CLEVELAND — The schedule is officially set for the Cleveland Browns 2021 season, and this year features an extra game, the ninth-hardest schedule in the league (but easiest in the AFC North) and three scheduled primetime match-ups (with more that could take place with the additional flex scheduling this season).
But what else does the schedule have in store for the team?
Let’s take a look at each week and what the Browns have to look forward to in 2021:
Week 1- Kansas City Chiefs (Away): Sunday, Sept. 12 at 4:25 p.m.
The Browns will come out of the gate being put to the test against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs in the AFC Divisional Round last season.
Things will look a little different during this match-up, however.
For starters, the Browns aren’t fielding a practice squad defense. With the moves general manager Andrew Berry has made in both free agency and the draft this offseason, the Browns will strut out an almost unrecognizable group of starters from last season.
The Chiefs, barring any bad luck, will also not be rolling out Chad Henne as their quarterback and will have star Patrick Mahomes at their disposal, in addition to a revamped offensive line to keep him hell protected.
All in all, this game should be a battle, and one the Browns are likely looking forward to playing.
What to watch for: Browns new defensive line featuring Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney, Takkarist McKinley, Malik Jackson, Tommy Togiai, Marvin Wilson and Andrew Billings versus the Chiefs new offensive line featuring Orlando Brown Jr., Joe Thuney, Kyle Long, Austin Blythe, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Lucas Niang. Also, let's hope no helmet-to-helmet calls will be missed this time around.
Week 2- Houston Texans (Home): Sunday, Sept. 19 at 1 p.m.
In the first home game of the season, the Browns go from a challenging first week to quite the opposite seven days later.
With Deshaun Watson unlikely to be the starting quarterback this season amid the numerous allegations and lawsuits against him, the Browns will likely see a familiar face under center with Tyrod Taylor expected to start the season for Houston.
After losing three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and Pro Bowl wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals, the oddsmakers have the Texans at 4.5 wins this season, and with way their roster compares to the Browns, Week 2 shouldn’t be one of them.
What to watch for: Taylor won’t be the only familiar face the Browns see in this match-up. The Texans have been a landing spot for Browns free agents. Remember Pharaoh Brown, Tae Davis, Dontrell Hilliard, Christian Kirksey, Justin McCray, Terrance Mitchell, Vincent Taylor and Tavierre Thomas?
Week 3- Chicago Bears (Home): Sunday, Sept. 26 at 1 p.m.
It’s unclear at this point when Justin Fields will be given the reins for the Bears, so the Browns could be going up against longtime division rival quarterback Andy Dalton.
The Bears defense might put up a fight against Baker Mayfield and company, but with the return of Odell Beckham Jr. alongside all of the offensive starters from last season, the Browns should be able to create plenty of opportunities for themselves.
But the same can not be said for the Bears offense, which should be hard pressed to generate with Garrett and Clowney on the ends and Billings and the slew of defensive tackles brought in this offseason there to stop both the pass and the run game.
What to watch for: If you’re a Browns fan and an Ohio State fan, this might be a chance to see former Buckeye Justin Fields in NFL action, should the team decide it is ready to get him involved early on. If he doesn’t play, this game could be a push towards his big debut. Also, maybe this time around Myles Garrett can get the touchdown he's been looking for since it was taken away in their last match-up with the Bears.
Week 4- Minnesota Vikings (Away): Sunday, Oct. 3 at 1 p.m.
After two consecutive games at home, the Browns will hit the road to take on head coach Kevin Stefanski’s former team.
The Browns defense will have to step up in Week 4, facing the Vikings' multitude of offensive weapons including Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson. Meanwhile, the Vikings defense got an overhaul this offseason, making them a tough competitor.
Overall, this should be a pretty even match-up and will be one to watch for sure.
What to watch for: The obvious story line of Stefanski taking on the team he spent 14 years with. But don’t forget special teams coordinator Mike Priefer and defensive coordinator Joe Woods both spent numerous years with the Vikings as well. This is set up to be a battle of the coaches as much as it is a match-up for the players.
Week 5- Los Angeles Chargers (Away): Sunday, Oct. 10 at 4:05 p.m.
Cleveland faces another challenge on the road in this match-up with the Justin Herbert-led Chargers.
Coming off his Rookie of the Year performance, Herbert could give the Browns quite the test in another tight contest. Both teams have explosive offensive power and a bolstered defense. Another game you won’t want to miss.
What to watch for: With Herbert under center for the Chargers, this one could be a battle of the quarterbacks with Mayfield showing up and showing off for the Browns. Also, look for the Browns to make a statement after this shot at the city:
should we REALLY make our schedule release video a powerpoint?— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) May 12, 2021
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Week 6- Arizona Cardinals (Home): Sunday, Oct. 17 at 4:05 p.m.
Back at FirstEnergy Stadium, the Browns will have three consecutive home games starting with the Cardinals.
Mayfield and company will see just what the Cardinals have to throw at them defensively with their addition of J.J. Watt in free agency and Zaven Collins in the draft. But the Browns quarterback could have something to prove against his former Oklahoma teammate, Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray.
