Since the franchise returned to the NFL in 1999, fans have often been hopelessly optimistic about the Cleveland Browns ahead of a new season. That optimism is finally justified.
The Browns finished 7-8-1 in 2018, their best record since 2007. In Myles Garrett, Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Denzel Ward and David Njoku, Cleveland has a dynamic group of young players who will take the team forward.
General manager John Dorsey raised expectations even higher by acquiring Odell Beckham Jr. and Olivier Vernon from the New York Giants and signing Sheldon Richardson. The Browns haven’t reached the playoffs since 2002, but anything short of a postseason trip will feel like a disappointment in 2019.
Following the NFL’s official release Wednesday, here’s a look at Cleveland’s schedule as the team prepares to challenge for a division title.
Browns’ 2019 Schedule
Week 1: vs. Tennessee Titans on Sept. 8 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 2: at New York Jets on Sept. 16 at 8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
Week 3: vs. Los Angeles Rams on Sept. 22 at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC
Week 4: at Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 29 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 5: at San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 7 at 8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
Week 6: vs. Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 13 at 1 p.m. ET on Fox
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: at New England Patriots on Oct. 27 at 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 9: at Denver Broncos on Nov. 3 at 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 10: vs. Buffalo Bills on Nov. 10 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 11: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 14 at 8:20 p.m. ET on Fox/NFL Network/Amazon
Week 12: vs. Miami Dolphins on Nov. 24 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 13: at Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 1 at 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 14: vs. Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 8 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 15: at Arizona Cardinals on Dec. 15 at 4:05 p.m. on CBS
Week 16: vs. Baltimore Ravens on Dec. 22 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS
Week 17: at Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 29 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 30: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots looks on during the game against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on December 30, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Outside of their division, the Browns drew the AFC East and NFC West, which means games against the reigning AFC and NFC champions. Cleveland plays the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Week 8 and the Los Angeles Rams at home in Week 3.
Games against the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers will be tricky, too. The Seahawks are fresh off their sixth playoff trip in seven seasons. The 49ers will have Jimmy Garoppolo and Jerick McKinnon back healthy and added Dee Ford and Kwon Alexander to strengthen their defense.
All things considered, though, the Browns received a generally favorable draw.
As much as Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores wants to insist the team isn’t rebuilding in 2019, Miami’s roster says otherwise.
The Tennessee Titans, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos fall into the same group for the most part. They could challenge for the playoffs but seem more likely to finish in the bottom half of the NFL. Those are winnable games for the Browns.
Although the 2019 slate isn’t a cakewalk for Cleveland, it’s not a murderers’ row of the league’s best, either.
CLEVELAND, OH – SEPTEMBER 09: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers gets sacked by Myles Garrett #95 of the Cleveland Browns in front of Alejandro Villanueva #78 during the first quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 9, 2018 in Cleveland
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Sometimes the most obvious answer is the correct one.
The Cincinnati Bengals are the clear anchor of the division. They fired Marvin Lewis and hired 35-year-old Zac Taylor, joining the group of teams trying to pluck assistants from the Sean McVay coaching tree.
Beyond that, the Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens could all reasonably stake a claim as the best team in the AFC North while simultaneously having big questions to answer in the year ahead.
Cleveland played well while having the lowest possible bar for success. Going from the hunter to the hunted will be a new experience for many of the team’s players in the race for the playoffs.
The Steelers have to fill the void left by Antonio Brown. JuJu Smith-Schuster takes over as the No. 1 wideout and should be a natural in the role. That doesn’t change the fact Pittsburgh is down a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver.
After slipping from ninth to 13th in defensive efficiency, per Football Outsiders, Pittsburgh made few additions to its defense as well.
The Ravens will have the luxury of a full season with Lamar Jackson under center, which is good, and Baltimore was third in defensive efficiency.
The team’s receiving corps still leaves a lot to be desired, and fans shouldn’t assume Jackson’s development is completely linear. He might take a step or two backward as teams gain more evidence in identifying and exploiting his flaws.
In general, the fight between the Browns, Ravens and Steelers will be a lot of fun to watch, and the stakes should be high when they step on the field against one another.