It hasn't been an ideal start to the season for the Cleveland Browns after Week 1. Nick Chubb's devastating injury, plus Deshaun Watson's current shoulder issue, has put a cloud over the team and caused them to fall to 2-2 on the year.
However, there's also reasons to be optimistic about this squad getting right back in the playoff hunt after its bye week. And its post-bye schedule is chief among them.
Following the time off in Week 5, the Browns have 13 games remaining on their schedule. They have the juggernaut San Francisco 49ers on tap right away after the bye, but things get considerably easy after that.
Aside from San Francisco, Cleveland's slated to face just five other teams (the Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Jacksonville Jaguars) who are currenly above .500.
Each one of these squads, other than the 3-1 Seahawks, owns a 3-2 record as well, putting them just above the .500 mark. Plus, the Colts just suffered a major injury at quarterback that could send them spiraling, while the Steelers haven't played nearly as well as their record suggests.
Meanwhile, that leaves seven opponents left on the schedule who are currently under .500: the Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears, Houston Texans, New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals.
Even better? This group of squads who are .500 at the moment make up seven of the Browns' last 10 games.
Now, things can change. Maybe the Bengals rally if Joe Burrow gets healthier, or one of these teams puts together a late-season push. But looking at this group overall, these are the names we expect to be competing for high draft picks down the stretch.
No matter which way you slice it, the schedule gods have given Cleveland a golden opportunity this year. The team will get a bunch of opponents to close 2023 that they simply should beat, presenting easy chances to pad their record. And if these matchups turn out to be the cupcakes we think they'll be, then that makes the end of the season not nearly as much of a grind as having to go through other playoff hopefuls.
No one knew ahead of time that Chubb would go down, or Watson would injure his shoulder, but Cleveland having an early bye does this squad another massive favor. They'll give their players some much-needed time to reset after a turbulent start to the year, while the coaching staff has been affored time to rethink its gameplan in a post-Chubb world.
The 2023 season hasn't been the prettiest for this team, but they've found ways to win regardless. This defense also being one of the league's best raises the Browns' ceiling significantly as a playoff contender. However, now it's on Watson and co. to not let the other side of the ball down. This Cleveland-friendly schedule should certainly help in that regard.
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