From the drawers of the Top Secret Fyles:
The 2021 NFL schedule is set to be released Wednesday, and no team is drawing more interest than the Browns.
The Browns will attempt to improve upon their 11–5 record from 2020 and return to the playoffs for a second consecutive year, which has not occurred since 1988 and 1989.
The Browns defeated the Steelers in an AFC wild-card playoff game before losing to the Chiefs in the divisional round last season under head coach Kevin Stefanski. Cleveland will also be seeking its first division title since 1989.
In the NFL’s first season under a 17-game schedule, the Browns will play nine games at home and eight on the road.
In addition to its three AFC North games at home against the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals, the Browns will host the Broncos, Raiders, Texans, Bears, Lions and Cardinals. The road slate includes the three division foes plus the Chiefs, Chargers, Patriots, Packers and Vikings.
The Browns are a solid offensive unit, with a two-headed running game, an above-average QB in Baker Mayfield, nice depth at receiver, and one of the NFL’s best offensive lines.
For the first time since 1950, the Browns will begin a season with the same starting QB for a third straight year.
In the offseason, the Browns made great strides improving their defense, which was at times leaky and spotty last season. In free agency, the team signed defensive linemen Jadeveon Clowney and Malik Jackson, and secondary members John Johnson, a free safety from the Rams who’s underrated in calling defensive signals, and Troy Hill, a cornerback also from the Rams.
Cleveland’s recent first two draft picks were defenders, including CB Greg Newsome out of Northwestern and LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah out of Notre Dame. The Browns could end up with eight or nine new starters on defense.
The Browns’ schedule is not easy, but if you’re a Cleveland fan, you hope to see the Chiefs, Packers, Ravens, Chargers and Patriots later in the season and not at the start, giving the ‘D’ a chance to jell.
Depending on the Browns’ progress this season, they could challenge the Bills as being the Chiefs’ most feared foe for AFC supremacy in 2021.
n Speaking of the schedule, it will cover the regular season over 18 weeks, beginning with the NFL Kickoff on Sept. 9 and the first full Sunday games Sept. 12 and concluding the regular-season finales Jan. 9. The playoffs also get pushed back a week, with the wild-card games Jan. 15-16, the divisional round set for Jan. 22-23, the AFC-NFC title games Jan. 30, and finally Super Bowl 56 slated Feb. 13 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif.
Times sports copy editor Richard Fyle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org