The Browns better come out of the gate ready to rumble.
Three of their first four games are against AFC North opponents, including the opener at home Sept. 10 against the Bengals. Four of the first five are at Cleveland Browns Stadium, with a Week 5 bye thrown in.
The early stretch also features the first of two scheduled primetime games. The Browns play at Pittsburgh in Week 2 on Monday night, Sept. 18.
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The second primetime game is in Week 17, a home Thursday night game Dec. 28 against Aaron Rodgers and the New York Jets. The regular season concludes the following week at Cincinnati, with the date and time to be determined. The final two games could have major AFC playoff implications.
“Everybody loves schedule release day,” coach Kevin Stefanski said in the news release Thursday. “It’s fun to finally see when all the games are happening, and to open it up with the division champs in the Battle of Ohio in front of our fans is outstanding. I know our players, coaches and staff are excited to get going at home right away in the AFC North.”
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Much of the conversation heading into last year focused on the need to start fast to take advantage of the early opponents while quarterback Deshaun Watson served an 11-game suspension. The Browns began 2-2 with a pair of late losses on the way to finishing 7-10 and missing the playoffs for the second straight year.
A good beginning this season will be necessary to capitalize on the run of home games and seize the opportunity to take a lead in the division.
The pressure will be on Watson to keep up with the AFC’s best quarterbacks and play much better than he did in the final six games a year ago, his first regular-season action since the end of 2020.
The Browns play Week 1 at home for the first time since 2019, with a 1 o’clock kickoff against the Bengals. Cleveland won at Carolina in the final seconds a year ago for its first opening win since 2004.
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The Browns visit the Steelers in Week 2 to open with two straight AFC North foes for just the third time (2017 and 2020), then return home to face the Titans and Ravens. They’ll complete a circuit of the division within the first four weeks.
“It’s certainly a unique way to start the season, but I think it’s really cool,” Stefanski said. “I think we have the best division in football — a bunch of great players and great coaches.
“We know each other so well and we’ve played each other so many times. It lends itself to a great rivalry, so to see the Bengals in Week 1, Steelers in Week 2 and Ravens in Week 4 means there’s no easing into this one.”
Teams usually prefer byes in the middle of the schedule, but having one the first week of October could come in handy given the longer training camp and preseason — an extra week and game because of the Hall of Fame Game in Canton on Aug. 3 — and the stressful start to the regular season.
The Browns stay at home Oct. 15 coming off the bye to face the 49ers, who lost in the NFC Championship Game last season. Then come the first flights of the season.
The Browns visit Indianapolis and Seattle back-to-back, beginning a stretch of five road games in seven weeks. The season’s other consecutive road games are at Denver and the Los Angeles Rams on Nov 26 and Dec. 3. The Browns head west three times — Seattle on Oct. 29 — and wanted two together, with the idea of staying on the road between them.
“We like having the bye week where it is,” Stefanski said. “It’s going to be four really tough games to start and then we’ll take a breather. Then we’ll have a great opportunity in front of us with a home game against a very, very good 49ers team, and then we get on the road against some really good teams.
“That’s the meat of our schedule — being on the road and trying to find a way to win against really good opponents. That’s the competitive aspect of this I think our guys are excited about.”
The middle part of the schedule includes a trip to Baltimore on Nov. 12 followed by a home game vs. the Steelers on Nov. 19. That leaves only one AFC North game over the last seven weeks, the finale at Cincinnati, the reigning division champ.
Cleveland open and close against the same opponent for only the fifth time — 1956, 1957, 1963 and 2017. The date and time of the finale will be decided after Week 17.
The Browns play Dec. 24 in Houston, where Watson returned from suspension last season. He was drafted in 2017 by the Texans, who traded him to the Browns last March.
The finish to the season should be fun.
The Browns have a quick turnaround after Christmas Eve, hosting the Jets on Thursday night in the home finale. The Browns have won seven straight home Thursday night games and five in a row overall on Thursday night.
“We love night games, and we love Thursday night games particularly when we’re at home,” Stefanski said. “It’s just such a cool time for our fans to get under the lights and make a huge difference in the game like they do. As competitors, you want to play in those games because you know the whole country’s watching.”
Besides the two in primetime and the games at Seattle, Denver and Los Angeles, the kickoffs are scheduled for 1 p.m.
The league’s flexible scheduling starts in Week 5, which could move a game to Sunday night. Games could be moved to Monday night in Weeks 13-17.
The Browns have nine home games in the 17-game schedule, as the AFC gets the extra home game in odd years.
CLEVELAND BROWNS 2023 SCHEDULE
Week Date Opponent Time TV
1 Aug. 3 New York Jets (HOF Game) 8 p.m. NBC
2 TBD Washington Commanders TBD TBD
3 TBD at Philadelphia Eagles TBD TBD
4 TBD at Kansas City Chiefs TBD TBD
1 Sept. 10 Cincinnati Bengals 1 p.m. CBS
2 Sep. 18 (Monday) at Pittsburgh Steelers 8:15 p.m. ABC
3 Sep. 24 Tennessee Titans 1 p.m. CBS
4 Oct. 1 Baltimore Ravens 1 p.m. CBS
6 Oct. 15 San Francisco 49ers 1 p.m. FOX
7 Oct. 22 at Indianapolis Colts 1 p.m. CBS
8 Oct. 29 at Seattle Seahawks 4:05 p.m. FOX
9 Nov. 5 Arizona Cardinals 1 p.m. CBS
10 Nov. 12 at Baltimore Ravens 1 p.m. FOX
11 Nov. 19 Pittsburgh Steelers 1 p.m. CBS
12 Nov. 26 at Denver Broncos 4:05 p.m. FOX
13 Dec. 3 at Los Angeles Rams 4:25 p.m. FOX
14 Dec. 10 Jacksonville Jaguars 1 p.m. CBS
15 TBD Chicago Bears TBD TBD
16 Dec. 24 at Houston Texans 1 p.m. CBS
17 Dec. 28 (Thursday) New York Jets 8:15 p.m. Prime Video
18 TBD at Cincinnati Bengals TBD TBD