6 Burning Questions Ahead of Tonight’s Browns Schedule Release, the Most Important Sporting Event in Cleveland This Month

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click to enlarge 6 Burning Questions Ahead of Tonight’s Browns Schedule Release, the Most Important Sporting Event in Cleveland This Month
Photo by Emanuel Wallace

In the two decades since Browns football returned to afflict the hearts and minds of Clevelanders, April’s NFL draft has generally marked the apex of each calendar year for fans of the franchise. Outside of some notable exceptions, the myriad losses all seem to blend together, but you probably remember exactly where you were when the likes of Tim Couch and Johnny Manziel received the cursed status of “Cleveland Browns first-round draft pick.” When it came time for Kevin Costner to star in a mediocre film about the draft-industrial complex, it’s no wonder that he portrayed the general manager of the Browns. Draft day is Cleveland’s version of collective seppuku.

But with the Browns having traded away their 2019 first-round pick in a deal for Odell Beckham Jr. (maybe you’ve heard?), next week’s draft feels more like an afterthought than a crucial opportunity for roster-building. Which isn’t to say that Browns fans’ enthusiasm for springtime football matters has dampened at all, as evidenced by Beckham’s Tribe opening-day-upstaging introductory press conference. Of course, April also includes another football-adjacent event that has somehow become a full-fledged media bonanza: the release of the NFL’s regular-season schedule, which will be unveiled in a two-hour special tonight at 8:00 on NFL Network.

While we already know the Browns’ 2019 opponents, the order in which they play them remains a mystery, for a few more hours at least. Anticipation for the upcoming season is at an all-time high—as are the Browns’ odds to win the AFC North—and there’s every reason to believe that the NFL’s schedule fairies will feature the orange helmets in primetime as much as possible. Instead of drooling over college quarterback prospects for the umpteenth year in a row, fans are retweeting dubious schedule leaks and shelling out $50-$100 for lower-level seats to the Great Lakes Classic. It’s the dawn of a new era of professional football in Cleveland, at least until the season starts.

What is this madness? Are schedule release parties going to become a legitimate local phenomenon? How will the Muni Lot degenerates handle frequent late afternoon and night kickoffs? To answer these and other burning questions surrounding the Browns’ schedule—six, to be exact, in honor of Baker Mayfield—feel free to consult this guide to the latest leaks, rumors, and utterly baseless speculation.

Has Odell Beckham Jr. really seen the finalized schedule?

Beckham claims to have seen the schedule and wrote “See u week one” (followed by a shrug emoji, natch) in an Instagram comment to Jets safety Jamal Adams. Consequently, the newly hideous Jets are expected to host the Browns in Week 1, even though the NFL is notoriously secretive when it comes to schedule details. But hey, maybe Roger Goodell wanted to run things by his good pal OBJ.

2019 also happens to mark the 50th year of Monday Night Football, igniting the widespread belief that the Browns’ trip to MetLife Stadium will nab the early slot of the traditional Week 1 Monday night doubleheader. After all, Browns-Jets would be a rematch of the inaugural edition of MNF and certainly boasts national appeal: Both teams recently added skill-position superstars—Beckham, obviously, for the Browns; Le’Veon Bell for the Jets—and are trendy picks to contend for the playoffs this season, to say nothing of their unforgettable, Bud Light-soaked tilt last year. Baker-Darnold II under the Monday night lights makes a lot of sense in Week 1, but it’s not the only possibility.

Are the Patriots still in play for the opener?

Last month, Uproxx’s Jordan Zirm, who may have sources in the Browns organization by virtue of his association with Joe Thomas and Andrew Hawkins’s ThomaHawk podcast, suggested that the Browns opening their season in New England was all but guaranteed.

This potential Week 1 matchup picked up steam in the wake of the Beckham trade, and the Browns are one of maybe five teams that could reasonably serve as the Patriots’ opponent for the first Sunday Night Football game of the year. (Yes, typically the defending Super Bowl champs kickoff the season on Thursday night, but the NFL is switching it up this year.) That said, Beckham’s portentous Instagram comment caused the buzz for this to fizzle out, and the Chiefs are a safer, more obvious Week 1 opponent for the Patriots. As exciting as the Browns seem poised to be, it’d be hard for the NFL to justify passing on an AFC title game rematch in favor of a team that just went 7-8-1.

Browns fans should be rooting for an early road trip to Foxborough, though. Over the past five seasons, the Patriots have posted a .650 winning percentage in Weeks 1-4 compared to a daunting .817 winning percentage in Weeks 5-17.

What other primetime opportunities abound for the Browns in 2019?

In addition to the aforementioned Jets and Patriots matchups and all four games against the Steelers and the Ravens, I see four more possible primetime opponents on the Browns’ docket: Rams (home), Seahawks (home), 49ers (away; you know Kyle Shanahan has been itching for a shot at the Browns ever since dropping the PowerPoint Heard ‘Round the North Coast), and Cardinals (away). Sure, Arizona may have finished 3-13 last year, but Browns-Cardinals will be must-see TV on account of Mayfield’s well-documented beef with Kliff Kingsbury. If Damarious Randall happens to intercept a Kyler Murray pass, I fully expect him to hand the ball to the famed Ryan Gosling doppelganger.

How often will Browns fans get to enjoy the predictive stylings of Tony Romo?

In Week 17 of last year, Tony Romo finally worked a Browns game after nearly two full seasons as the golden boy of the NFL announcing world. This season, it’s likely that only Jim Donovan and Doug Dieken will call more Browns games than Romo and Jim Nantz, provided the latter is able to recover from his Tiger Woods-induced stroke. With the exception of the Rams and Seahawks games (which Fox will probably own the rights to), CBS is liable to showcase any of the matchups listed above in Nantz and Romo’s standard 4:25 p.m. timeslot, barring placement on SNF or MNF. Games against division rivals and road NFC West opponents are especially prime candidates here. Get used to knowing exactly what is going to happen before each play, Cleveland.

What else should astute Browns fans be on the lookout for when the schedule drops tonight?

There’s something about Week 17 games in Pittsburgh and Baltimore that bring out the absolute worst in the Browns. The past nine seasons have all ended with a loss to either the Ravens or the Steelers, and six of those games were on the road. Heinz Field in particular has become a graveyard for ghosts of Browns coaching staffs past, and the sight of the Steelers logo in the Week 17 slot would set a distressingly ominous tone for the season. You know a playoff spot will be on the line, and these things never end well. Please, Roger Goodell, give us the Bengals to end 2019.

Is this all bound to end in disaster?

It will be hard to shake off the 2008 vibes that tonight’s schedule release will undoubtedly supply. That’s the last time the Browns were gifted a bevy of primetime games by the NFL, including their sole appearance on NBC’s Sunday Night Football, and they promptly went 4-12, obliterating their goodwill with the schedule makers for a decade. So tonight should scare Browns fans, but then again, mathematically, we’ve already endured rock bottom. What is dead may never die.

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