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5 intriguing moments in the Browns' 2021 schedule

Cleveland’s 2021 schedule features plenty of big-time matchups in big-time spots

It's easy to pick out some of the biggest games on the Browns' 2021 schedule, but we're taking a slightly different perspective for this exercise.

We're identifying five of the biggest moments, which can vary in definition and length. As you'll see, some are singular and some can stretch for as long as a month.

1) Big Opener = Big Opportunity

This was the headline-maker all throughout Wednesday. The Browns are going right back to Kansas City, where they capped a memorable 2020 season with a loss in the AFC Divisional Round to the defending Super Bowl champs. The Chiefs would go on to play in their second straight Super Bowl, but a lopsided loss to the Buccaneers all but ensures the Browns will face a hungry, remodeled team looking for a little redemption to start the season.

This will be a much different matchup than last year's — Cleveland has completely overhauled its defense and Kansas City did the same to its offensive line — but one thing remains the same: Both teams are very, very good. That's why it'll be one of four games the country will see in the late-afternoon window to open the season.

A win in Kansas City would not only erase years of tough, season-opening history for the Browns, but it would also provide a heck of a momentum boost going into back-to-back games at FirstEnergy Stadium. 

No matter the result, both teams likely exit Week 1 thinking they'll be seeing each other again in January.

2) A 3-Game Glimpse Into The Future of the NFL

Nothing's set in stone at this point, but the Browns could experience a four-game stretch early in the season against three of the league's most promising, young quarterbacks.

It could all start Week 3 against the Bears, who recently made Justin Fields their first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The former Ohio State star will be competing with veteran Andy Dalton, an incredibly familiar face at FirstEnergy Stadium, and could very well be starting for Chicago by the time it travels to Cleveland.

Then, after a trip to Minnesota, the Browns head to Los Angeles to face the Chargers, who are led by reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert. The second-year quarterback will be playing behind a much-improved offensive line and alongside a defense that should be boosted by the return of Derwin James and the addition of Asante Samuel Jr. in the draft.

One week later, the Browns will get another shot at trying to slow down Kyler Murray, the former No. 1 overall pick and leader of the Cardinals. When the teams last faced each other in 2019, Murray had one of his best games as a rookie, throwing for 219 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 56 yards on just eight attempts.

The Browns' 2021 regular-season schedule has been released. Check out how the season unfolds with this photo gallery

3) 6 In 10

No one in the NFL gets a later start to division play than the Browns, who open their AFC North slate with a Halloween game against the Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium. From there, the Browns head to Cincinnati for Week 9 and then play four of their final six games against AFC North teams.

The old cliche is division games count twice, and that's true in a sense. It just shouldn't discredit the importance of the Browns' first seven games, which will have a massive impact on where the team will find itself in the AFC North when it embarks on this six-and-10 stretch.

Timing is everything with these games. Just think back to last year. How much better were the Browns the second time they squared off against the Ravens and Steelers than they were the first time in 2020? And just think how different the experience was for those who faced the Bengals with Joe Burrow than the ones who faced them without him.

No matter how good or bad the first half of the season goes for the Browns, they'll need to bring their best in a second half full of division matchups.

4) A Double Dip

There's quirks, and then there's what the Browns get to experience with the Ravens.

For just the second time in team history and first time in 64 years, the Browns will play consecutive regular season games against the same opponent. The Browns get a bye week sandwiched between their two games against Baltimore, the first of which will be a primetime, nationally televised matchup on the Ravens' home field. The Ravens, meanwhile, get a game with the Steelers sandwiched between their showdowns with the Browns.

Though this is pretty rare in a historic sense, this version of the Browns shouldn't have much of an issue with it. Just last year, they beat the Steelers in back-to-back games in back-to-back weeks, first to clinch a playoff spot and then to collect the franchise's first playoff victory in 26 years.

Simply put, these are two massive games that will go a long way in determining the AFC North … and they just happen to fall in a three-week window.

5) All Eyes On The Final Stretch

The Browns will be playing in front of big audiences during what they hope will be a playoff push.

Cleveland has four national spotlight games on its schedule, and three of them occur in the final third of the schedule, starting with a Week 12, Sunday Night Football game at Baltimore and continuing with its Christmas Day game at Green Bay and a Week 17 Monday Night Football matchup with the Steelers. 

There's an opportunity for at least one more nationally televised game during that stretch, as Cleveland's Week 15 game with the Raiders at FirstEnergy Stadium could be played on a Saturday or Sunday. If it's slotted for Saturday, odds are it would be the only game playing at that time.

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