|Brandon Weeden had a rocky preseason, and it's hard to think things will get better Sunday against the Eagles. (US Presswire)|
Browns vs. Eagles -- Week 1
Where: Cleveland Browns Stadium, Cleveland, Ohio (grass, outdoors)
When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET. (Fox)
Spread: Eagles by 8 1/2
Forecast: 10 percent chance of rain, mild breeze; projected kickoff temperature: 67 degrees.
2011 records: Browns (4-12); Eagles (8-8)
Past results: Two most recent meetings -- December 15, 2008: Eagles 30, Browns 10; Oct. 24, 2004 -- Eagles 34, Browns 31 (OT). Series record: Browns hold a 31-15-1 edge.
What matters: The Browns ranked 30th in the NFL against the run last season and the defense has been devastated by injuries. Most ominous is that they are facing an offense featuring the dangerous legs of Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy. The Browns are playing without top run-stoppers in DT Phillip Taylor (pectoral surgery) and weakside LB Chris Gocong (season-ending Achilles surgery). LB Scott Fujita, however, is expected to be back after an appeals panel Friday overturned his three-game suspension. The other side of the ball doesn’t look particularly promising, either. The offensive line struggled to keep up with the aggressive, athletic pass rush of the Eagles in the third preseason game. Rookie QB Brandon Weeden had a serious case of the yips throughout the exhibition season, fumbling three times. Rookie RB Trent Richardson has yet to play a snap in a game after arthroscopic knee surgery. Perhaps emotion will rule the day for the young Browns, but logic calls for pessimism.
Who matters: Rookie DTs Billy Winn and John Hughes will be greatly responsible for keeping McCoy from finding big holes up the middle, but the Browns really struggled stopping the run around the ends last season. DE Jabaal Sheard must improve in that area. Aging CB Sheldon Brown remains a concern. He has struggled mightily to keep up with faster wide receivers over the last two seasons. One must wonder if he will be torched by either DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin. Heck, Brown was burned by Eagles third-string WR Damaris Johnson in the preseason.
Key matchups: Rookie RT Mitchell Schwartz must handle Eagles DE Jason Babin (18 sacks last season) much better than he did backup Brandon Graham, who recorded a sack against him when Babin (calf) was hurt in the preseason meeting. Schwartz, an early second-round pick, has performed far better as a run blocker. He needs to keep Babin from hurrying or sacking Weeden for the Browns to run their offense efficiently. Schwartz might get a break if Babin can’t play.
Injuries of note: LB James-Michael Johnson (oblique) was going to start on the outside due to the loss of Chris Gocong (season-ending Achilles surgery) and before's Friday's court decision allowing Scott Fujita to play. But with Fujita back, the Browns' linebacker situation has signficantly improved, and they won't have to rely as much on inexperienced players.
Inside stuff: The Browns' special teams have suffered since they lost coach Brad Seely to the 49ers after the 2010 season. They ranked at the top of the league in special teams efficiency during his tenure in Cleveland, but their coverage units performed poorly last year and have shown no improvement. The Browns had two punts blocked in four preseason games.
Connections: Most folks are aware that Browns' coach Pat Shurmur and GM Tom Heckert worked with Eagles' coach Andy Reid in Philadelphia and that Reid worked under Browns' president Mike Holmgren in Green Bay. But much of the talk in Cleveland these days is about rookie DB Davis Sims, whom the Browns traded to the Eagles last week. The Browns scoffed at the notion that a team should not trade a player to its Week 1 opponent.
Stat you should know: The Eagles and Browns both yielded an average of 4.4 yards per rush in 2011. Chances are strong that both McCoy and Browns' rookie Trent Richardson will enjoy some success. The reps for Richardson, who returned from arthroscopic knee surgery this week, could be limited.
Looking ahead: Aren’t teams with 4-12 records supposed to have easy schedules the next year? The Browns’ schedule is brutal -- and it doesn’t get any easier. A victory over the Eagles would provide badly needed momentum and confidence when they play Cincinnati, Buffalo, Baltimore and the Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the following weeks.
Prediction: Eagles 27, Browns 16
Stay dialed in on the Cleveland Browns on Twitter at @CBSSportsNFLCLE throughout the season with on-site updates from CBSSports.com RapidReports correspondent Marty Gitlin.