The Browns' 2008-2009 NFL schedule was released on Tuesday, and I think the overall consensus is that we're ready for the test. In the poll I ran the past few days, 82% of you were ecstatic about the team receiving five primetime games, 17% of you were indifferent about it, and one lonely person was disappointed (if you were that one person, please feel free to elaborate).
Those five primetime games don't even include the fact that our Week 1 game against the Cowboys will be nationally televised on FOX. I feel like the Browns should be the underdogs heading into Week 1, despite going 7-1 at home last season -- after all, Dallas is still "America's Team", and they still have one of the most complete teams in football. It's a perfect evaluation for the Browns right off the bat to either prove that we're contenders...or if we still have a lot to work on.
Last season, we faced three of our division rivals within the first four weeks of the season. The same holds true this season, as we face the Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals, respectively, from Week 2 to Week 4. After a bye in Week 5, we'll have another big test in the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants on Monday Night Football. This will arguably be our best Monday Night game since our return to the league, since it'll take place in Cleveland Browns Stadium (and, I think we've only had one Monday Nighter since our return to the league vs. St. Louis).
The next interesting part of our schedule takes place from Week 10 to Week 11. We face the Denver Broncos on Thursday Night Football on November 6, just four days after we play the Baltimore Ravens in Week 9. In Week 11, we face the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football, which is the longest possible break you can have between two weeks beyond the bye week portion of the season. After the Buffalo game, we play the Texans only six days later in Week 12. To say the very least, our feeling of being used to seeing the Browns play every Sunday will be altered significantly.
Flex games can occur between Week 11-17 this season. The maximum number of primetime games a team can have during a season is six, and that's why the league has only scheduled teams like the Browns, Cowboys, and Colts for five primetime games (so each has the option to be flexed at least once).
Let's take an early look at possible flex games for the Browns:
- Week 11: We face the Bills on MNF, so it's not an option.
- Week 12: The Texans will still be looked at as an expansion team.
- Week 13: I'd love to play the Colts with Madden and Michaels calling the action. And, if the Colts don't get flexed in Week 11 or Week 12, they will certainly be an attractive option here if both teams are contending.
- Week 14: I see more worthy games on the schedule than Browns vs. Titans.
- Week 15: We face the Eagles on MNF, so it's not an option.
- Week 16: "The Bengals aren't ready for primetime."
- Week 17: This is the one with the best chance in my opinion. As much as I hate the Steelers, they still obviously have the best chance at being our toughest competition in the division. Unlike last year, we may have a chance in the final week of the season to determine the winners of the AFC North.
Basically, it seems like the games against the Colts and the Steelers have the highest probability to be flexed, giving us six primetime games. That's more than 1/3 of our schedule that will be showcased to the country. Are the Browns ready for that type of hype though? Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer doesn't think so:
"I was as shocked as anybody to see that because they're still a ways away from being a ..."
Palmer's voice tailed off.
"They weren't even in the playoffs," he said.
"I think it's a lot of hype early," Palmer said. "Just like every year, there's hype around one or two teams early. It'll fizzle out once they start playing games."
I'm sure part of Palmer's words are in spite of the Browns. On the same note though, if you look at his statement in a "general" sense, he may have a point. In the past couple of years, teams like the Raiders and Dolphins were hyped as the darlings of the NFL, only to see them fall flat on their face. There's a significant difference between those hyped teams that Palmer talked about and the Browns though. The Raiders were hyped when they got Aaron Brooks and Randy Moss in the offseason. The Dolphins were hyped when they got Daunte Culpepper and several other new additions in an offseason. Neither team had performed significantly well in their previous season though.
The Browns went 10-6. And, if the Colts had played seriously in Week 17, we would've been in the playoffs. I still have bitterness towards the Bengals because they also played a role in ending our playoff hopes last season (with help from Derek Anderson). We also face the Bengals in Week 16 this season.
Every game seems to have a back-story this season. Whether or not that benefits the Browns on gameday remains to be seen, but I know it'll make everything that much more exciting from a fan's perspective.