New Browns coach Mike Pettine believes teams must be willing to bloody their noses to compete in the AFC North. If he’s right, the Browns will need to shove cotton into their nostrils early and often this fall.
The Browns will open the 2014 regular season on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers at 1 p.m. Sept. 7 and face divisional foes in three of their first five games. It’ll be just the second time the Browns have started a season on the road since the expansion era began in 1999. They’re 1-14 in openers during that span.
“Browns at Steelers in Week 1, in your first game as an NFL head coach?” Pettine said in statement released Wednesday night after the league unveiled the schedules of all 32 teams. “It doesn’t get any better than that. I love this division.
“We’ve said we want to be the toughest team on the field. We’ll get a good taste of our division early on. … We’re building our team to compete in the division, so hopefully we can get off to a good start.”
The home opener at FirstEnergy Stadium is set for 1 p.m. Sept. 14 against the New Orleans Saints, one of four 2013 playoff teams on the schedule.
“I can’t wait to put our team out in front of the Dawg Pound,” Pettine said.
The Browns’ schedule is tied for sixth easiest in the NFL based on the combined record of their opponents from last season: 119-137 (.465 winning percentage). But the beginning of the schedule could spell trouble if the Browns continue to struggle in their division — they’re 18-54 in the AFC North since it was formed in 2002.
The Browns will host the AFC North rival Baltimore Ravens (1 p.m. Sept. 21), take an early bye in Week 4, visit the Tennessee Titans (1 p.m. Oct. 5) and then host the Steelers (1 p.m. Oct. 12). Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco have a combined starting record of 28-2 against the Browns.
After the Browns visit the Jacksonville Jaguars (1 p.m. Oct. 19) and host the Oakland Raiders (4:25 p.m. Oct. 26) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1 p.m. Nov. 2), they’ll play in their lone prime-time game of the regular season, a Thursday Night Football divisional matchup on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals (8:25 p.m. Nov. 6) that’ll be nationally televised on NFL Network. Then they’ll host the Houston Texans (1 p.m. Nov. 16).
The Browns will finish the regular season with four of their final six games on the road: at the Atlanta Falcons (1 p.m. Nov. 23), at the Buffalo Bills (1 p.m. Nov. 30), Indianapolis Colts (1 p.m. Dec. 7), Bengals (1 p.m. Dec. 14), at the Carolina Panthers (1 p.m. Dec. 21) and at the Ravens (1 p.m. Dec. 28). The Browns haven’t opened and closed the regular season on the road since 1995.
“I look forward to returning to Buffalo in late November,” said Pettine, who spent last season as the Bills’ defensive coordinator. “That late-season stretch also jumped out at me a little bit. The NFL’s about overcoming adversity, and we face a big challenge with four of our final six on the road.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.