The schedule may not be the only thing, but don’t say it is nothing.
When the 2018 Browns won five of their last seven games, all of the victories came against teams that had losing seasons.
The 2019 season of dreams crashed when the Browns dropped five of their first seven games. The schedule was a huge factor. Losses came against both defending conference champions (Rams, Patriots), the eventual 2019 NFC king (49ers), a perennial playoff team (Seahawks) and a team (Titans) that went on to beat New England and Baltimore in the playoffs.
The 2020 schedule, revealed Thursday night, shapes up as easier overall, and much lighter in the first half than last year’s.
The opener is Sept. 13 at Baltimore, which on the surface is a killer, in that the Ravens were 14-2 in 2019, not to mention the Browns’ disturbing 1-19-1 record in expansion-era season openers. Except, the Browns’ brightest win in a 6-10 season was at Baltimore last September.
None of the next seven 2020 opponents (Bengals, Redskins, Cowboys, Colts, Steelers, Bengals again, Raiders) had a winning record in 2019.
The bye comes at the midway point, followed by a second half including four 2019 playoff teams (Texans, Eagles, Titans, Ravens). After a Nov. 22 home game against the Eagles, four of the next five games will be on the road.
Two of those road games will be in New Jersey, wrapped around Christmas Day. The Giants (Dec. 20) were 4-12 in 2019, prompting the firing of Pat Shurmur. The Jets (Dec. 26 or 27) were 7-9, including a loss to Cleveland for the second straight year.
The regular season wraps up with a Jan. 3 home game against Pittsburgh. It is the eighth “closing day” against the Steelers in the last 11 seasons.
“It’s really an exciting day when you get this schedule,” Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski said in a statement released by the team Thursday evening. “As coaches, we start to put some plans in place.
“Our focus is on what we’re doing right now in the offseason program. Now we know the Ravens game is out on the horizon.”
CBS Sports devised a formula that rates Cleveland’s schedule as third easiest in the league, tied with Baltimore’s.
The annual spring schedule release normally brings showers of 1 p.m. Sunday games for the Browns. Last year was a earthquake of an exception, with four prime-time national TV dates within the first 10 games.
The league backed off on featuring the Browns in 2020, but there are still two prime-time, national-TV games — Sept. 17 (a Thursday) at home against Cincinnati, and Dec. 14 (a Monday) at home against Baltimore.
An Oct. 11 home game against the Colts is in the featured time slot of 4:25 p.m. Game 15 against the Jets will be played on Saturday or Sunday at a time to be named when the league figures out who the hot teams are in 2020.
The 2017 Browns played 1 o’clock games 14 times, the only exceptions being contests at 9:30 a.m. Ohio time (in London, vs. the Vikings) and 4:05 p.m. Ohio time (in California, vs. the Chargers). The 2018 schedule include 13 games that kicked off at 1 p.m. on a Sunday, one Thursday night game early in the season, and a December game at Denver that was flexed into prime time after the Browns got hot.
The 2020 schedule also encompasses:
• Three of the recent draft’s top four overall picks (Joe Burrow, Bengals; Chase Young, Redskins; Andrew Thomas, Giants).
• Three of the first four wideouts to be drafted (Henry Ruggs III, Raiders; CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys; Jalen Reagor, Eagles).
• One first-time head coach (Joe Judge, Giants).
Of course, all 16 Browns opponents will be playing against a first-time head coach, Stefanski.
Another observation from Stefanski about the schedule, forwarded by the team:
“A lot of times we break the season into quarters, so it does make it easier when the bye is right smack in the middle there. We’ve got the first eight games, and then know we have an eight-game stretch after that.”