The Cleveland Browns walked a trail of tears down the stretch in 2011. Buried in the cellar, they finished the schedule with two games each against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, sandwiched around a losing road trip to Arizona.
The Browns closed out 4-12, dismal enough for the fourth pick in this month's draft.
You'd think the team would get a break on next year's schedule, but that's not how it works. The Browns will face the AFC North's most brutal schedule and third-toughest slate in football in 2012, per Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com. Cleveland's 2012 opponents generated a 135-121 (.527) record last season.
The Ravens, meanwhile, face the fourth-toughest schedule, while the Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals are tied for 14th. Cincy technically has the easiest run of the division, playing just five games against teams with nine or more wins in 2011.
Cleveland's schedule plays out this way because, well, they play six games against a rough-and-tumble AFC North that produced three playoff teams in 2011. Cleveland also faces the New York Giants and Denver Broncos, tagged with the first and second most difficult schedules in the NFL, respectively.
The Browns are a nonstarter until the organization learns to compete against its own division. The numbers are head-spinning and vicious:
â¢ Cleveland is 3-22 against Pittsburgh since Y2K. Prior to an unusual Thursday night win in 2009, the Browns hadn't beaten the Steelers since 2003, when Tim Couch was under center (their only win at Heinz Field).
â¢ Cincinnati leads the Battle of Ohio 15-9 since 2000, and 3-1 this decade.