Schedule-guessers have Browns headed to New England for Sunday night opener

Baker Mayfield and the Browns could be prime-time fixtures this fall. Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images

A grand opening in New England in 2019?

That's the buzz about the Cleveland Browns, as speculation that they would be the New England Patriots' opening-game opponent swirled soon after the NFL announced that the defending Super Bowl champions would open in Foxborough on Sunday night.

Of course, another possibility exists. This is the 50th season of Monday Night Football, and the teams that played in the first Monday night game were the Browns and Jets on Sept. 21, 1970 (Homer Jones returned a kickoff for a touchdown and Billy Andrews intercepted Joe Namath to seal the 31-21 Browns win). The Browns just happen to play at the Jets this season; a re-run of that game for the Monday night opener would make a lot of sense.

Regardless of who or where, the Browns check many of the boxes for prime-time games -- an up-and-coming team, big personalities, Odell Beckham Jr. and a young quarterback in Baker Mayfield who would be the perfect story foil to the Patriots' Tom Brady.

When it comes to the opener, New England also plays Dallas and Kansas City at home, so the Browns would not be a gimme pick. Even with all the optimism about the team's resurgence, the Browns did finish below .500 in 2018 (7-8-1), though that record included a 5-2 finish.

The Patriots would not be an easy draw for the Browns. New England has won the Super Bowl six times since 2001 -- a time when the Browns have largely flailed -- and have won their post-Super Bowl championship opener four of five times. But as tough as it would be to play in New England, it also would be a great opportunity.

"It is what it is," general manager John Dorsey said. "You're gonna play what the schedule makers deem. The NFL is hard. You play for the challenge that lies ahead."

That would not be the only possible prime-time appearance for the Browns. The possibility of Monday night against the Jets is real. Rumors have the Browns hosting a Thanksgiving night game, and being in prime time several times -- though the league limit for night games is five. Nothing will be confirmed until the NFL releases the schedule, likely in April.

The last time the Browns were on Sunday Night Football was September 2008, the only time the Browns have been on NBC's prime-time game. The last time they were on Monday Night Football came Nov. 30, 2015, the night of an infamous "kick-six" game -- when the Ravens blocked a game-winning field-goal try and returned it for a touchdown as time expired.

What games might attract prime-time kickoffs other than New England and the Jets?

Home and away games against division rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore, home games against the Rams and Seahawks and road games at New England, San Francisco and Denver all would seem to have some level of interest.

"Cleveland Browns fans deserve that," Dorsey said. "If they get that, they deserve it."