browns spent much of 2007 toasting marshmallows.

Five games came against teams at or near the muddy bottom: No. 26 San Francisco, No. 27 Oakland, No. 29 St. Louis, the No. 30 New York Jets and No. 32 Miami.

The lowest-ranked teams on the 2008 schedule are, not counting division rivals:

- At No. 14 Philadelphia.

- Home against No. 16 Houston.

- At No. 19 Buffalo.

- Home against No. 21 Denver.

Browns Head Coach Romeo Crennel takes the rankings with a grain of salt — maybe a bag of salt. Offseason moves, injuries, aging and assorted incidentals can change everything.

“You start over every year,” Crennel said. “There will be new guys on the team. You have to build new chemistry. Just look around the NFL and see what happened to some of the teams that had winning records last year.”

It is interesting to note that one of the ESPN panelists is Jeremy Green, a former Browns director of pro personnel. Green’s father, then-Vikings Head Coach Dennis Green, gave an oft-quoted post-game press conference punctuated by the angry words, “They were who they thought they were.”

Regardless of schedule, who thought the 2007 Browns would be 10-6? Regardless of current rankings, who can say 2008 foes will fight the way they did?

For what it’s worth, the ESPN panel spotted the Browns at No. 13 in the final poll. Cleveland’s preseason ranking was No. 31.

Going into the season, the Browns’ AFC North schedule shaped up as a meat grinder, with Baltimore ranked No. 4 and Cincinnati at No. 10. Those teams finished at No. 25 and No. 22, respectively.

Reach Repository sports writer Steve Doerschuk at (330) 580-8347 or e-mail steve.doerschuk@cantonrep.com