Hello, friends. Some might call this the game of the regular season – at least for the up-and-coming Browns as they take on former head coach Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champions. It was thought that this one was destined for NBC’s Sunday Night Football, but it gets the prime CBS national afternoon window at 4:25 with Jim Nantz and Tony Romo in the booth. Browns-Pats takes the hype title on the schedule.
A battle of the top two quarterbacks from the 2018 NFL Draft – No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield v. No. 3 pick Sam Darnold Episode II – wraps up the second week of the regular season. Mayfield bested Darnold last year in Cleveland that saw the Browns end their 19-game winless streak. New Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr. returns to MetLife Stadium where he played for five seasons with the Giants. Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who served as the Browns’ defensive coordinator for the previous two years, went 5-3 as interim coach before being passed over for the full-time job. With Monday Night Football celebrating its 50th season, there was no way ESPN would pass up a chance to put the combatants from the original broadcast in 1970 on their schedule.
What needs to be said? The Browns finally have a team capable of rekindling what was once one of the greatest rivalries turned lopsided by the Steelers in the expansion era and the TV networks are all in with Fox-NFL Network-Amazon Prime getting the Thursday night affair in Cleveland and CBS grabbing the prime Sunday afternoon slot for the meeting in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, the Browns won’t get much rest leading up to the first one as they’ll play it four days after hosting the Bills. Ben Roethlisberger, who has owned the Browns in his career, is the lone member of the ‘killer B’s’ that remain. After years of the Steelers punishing Browns quarterbacks and setting off multiple coaching changes in Cleveland with victories, Pittsburgh appears to be in disarray following the departures of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell and if there was ever a time for some revenge, these two games should have the Browns salivating.
Mayfield v. Lamar Jackson has the potential to become one of the most entertaining matchups in the division, if not the AFC, provided Jackson lives up to expectations in Baltimore. The Ravens are all in the shifty and speedy Jackson but on paper their defense took a hit with the loss of four starters this offseason. Like the Steelers, the Ravens have celebrated plenty at the Browns’ expense over the years and opportunity knocks for Cleveland to bump the Baltimore birds from their divisional perch.
If you thought Mayfield dropping 35 on Hue Jackson and the Bengals at Cincinnati last year was something, wait until we see what he does to head coach Kliff Kingsbury and the Cardinals. Mayfield felt Kingsbury abandoned him following an MCL sprain as a freshman at Texas Tech, but not being offered a scholarship was the last straw and prompted the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner to transfer to Oklahoma. With the Cardinals expected to trade Josh Rosen, selected 10th overall last year, and draft Kyler Murray with the first pick, Mayfield would square off with his Heisman-winning successor from Oklahoma. Throw in Kitchens’ Arizona roots working for former head coach Bruce Arians and the drama leading up to this one should be fun.
This will be a rematch of last year’s Saturday night classic that saw the Browns narrowly escape with a 17-16 victory to keep faint playoff hopes alive for a few more hours. The Browns will square off against a familiar foe under center – Joe Flacco, who was traded to the Mile-High city this offseason. Like Roethlisberger, Flacco has owned the Browns over the years. Von Miller and Bradley Chubb look to make it a long afternoon at the office for Mayfield and company.
The Browns will kick off their 20th anniversary season since returning to the NFL against the Titans, who won nine games last season, marking the 13th time since 1999 they do not open against a divisional foe. The Browns will try to start a season 1-0 for the first time since a 20-3 week-one win over the Baltimore Ravens in 2004 and only the second time since 1999, which is why this game will draw some interest. A victory would set a positive tone heading into back-to-back primetime games at the Jets and home against the Rams.
With quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo making his return from a torn ACL this year coupled with the 49ers currently holding the second pick in the draft, hosting the Browns made San Francisco worthy of a Monday Night Football appearance. After being traded by the Patriots in 2017, Garoppolo turned the 49ers into an instant winner and he is 6-2 overall as their starter. Of the four primetime games, this one has the least amount of sizzle – for now.
Mayfield will square off with another member of the 2018 QB class when Josh Allen and the Bills roll into town. Allen was passed on by the Browns and taken seventh overall by Buffalo. Otherwise this one could be the snoozefest of the season when it comes to hype.
This one is right behind the Bills on the schedule that elicits a collective yawn, mostly because not much is expected of the Dolphins this year as they re-tool, re-build or just try to figure out exactly they’re trying to do on south beach.
Let’s be honest, does anybody outside of Cincinnati (or Adam ‘The Bull’) care about the Bengals? They’ve replaced the Browns in the basement of the division and irrelevance in the league. Playing their in-state rivals in December twice gives the Browns an opportunity to pick up a pair of crucial victories down the stretch that hopefully helps secure a playoff berth and maybe the long awaited divisional title too.