The last time they met was in 2019, in a game that we don’t like to think about here in Cleveland. Mayfield, with a much-improved head coach, a strengthened offensive line and his arsenal of playmakers happy for the culture shift on the team, the outcome could be reversed this time around.
What to watch for: Browns fans who were hoping Watt would sign with Cleveland a few months ago will get their chance to see what he had to offer while this rematch between the two Sooner quarterbacks could be yet another gun-slinging battle.
Week 7- Denver Broncos (Home): Thursday, Oct. 21 at 8:20 p.m.
The Browns have their first primetime game against the Broncos at home, barring any flexed games prior to the match-up, with this Thursday Night Football game.
Both teams will be going into the match-up on a short week, but the Browns have the upper hand as they don’t have to travel in this second of three-straight home games.
Who knows by Week 7 who the Broncos will have under center. Will it be Drew Lock? Teddy Bridgewater? Will they have a future Hall of Famer added to their roster? All up in the air. But with plenty of offensive weapons including Cortland Sutton and Jerry Juedy, whoever is at the helm will pose a threat.
The Broncos will have Von Miller, Kyle Fuller and Patrick Surtain II to give their defense a boost as they hope to have it gelling and impressing by Week 7.
What to watch for: The Broncos may be more offensively explosive, depending on who they trot out at quarterback come Week 7. Could they find themselves with Aaron Rodgers? Something to keep an eye out for.
Week 8- Pittsburgh Steelers (Home): Sunday, Oct. 31 at 1 p.m.
The last of the three-game homestand and likely the one Browns fans are most looking forward to.
After taking down the Steelers in back-to-back games, notching their first playoff win since 1994, the Browns have got to be feeling good against Pittsburgh.
The Steelers are still riding with 39-year-old Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback but he’ll likely find his job more difficult than ever before against the Browns' new defense.
With all of the trash talk and doubting last season (remember the “Browns is the Browns” and “Corvette, Corvette”) the Browns will go into the game out to prove the Steelers have been dismantled from the “big brother” role while the Steelers lick their wounds from the end of last season and attempt to reestablish their dominance.
The Steelers added a rushing threat in the draft with Najeee Harris, but the Browns defensive overhaul will look to not only stop the run, but take their notable receivers out of the mix with the addition of John Johnson III, Troy Hill and Greg Newsome II in the secondary.
The Browns take the home field advantage in the first match-up between the two teams and Cleveland’s first AFC North rivalry game.
What to watch for: This one seems pretty obvious. This could be a heated contest with tempers rising in the rekindled rivalry. Expect high emotions and exciting football as a result.
Week 9- Cincinnati Bengals (Away): Sunday, Nov. 7 at 1 p.m.
The Browns find themselves with back to back AFC North battles as they take on the Bengals the week after their first meeting with the Steelers.
With Joe Burrow expecting himself to be ready to go as of Week 1 after tearing both his ACL and MCL and damaging his PCL and meniscus last season, the Browns could see another shootout between him and Baker Mayfield similar to last season.
The Bengals have added some pieces to the offensive line that failed to protect Burrow last season and they’ll hope it holds up and allows the 2020 first overall pick to show off his abilities.
While Cleveland owns the Battle of Ohio title after sweeping Cincinnati last season, this matchup could be electric if the Bengals come into their own by Week 9.
What to watch for: Yes, Burrow is looking to make a comeback statement, but the Browns will see Odell Beckham Jr. looking to do the same. With the added option of Anthony Schwartz as a burner for the Browns, Mayfield should be able to have fun in this matchup.
Week 10- New England Patriots (Away): Sunday, Nov. 14 at 1 p.m.
Andrew Berry and the Browns were certainly busy during the offseason. Bill Belichick and the Patriots were perhaps even busier, making a huge splash in the free agency pool.
The Patriots signed wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, defensive linemen Henry Anderson, Montravius Adams and Deatrich Wise Jr., defensive backs Cody Davis and Jalen Mills, tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, linebackers Matt Judon, Raekwon McMillan and Kyle Van Noy and offensive lineman Ted Karras this offseason. That’s not to mention several other additions and retentions, nor their draft picks.
Even with all the additions to the team, the biggest question for the Patriots will be at quarterback. Will it be Cam Newton or will it be newly drafted Mac Jones under center in Week 10? That will certainly play a role in how this game pans out, but the Browns have the more proven roster at this point.
What to watch for: It will be interesting to watch 2020 Coach of the Year Kevin Stefanski go head to up against the one of the NFL’s top coaches of all time. Can the Browns finally take down the Patriots at New England for the first time since 1992? We’ll see in Week 10.
Week 11- Detroit Lions (Home): Sunday, Nov. 21 at 1 p.m.
The Lions are in serious rebuild mode, and this game should allow the Browns to exploit that.
With Jared Goff as their new starting quarterback, the Lions will hope that his decline seen over the past two seasons can be reversed, or at least managed, so they can win a few games for the fans this season, but they don’t have many weapons to help make that happen.
