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Browns and Sunday Night Football an imperfect match

It’s fun to speculate, but the reality of the schedule makes it hard to see Browns gaining a primetime game this season.

NFL: New York Jets at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns lit a spark under their fans and across the NFL with their victory over the New York Jets a little more than a week ago.

That spark could turn into a bonfire if the Browns can string a few wins together starting on Sunday when they face the Oakland Raiders.

Just don’t expect that to turn into an appearance this season on Sunday Night Football.

Beginning in Week 5, NBC has the ability to dump the scheduled Sunday night game and “flex” another game into that time slot.

It is not as simple as executives at NBC pointing to the schedule and saying, “we want Baker Mayfield and the Browns,” however. There are guidelines to follow, with the key ones being that:

  • CBS and FOX have to approve losing one of their games to Sunday night
  • The decision has to be made no later than 12 days prior to the actual game. So, for example, nothing that happens this weekend has any impact on the Sunday night game for the following week.
  • NBC has to be willing to give up the game that is currently scheduled for Sunday night.

The Browns have some games that could be appealing, so let’s take at look and see what the chances are of the Browns picking up a Sunday night slot.

  • October 21 at Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers have been an early season surprise, but the magic of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick may be wearing off a bit. The scheduled game for that week is the Los Angeles Rams against the San Francisco 49ers, which has lost some of its appeal after San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was lost for the season with a knee injury. Even so, Browns vs. Bucs may not have enough national appeal.
  • October 28 at Pittsburgh. Mayfield’s first trip to Pittsburgh with the possibility of him planting a Browns flag at Heinz Field is spicy. But the scheduled Sunday night game is New Orleans at Minnesota, and NBC is not dropping a playoff rematch.
  • November 4 vs. Kansas City. Patrick Mahomes and Mayfield lighting up the scoreboard is something that everyone can get behind. The problem? The scheduled game that night is Green Bay at New England, so no chance NBC is giving that game up.
  • November 11 vs. Atlanta. If the Browns and Falcons are both in playoff contention come mid-November, this game could have some appeal. The bigger question is whether or not NBC would be willing to give up the Dallas vs. Philadelphia matchup already on the schedule. The NFC East may be extremely overexposed, but those teams pull in the ratings.
  • December 9 vs. Carolina. This game actually has some potential if the Browns can hit December playing well. The scheduled game for that evening is Pittsburgh vs. Oakland, and while people are still oddly fascinated by Oakland head coach Jon Gruden, the idea of putting a two-win Oakland team on primetime might be more than NBC can stomach.

The idea of the Browns playing their way into a Sunday primetime game this season is fun to speculate about, but when you break it down it seems pretty unlikely that will happen. (Although if they manage to enter Week 17 needing a win for a playoff spot, anything is possible.)

A more plausible scenario would be the Browns playing well enough to have a game or two moved into the late-afternoon slot as part of a national broadcast.

All they have to do is keep on winning.