MVP Lamar Jackson and the Ravens in Baltimore in Week 1 on Sept. 13.
No. 1 pick Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals four days later in primetime at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The Browns defense, under new coordinator Joe Woods, will be tested immediately by a pair of young and exciting AFC North quarterbacks in Jackson and Burrow. They’ll also provide an early measuring stick for quarterback Baker Mayfield, who will look to bounce back from a disappointing second season.
“Week 1 we get the division champs, we get the reigning MVP,” first-year coach Kevin Stefanski said on the team’s schedule release show. “So we’ll be challenged right out of the gate and I think that’s the fun part of this business is the competitive nature of this league. So something that I know our players will look forward to.”
The NFL released the season schedule Thursday night. The opponents were already known — the Browns play the AFC South and NFC East in addition to their division rivals — just not the order and times.
The NFL plans on starting the season on time and playing a full 16-game schedule, but everything is written in pencil given the uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic. The start of the season could be delayed depending on developments with the virus.
The Browns, who went 6-10 last year in coach Freddie Kitchens’ only season, are scheduled to play two primetime games, both at home — the Bengals in Week 2 and the Ravens on Monday, Dec. 14. No day or time is set for the Week 16 matchup at the New York Jets on Dec. 26 or 27, so that could add another primetime game.
The Browns will open the home portion of their schedule in primetime for the first time since their return to the league in 1999 against the Steelers.
“The schedule, it’s fun for everybody,” Stefanski said. “It’s fun for us coaches, for the fans.”
The opening matchup in Baltimore is an interesting one.
The Browns beat the Ravens 40-25 in Baltimore in Week 4 last year, the Ravens’ last loss of the regular season. Baltimore won 31-15 in Cleveland in Week 16, finished 14-2 and won the AFC North. Jackson was the unanimous MVP choice in his second season.
The Bengals picked Burrow to start the draft after he led LSU to a national championship and won the Heisman Trophy with a record number of first-place votes.
“Playing that first game against Baltimore is going to be a matchup that we’re looking forward to,” Mayfield said. “Quick turnaround with that Thursday night game. We know that’s going to be a different team in Cincinnati than it was last year, that’s for sure.
“Very important for us to start fast, that’s why we’re hitting it hard right now.”
The Browns are 1-19-1 in openers since 1999.
The Browns play no more than two straight road games, have three in a row at home plus the bye (Week 9) in November and finish with a visit from the Steelers on Jan. 3 at 1 p.m.
The Browns go back-to-back inside the AFC North again in Weeks 6 and 7 with trips to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. The Browns split with all three division rivals last season.
All the North teams play the AFC South and NFC East, with the Browns’ unique opponents the Jets and Raiders. The Ravens have the NFL’s easiest strength of schedule based on opponents’ winning percentage in 2019 (.438). The Steelers have the second-easiest (.457), with the Browns fourth-easiest (.461) and the Bengals sixth-easiest (.477).
Houston, Philadelphia, Tennessee and Baltimore are the teams on Cleveland’s schedule that made the playoffs, and the Browns face them over a five-game stretch after the bye week.
“From this chair, I always look at where’s that bye week,” Stefanski said. “So having that bye week right in the middle I think breaks it up nicely.”
The Browns finish against the Steelers for the ninth time in 13 years. They’ll spend Weeks 15 and 16 in New Jersey, taking on the Giants and Jets.
“That’s unique,” Stefanski said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever done that before where you’re staying at the same hotel and playing in the same building. It definitely will be a unique experience.”
The first game at MetLife Stadium will feature receiver Odell Beckham Jr. facing his former team. The Giants drafted him No. 12 in 2014 and he made three Pro Bowls before they traded him to the Browns in March 2019. ESPN’s Jeff Saturday and Marcus Spears picked this matchup as their “most intriguing reunion game” on the NFL slate.
Single-game tickets went on sale online following the schedule release.
If games are canceled or fans aren’t permitted to attend, the Browns will make refund and credit options available to fans who buy the tickets directly from the team.
The preseason schedule was also announced without set dates. The Browns will play the first two games on the road before coming home for the final two.
Week 1 (Aug. 13-17) at Chicago Bears Time TBD
Week 2 (Aug. 20-24) at Green Bay Packers Time TBD
Week 3 (Aug. 30) Minnesota Vikings 4 p.m., FOX
Week 4 (Sept. 3-4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers Time TBD
Week 1: Sept. 13 at Baltimore Ravens 1 p.m., CBS
Week 2: Sept. 17 (Thurs.) Cincinnati Bengals 8:20 p.m., NFLN
Week 3: Sept. 27 Washington Redskins 1 p.m., FOX
Week 4: Oct. 4 at Dallas Cowboys 1 p.m., FOX
Week 5: Oct. 11 Indianapolis Colts 4:25 p.m., CBS
Week 6: Oct. 18 at Pittsburgh Steelers 1 p.m., CBS
Week 7: Oct. 25 at Cincinnati Bengals 1 p.m., CBS
Week 8: Nov. 1 Las Vegas Raiders 1 p.m., FOX
Week 9: Nov. 8 BYE
Week 10: Nov. 15 Houston Texans 1 p.m., FOX
Week 11: Nov. 22 Philadelphia Eagles 1 p.m., FOX
Week 12: Nov. 29 at Jacksonville Jaguars 1 p.m., CBS
Week 13: Dec. 6 at Tennessee Titans 1 p.m., CBS
Week 14: Dec. 14 (Mon.) Baltimore Ravens 8:15 p.m., ESPN
Week 15: Dec. 20 at New York Giants 1 p.m., CBS
Week 16: Dec. 26 or 27 at New York Jets Time TBD
Week 17: Jan. 3 Pittsburgh Steelers 1 p.m., CBS
** Home games in bold