With the Browns roster, a Detroit win should not be expected in Week 11.
A feeble Lions defense only partially addressed this offseason and working in a whole new scheme could also allow Baker Mayfield to really shine at FirstEnergy Stadium.
What to watch for: While they’re still an NFL team and pose a competitive threat in that nature, the Browns might be able to get some much-needed rest in this match-up with their bye week still two weeks away.
Week 12- Baltimore Ravens (Away): Sunday, Nov. 28 at 8:20 p.m.
Ah yes, the Browns under primetime lights once again—this time as they take on the Ravens on the road.
The Browns and their fans have been waiting for this moment for all their lives (cue drum solo), or at least since December 14, 2020.
Cleveland was crushed in the last match-up between the two division rivals when Lamar Jackson returned from a bout of "cramps" to lead to the Ravens downfield, where Justin Tucker nailed the game-winning field goal with just seconds left to play.
It stung. And the Browns are sure to remember it heading into M&T Bank Stadium.
The battle for the AFC North will likely be brutal for years to come with the young talented quarterbacks in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Baltimore, and two of them will fight it out on Sunday Night Football — Mayfield vs. Jackson.
What to watch for: The Browns should be looking for revenge after being swept by the Ravens last season, especially how the last meeting ended. This will likely be another hard-fought battle to the end, with the Browns hoping to come out on top this time.
Week 13- BYE WEEK (Get some rest, you’ll need it.)
Week 14- Baltimore Ravens (Home): Sunday, Dec. 12 at 1 p.m.
Wait, didn’t we just cover this one?
For the first time in 64 years, the Browns are slated to play a consecutive regular season game against the same opponent, and it just so happens to be one of the tougher match-ups.
Both teams will have the previous game fresh on their minds as they enter this second straight contest. Luckily for the Browns, they’re coming off a bye week and will be able to get some fresh legs before taking on the Ravens again while Baltimore will have just taken on the Steelers in an important AFC North match-up.
What to watch for: More intense competition as the Browns and Ravens duke it out back-to-back.
Week 15- Las Vegas Raiders (Home): Saturday or Sunday Dec. 18 or 19
Last year, the Raiders pulled off a win in Cleveland in inclement weather. Nearing the end of December, Ohio’s weather might get crazy again. Who knows?
But the Browns were also without guard Wyatt Teller, tight end Austin Hooper and linebacker Jacob Phillips and heading into their bye week.
A much improved roster just a week removed from their bye should put the Browns in a good position to contain Derek Carr and expose the seemingly very average Vegas defense.
What to watch for: Better weather, fewer injuries and a win against a team who should not play well in weather.
Week 16- Green Bay Packers (Away): Saturday, Dec. 25 at 4:30 p.m.
Merry Christmas, Browns fans!
The gift this year is getting to play at Lambeau Field, so maybe not such a gift as much as it is a challenge.
A very big factor going into the game will be who is under center for Green Bay. Will Aaron Rodgers be around or will he be in the Mile High City? The fate of the Packers QB room is still unclear, but should Rodgers still be with the team, the Browns will have a battle on their hands.
With the likelihood of a snowy Lambeau Field, the Browns could really lean on Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to give the offense a boost, although they do that week in and week out regardless of the weather.
What to watch for: Will the Browns be taking on Rodgers, or will it be Jordan Love? That changes the outlook of this game substantially. Either way, playing on the frozen tundra at the famed stadium will be a test for the Browns and will be a fun way to spend a holiday afternoon.
Week 17- Pittsburgh Steelers (Away): Monday, Jan. 3 at 8:15 p.m.
The Browns finally broke the streak of losing at Heinz Field last season in their Wild Card playoff victory over the Steelers—and they’ll look to reverse that streak into a winning one in Week 17 under primetime lights.
The Browns final primetime game of the season, barring flex scheduling, is a big one.
At this point of this season, playoff implications could be riding on this game for either team, so what would have already been a heated match-up could get that much hotter with a postseason berth on the line.
They will have already gone head-to-head once, but this rivalry has been rekindled, and no matter the outcome of the first match-up, this will be a game to watch.
What to watch for: Either team vying for a playoff spot and truthfully just the overall thrill of a fierce competition.
Week 18- Cincinnati Bengals (Home): Sunday, Jan. 9 at 1 p.m.
The Browns wrap up the regular season at home against the Bengals and, depending how the other games on this list pan out, this game could either be an extra bye week with a clinched playoff berth or a must-win game to repeat postseason success for the second straight year.
Only time will tell how this final, and first-ever 17th regular season game, will go.
Let’s hope at this point Kevin Stefanski and company have their eyes on a Lombardi Trophy rather than a way to pull out a playoff appearance.
What to watch for: Browns starters staying warm and cozy on the sidelines as the backups take things over as Cleveland prepares to not only make a reappearance in the playoffs, but to best their Divisional Round appearance by making it to the Conference Championships and into the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. Fingers crossed, everyone.
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.