Passan: Don't Sweat the Schedule

Rich argues that neither Derek Anderson's accomplishments or fans optimism should be dismissed based on the team's schedule, supposed weak schedule in 2007 or tough schedule in 2008.

A byproduct of the hot button that is the Derek Anderson-Brady Quinn debate is now clearly in focus.

It might be boring at first, but rest assured it will pick up in interest and be riveting – OK, maybe not riveting, but certainly noteworthy – at its conclusion. It will require extreme patience because it involves statistics.

There is no better way to drag down a story than to load it with stats, so a calculated risk is being taken here.

One of the arguments buttressing the negative comments directed at Anderson was the Browns' relatively easy schedule last season.

At the beginning of the 2007 season, it was noted how difficult the schedule was going to be. In 2006, the 16 teams on the Browns' 2007 schedule (including two games against division opponents) compiled a record of 137-119.  Six teams (if you include Baltimore twice) had winning records. And five others (if you include Cincinnati and Pittsburgh twice) had .500 records. Only five losing teams – two of them 7-9 – on the schedule.

As it turned out, the 137-119 teams of 2006 wound up 113-143 in 2007 with only three winning teams. Why? Because the 10-6 New York Jets of 2006 were 4-12 in 2007, the 6-10 Miami Dolphins were 1-15, the 8-8 St. Louis Rams were 3-13, the 7-9 San Francisco 49ers were 5-11 and the 26-6 Baltimore Ravens were 10-22.

Who knew?

Too many stats. I know. But hang in there.

"How many winning teams did (Anderson) beat?" railed the Quinn supporters. And then they answered the question. "One," they said. And they were not incorrect. That team was the Seattle Seahawks.

What wasn't mentioned was that on the 16-game schedule, the Browns played only three winning teams, unless you count both Pittsburgh games, in which case that's four.

They lost to the New England Patriots – then again, who didn't? – but were extremely competitive until a last-minute New England interception for a touchdown made the final score more lopsided than it really was.

The first Pittsburgh game was the well-known blowout that bought Charlie Frye a one-way ticket to Seattle and introduced Anderson as his successor. That game will be ignored for obvious reasons. But the second Steelers game will not.

That game would have wound up in the victory column with any kind of a decent performance by the defense in the second half. The Browns held a 21-9 halftime lead – the beneficiary of a long kickoff return by Joshua Cribbs and a Brodney Pool interception deep in Pittsburgh territory – and contained the Pittsburgh offense.

The defense, which held the Steelers to three first-half field goals, buckled in the second half as the Pittsburgh defense shut down the Cleveland offense. The offense, which carried the defense for most of the season, needed a clutch performance and didn't get it.

So the argument that Anderson – not the Browns, just Anderson – beat just one winning team doesn't resonate as one of the reasons to hasten his departure. It seems he gets credit for losing, but no credit for winning. Nothing new there.

More stats.

The Browns played 12 games against teams that wound up .500 or worse in 2007. And they won nine of those 12 games, splitting two games with .500 teams (Arizona and Houston).

The new season's schedule reveals Browns opponents in 2007 compiled a record of 140-116, a three-game improvement over last season.

Gone is the weak AFC West, replaced by perhaps the best division in the National Football League, the AFC South. That division improved from 34-30 in 2006 to 42-22 this past season.

Gone is the NFC West, replaced by maybe the second-best division in the NFL, the NFC East. That division went from 32-32 in 2006 to 40-24 this past season.

On paper, yes, the 2008 schedule is quite a bit tougher than the 2007 schedule turned out to be. But does that mean once they start playing the games, everything will fall into place and the 140-116 of this past season will be repeated?

Not necessarily. Especially if you use this past season as an example of how much the statistical landscape of the NFL can change in just one season.

Who knew the Browns would improve from 4-12 to 10-6? That shocking development came from out of nowhere. What's to say a team like Washington might not trail off in 2008 after losing its head coach?

The New York Giants are having a magical season, but there is no guarantee they can repeat in 2008. That's what makes stories like this so much fun. You cannot predict the future based solely on the past. You can try, but at your own risk.

The Browns, for example, should be better this coming season. At least on paper.

That's what Browns fans said following the 2002 season when the club finished 9-7, qualified for the playoffs and came within a dropped pass by Dennis Northcutt in Pittsburgh of advancing to the second round.

The 2003 season looked so promising. Who could have forecasted the nose dive that would ensue?

It started with a quarterback controversy (sound familiar?), was exacerbated by an economic roster purge and wound up a disastrous 5-11, slowly paving the way for the departure of Butch Davis the following season.

So despite what the schedule for 2008 says, do not take it seriously at this time. Too many unknown factors could skew the picture between now and when the games are played.

Who knows? By then, Brady Quinn might be the opening-day quarterback.



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