The Browns are preparing to do something Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium that hasn't happened in an NFL regular season for 30 years.
No team since 1991 has played the same opponent in consecutive regular season games, but that streak is set to end when the Browns host the Ravens two weeks after playing them in Baltimore in Week 12. The scheduling quirk was one of the most discussed topics when the Browns' schedule was released in the spring, and they believe it can be an advantage as they return from the bye week hungry for a divisional win.
"It's a home and home," coach Kevin Stefanski said. "It is different, but I think the guys are excited about the challenge. You know your division opponents so well, and we have a great amount of respect for them."
The Browns couldn't be more prepared, once again' prepare for the Ravens. They've already spent hours reviewing film from the previous game in Baltimore and will have a full week to break down the tape from the Ravens' loss to Pittsburgh from Sunday. That game, of course, was watched in real time by several Browns players and coaches during the bye weekend.
Despite the wealth of time to review film and explore ways for better results from the 16-10 loss in Week 12, the Browns aren't taking any shortcuts when it comes to their normal weekly preparations. The previous film will be watched again, no matter how many times others have watched it, and the Browns will spend plenty of work on the practice fields orchestrating new looks to attack Baltimore, which is first place in the AFC North but certainly vulnerable after its Week 13 defeat.
And if there were any question, the Browns will spend plenty of time reviewing what the Steelers did Sunday to stop the Ravens, too.
"We really have our game and the Pittsburgh game as new tape, if you will, that we did not have available to us when we were game-planning previously," Stefanski said. "We will certainly stay into our normal rhythm of how we game plan with that tape at our disposal."
The Browns will benefit, too, from having another recent game for the Ravens to review, but they're not anticipating a significant edge in that regard. It's still a divisional game and the fourth against the Ravens since Stefanski has been the Browns' coach, so the ways for which the Browns could show the Ravens anything new are limited.
That places even more importance for the Browns to execute their own game plan and limit "fundamental" mistakes. LB Anthony Walker Jr. used that word several times in his answer about what it means to play back-to-back games, and the Browns should be in a good position to live up to that notion after embracing the ample rest from the bye week.
"This is a fundamental game," Walker said. "It's no secret what we do and what they do. This game is going to come down to the team that does the little things. Scheme-wise, you throw a couple wrinkles or a new wrinkle, but your fundamentals and your foundation, that's what you work on."
Even though a regular-season schedule hasn't featured a team playing the same opponent in back-to-back years in three decades, the Browns still have recent experience in that area — they played the Steelers in back-to-back weeks last year after they beat them in Week 17, and then they beat them by an even bigger margin in the first round of the playoffs.
The Browns need to find similar success in that scheduling format again to kickstart a late-season playoff run. At 6-6, they may need to win their last five games to control their playoff hopes, but they're smartly taking things one game at a time.
Luckily for them, that next game will simply be a rematch of their last.