The morning after the NFL released the entire 2019 schedule, we’re breaking down the five biggest storylines from the Browns’ 16-game slate.
1. AFC North won’t be settled until the bitter end
The Browns’ divisional schedule is back-loaded like it’s never been before.
Cleveland’s Week 4 matchup against the Ravens is its only AFC North game in the schedule’s first 10 weeks. By comparison, the Browns had three in the first 10 weeks last season and three in the first four weeks in 2017. That puts even more importance on the home stretch, where the Browns will play five AFC North games over seven weeks.
If the Browns go 5-2 like they did during the final seven games of 2018, they might just be in position to win the AFC North for the first time since its creation in 2002.
2. A primetime-heavy start leaves opportunity for even more
The Browns haven’t had this many primetime games on their schedule in 11 years. Most notably, though, is how they’re distributed.
After a traditional, 1 p.m. kickoff against Tennessee to open the season, the Browns face a stretch of three primetime games over the following four weeks, including their first Sunday Night Football game since 2008 (Week 3, vs. Rams) and multiple Monday Night road games (Week 2, at Jets; Week 5, at 49ers). The fourth and final is against the Steelers on a Thursday night at home in Week 11. Those are locked in and won’t change.
It just doesn’t necessarily mean that’s all of the primetime games Cleveland will play in 2019. With the NFL’s Flexible Scheduling, the Browns could find themselves in a few more if some of their late-season matchups emerge as the top draws of their given week.
Taking care of business in those early primetime games will go a long way toward setting up the Browns for more in the later part of the season.
The Browns' 2019 regular-season schedule has been released. Check out how the season unfolds with this photo gallery.
3. A much-needed breather precedes showdown with the champs
All of those primetime games comes with a bit of a price. The Browns will pay it in full Week 6 when they host Seattle just six days after their Monday Night Football matchup with the 49ers on the other side of the country.
A much-needed bye week follows in Week 7. All things considered, it comes at an ideal time both for what precedes and succeeds it, as one of the most highly anticipated games on the NFL’s schedule falls in Week 8, when the Browns travel to New England to take on the Super Bowl LIII champs.
Cleveland played arguably its best game of the season last year after its bye, absolutely dominating the Bengals in a 35-20 victory that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. The Patriots, meanwhile, will be coming off a short week after a Week 7 Monday Night matchup with the Jets in New York.
4. Blink and you might miss both of Cleveland’s games vs. Pittsburgh
Remember when the Browns opened and closed the 2017 season against the Steelers. The 2019 experience will be much, much different.
The Browns’ first game against the Steelers is set for Thursday Night Football in Week 11. That’s about as late as it gets in the team’s history. What follows is even rarer, as the Browns and Steelers square off again just 18 days later for a Week 13 showdown in Pittsburgh.
Without that quirk, the relative brevity between the Browns’ two games against the Bengals (Week 14 and Week 17) would have stood out much more. Instead, it looks like an eternity.
5. Double-check your kickoff times
The Browns are a long way from 2017 in plenty of ways, and that very much includes the schedule. Cleveland’s 2017 slate had a whopping 14 games at 1 p.m., with the lone exceptions being the team’s 9:30 a.m. start against the Vikings in London and a 4:05 p.m. start (1:05 p.m. local) against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Not only do the Browns have their most primetime games in 11 years, but they also have a wide variety of start times that will keep fans on their toes from week to week. Cleveland has back-to-back 1 p.m. kicks just once in the schedule, and that doesn’t come until Weeks 16 and 17.
Four of the Browns’ 16 games start in the 4 p.m. hour to go along with the four primetime kickoffs. That leaves a mere eight at the traditional, 1 p.m. hour.