CLEVELAND, Ohio — It won’t take long for the Browns to figure out how they stack up against their AFC North rivals this season.
The Browns, who went 0-6 in the division in Hue Jackson’s first season, will open at home against the defending AFC North champion Steelers Sept. 10 and face all three division foes in the first four weeks of the season. They’ll travel to Baltimore on Sept. 17, and host the Bengals on Oct. 1, in week four.
By then, the Browns will have a good idea if they’re a contender or a pretender in the AFC North.
“We like the division battles whenever those games come on the schedule,” Jackson said in a release. “It really doesn’t matter because we know we have to be at our best when we play division games and we will be up for the challenge at the start of the season.”
The Browns not only open at home against the Steelers, they’ll close out the season against them for the seventh time in eight years. The Steelers hold a commanding 30-6 lead in the regular season series since the Browns returned in 1999. All-time, the Steelers hold 70-58 advantage.
“It’s great to open at home this year in front of our fans,” Jackson said. “The Steelers have what we want as the reigning AFC North champs so this will be a great challenge and a good opportunity for us to measure ourselves at start the season. I know our fans will be really jacked up and behind us as always and we greatly appreciate them for it.”
The Browns, 1-15 last season, will not have a prime-time game. Instead of a Thursday night NFL Network game, they’ll host the Vikings in London’s Twickenham Stadium Oct. 29 and then have a bye in week nine. They’ll have only seven regular season games at FirstEnergy Stadium this year.
It will mark the Browns’ first regular-season game outside of the United States. The Vikings are led by head coach Mike Zimmer, a friend of Jackson’s when they were Cincinnati assistants. Former Browns coach Pat Shurmur (2011-12) is the Vikings’ offensive coordinator.
“The London game comes at a really good time, with the bye following the game, it’s great to have that at the mid-season point,” Jackson said. “It’s going to be good to coach against an old friend in Mike Zimmer, across the pond. No doubt that Zim will have his team ready to go and so will we, it should be a great experience for our team to represent the City of Cleveland internationally.”
While the beginning of the schedule is AFC North heavy, the end will test the Browns’ ability to win on the road.
Four of their last six are on the road, including the final two at Chicago on Christmas Eve and at Pittsburgh on New Year’s Eve. The other two road games in that stretch are at Cincinnati Nov. 26 in week 12 and at the Los Angeles Chargers, who moved from San Diego, on Dec. 3 in week 13. The final six games includes three against AFC North foes.
“We have a lot of work in front of us before we get to the point of playing games but we’ve had a good first week to start the off-season program,” Jackson said, “and now we have the schedule to look toward.”
This year’s slate features some good quarterbacks, including Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck in week three, Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota in week seven, Minnesota’s Sam Bradford Oct. 29 in London, Detroit’s Matt Stafford in week 10, Los Angeles’ Philip Rivers in week 13 and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers in week 14.
“The schedule release is always an exciting day,” Jackson said. “We’ve known our opponents but to get the dates and for the schedule to be laid out in front of us really give us a lot to look forward to. Obviously, it’s something our entire organization looks forward to. I know our fans like it too because they kind of get to map out their fall.”
The Browns also finalized dates and times on their preseason schedule, which includes a nationally-televised Monday night game against the New York Giants.
The Browns will not conduct joint practices again this year against the Bucs, despite playing their third preseason game in Tampa, a source told cleveland.com.
Thursday, Aug. 10 – New Orleans Saints – 8 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 21 – New York Giants – 8 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 26 – at Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 31 – at Chicago Bears – 8 p.m.
Week 1: Sept. 10 – Pittsburgh Steelers – 1 p.m./CBS
Week 2: Sept. 17 – at Baltimore Ravens – 1 p.m./CBS
Week 3: Sept. 24 – at Indianapolis Colts – 1 p.m./CBS
Week 4: Oct. 1 – Cincinnati Bengals – 1 p.m./CBS
Week 5: Oct. 8 – New York Jets – 1 p.m./FOX
Week 6: Oct. 15 – at Houston Texans – 1 p.m./CBS
Week 7: Oct. 22 – Tennessee Titans – 1 p.m./CBS
Week 8: Oct. 29 – Minnesota Vikings (London) – 9:30 a.m./NFL Network
Week 9: Nov. 5 – BYE
Week 10: Nov. 12 – at Detroit Lions – 1 p.m./CBS
Week 11: Nov. 19 – Jacksonville Jaguars – 1 p.m./CBS
Week 12: Nov. 26 – at Cincinnati Bengals – 1 p.m./CBS
Week 13: Dec. 3 – at Los Angeles Chargers – 4:05 p.m./CBS
Week 14: Dec. 10 – Green Bay Packers – 1 p.m./FOX
Week 15: Dec. 17 – Baltimore Ravens – 1 p.m./CBS
Week 16: Dec. 24 – at Chicago Bears – 1 p.m./CBS
Week 17: Dec. 31 – at Pittsburgh Steelers – 1 p.m./CBS
*Times are subject to change