Cleveland Browns face tough early test to snap losing ways

Hue Jackson's first two seasons in Cleveland haven't gone as planned. Jake Roth/USA TODAY Sports

The NFL has released its 2018 regular-season schedule. Here's a look at what's in store for the Cleveland Browns.

Breakdown: The NFL did the Browns no favors with its opening weeks. For the second year in a row, the Browns open at home against the Steelers. Then in Week 2 they travel to New Orleans to play the Saints. Both teams made the playoffs last season -- Pittsburgh with 13 wins, New Orleans with 11. For a Cleveland team coming off a winless 2017, these first two games make erasing that zero early a difficult task. The Browns will be underdogs in both games, and they face two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees. The best chance to get an early win will be in Week 3, when the Jets play in Cleveland on a Thursday night. The flip side of a challenging start: Beating either of these first two teams would be a sweeter way to gain the Browns' first win since 2016.

Nothing easy: The Browns’ draw of the NFC South makes for a difficult schedule, the fifth toughest in the league. There are three games against division winners from 2017, six against teams that won 10 games or more and nine against teams that were better than .500. Houston struggled after Deshaun Watson was injured, but he should be back and again make the Texans dangerous. The Raiders are expected to improve. And Tampa Bay has Jameis Winston at quarterback. Little surprise that Browns owner Jimmy Haslam told the media at the NFL spring meetings: “Tough schedule, right?”

Start and finish: The Browns begin with four of six games at home, against the Steelers, Jets, Ravens and Chargers. But having early home games means the finish isn’t easy. The Browns close with four of six on the road, at Cincinnati, Houston, Denver and the season finale at Baltimore.

Quarterback gauntlet: A tough schedule usually means tough opposing quarterbacks, and that’s true this season. The schedule includes Roethlisberger (twice), Brees, Winston, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Derek Carr, all of whom have made the Pro Bowl. The Browns also face Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton, who have gone a combined 28-5 against Cleveland, and Watson, who had 225 yards and three touchdowns against the Browns as a rookie. The 13 starting quarterbacks the Browns will face have been to 35 Pro Bowls.

Strength of schedule: T-5th, .523

Browns Regular-Season Schedule (all times Eastern)

  • Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.

  • Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, at New Orleans, 1 p.m.

  • Week 3: Thursday, Sept. 20, NY Jets, 8:20 p.m.

  • Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, at Oakland, 4:05 p.m.

  • Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 7, Baltimore, 1 p.m.

  • Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, Los Angeles Chargers, 1 p.m.

  • Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

  • Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.

  • Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, Kansas City, 1 p.m.

  • Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, Atlanta, 1 p.m.

  • Week 11: BYE

  • Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.

  • Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, at Houston, 1 p.m.

  • Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, Carolina, 1 p.m.

  • Week 15: Saturday, Dec. 15, at Denver, 4:30 p.m.

  • Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, Cincinnati, 1 p.m.

  • Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at Baltimore, 1 p.m.