Over the ensuing 25 years the Browns were a staple of the league’s primetime schedule, with memorable victories along the way over the likes of the Dallas Cowboys in 1979, the Los Angeles Rams in 1987, the Chicago Bears in 1989, and the Pittsburgh Steelers (1985, 2003, 2009, 2019 and 2022).
Since their return to the NFL in 1999, the Browns have been afforded a primetime slot on a less frequent basis, but have generally picked up one or two games each season.
The league will release the 2023 schedule on Thursday night and there are numerous primetime opportunities available on Sunday nights, Monday nights, Thursday nights, Black Friday, Christmas Eve, and a triple-header on Christmas Day.
While the Browns have some spicy matchups on the docket sprinkled throughout non-division games against the NFC West and AFC South, the New York Jets and new quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and the annual home-and-home divisional games against the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Steelers, it is hard to know if the league will give Cleveland a primetime slot or two this fall.
The league may want to give a bit more distance between quarterback Deshaun Watson’s since-completed suspension for violating the league’s Personal Conduct Policy to avoid re-opening the national discussion around the situation, although that did not stop the Browns from being featured on a Saturday game against the Ravens last season.
In addition, teams can now be scheduled for two games on Thursday nights, so that takes away an opportunity the league has used in the past to feature teams that may not be considered for the more attractive primetime slots.
So which games might be most attractive for the Browns?
Looking at the non-division games, a trip out west to play the Denver Broncos would be a nice nod to one of the league’s best rivalries from the late 1980s. The road game against the Rams and the home tilt against the San Francisco 49ers are also possibilities, although the Browns played both teams in primetime in 2019 so the league may not be ready for a repeat.
The league will also be looking to put Rodgers and the Jets on as much as possible, so Cleveland’s home game against New York is a possibility.
Within the division, the Browns have dominated the series with the Bengals for the past five years, a stretch that has included a pair of primetime beatdowns of the Bengals, so the league may be hesitant to see what of its presumed marquee teams be embarrassed in front of a national audience.
That leaves the games with the Ravens and Steelers, which can often be counted on to provide viewers with something they have never seen before (and for Browns fans things they can never unsee).
So let’s go with the Browns being scheduled for two primetime games when the schedule is released on Thursday - a Monday nighter against the Jets (with plenty of callbacks to that first MNF game) and a Thursday night game against either the Ravens or the Steelers.