Snap judgments on 2008 schedule
Don't know if you've heard, but the color that will be all the rage in the NFL this fall is brown. Cleveland Brown. It'll be everywhere. Just watch.
The long downtrodden but recently resurgent Browns have been deemed ready for their close-up by the league schedule makers, and that's why we should all prepare to see plenty of Derek Anderson and the rest of his high-scoring, play-making teammates.
If there's anything that jumps off the page with the release of the 2008 NFL regular-season schedule Tuesday, it's those five prime-time appearances that Cleveland will make this season.
The Browns getting so much exposure is the sure sign that the NFL feels Romeo Crennel's club -- which went 10-6 but missed the playoffs in 2007 -- is a young, exciting team on the rise that bears watching. So we will. Watch that is. Cleveland, which hasn't made a Monday Night Football appearance since December 2003, will make three this season: Week 6 at home against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, Week 11 at Buffalo and Week 15 at Philadelphia.
The Browns will make their prime-time debut in 2008 with a Week 2 Sunday night home game against AFC North rival Pittsburgh -- their first appearance on NBC's prime-time showcase -- and they'll help kick off the NFL Network's third season of live late-season games with a Week 10 visit from Denver.
Entering their 10th season since being brought back from NFL extinction as a 1999 franchise team, the Browns have all the components that the league loves to shine a spotlight on. A high-powered offense -- led by Anderson, the out-of-nowhere Pro Bowl quarterback of last season -- some positive buzz created by Cleveland's acquisition of linemen Shaun Rogers and Cory Williams, and receiver Donte' Stallworth, and a challenging schedule that will test the Browns' ability to take the next step in their development as an AFC contender.
Cleveland plays eight games against 2007 playoff teams, including five of its first seven opponents. Overall, the Browns play 10 games against teams that were at least .500 last season, and the only team on Cleveland's schedule that won fewer than seven games last season is Baltimore, which went 5-11 to finish last in the AFC North.
Besides all those primetime appearances, the Browns will play four more 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. games, the first of which is Week 1 at home against the defending NFC East champion Dallas Cowboys, who had the best record in their conference last season at 13-3. By comparison, Cleveland last year played 12 of its 16 games at 1 p.m. on Sunday, with only four late-afternoon time slots and no primetime games.
From virtual obscurity to a headline act. That's the quick trip the Browns have taken. Like many, I have Cleveland as the team to beat in its division this season, with its first trip to the playoffs since 2002 predicted.
Make no mistake, Brown is very in this year.
Here are the 10 games I don't want to miss this season.....
1. New England at Indianapolis, Week 9 -- The NFL's best rivalry resumes, and while putting this game on the first week of November has become quite familiar, the new twist is that this showdown will be played in the Colts' new Lucas Oil Stadium, which is set to open late this summer.
Between them, the Patriots and Colts own five of the past seven AFC championships, and there's always the captivating Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning debate to sink our teeth back into.
2. New England at San Diego, Week 6 -- The Chargers lost to the hated Patriots three times in a 13-month span of 2007-2008, the latest of which was in January's AFC title game in Foxboro, their second consecutive season-ending loss to Bill Belichick's bunch. That game is remembered for San Diego superback LaDainian Tomlinson sitting out almost the whole way due to a knee injury, but it's also notable that New England hasn't won since.
3. Indianapolis at Cleveland, Week 13 -- I don't know if any Browns fans noticed this, but if the Colts had beaten the visiting Titans last season in Week 17, Cleveland would have made the playoffs. It's true. I looked it up.
But alas, it was not to be. The Colts rested many of their injured starters (and some who weren't) and lost to the Titans, who qualified for that AFC wild-card berth that would have been the Browns'. The tank job turned in by the Colts still rankles aplenty in Cleveland, and Colts head coach Tony Dungy is almost certain to hear about it all day long.