CLEVELAND — Could the Cleveland Browns be getting ready for their close-up in prime-time NFL action this fall?
If not, it might be time for them to start.
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network/NFL.com and other reporters, the NFL will open its 100th season with a break from tradition by going with one of the longest-standing rivalries, the Chicago Bears hosting the Green Bay Packers, in the Thursday Night Football opener.
In recent seasons, the NFL has put the defending Super Bowl champions in the opening game of the next season, which would have been the New England Patriots, but they have been awarded the Week 1 Sunday Night Football prime-time matchup against a yet-to-be-determined opponent.
Could that decision put the Browns into the mix to open the season at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts?
Well, it would be intriguing to feature quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Tom Brady, two of the stars from the NFL 100 Super Bowl commercial, in a Week 1 game.
After years of struggling to find solid quarterback play, the Browns appear to have their franchise signal-caller with Mayfield.
Mayfield broke the NFL rookie record with his 27th touchdown throw of the 2018 season with 3:24 remaining in the fourth quarter of a 26-24 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC North Division clash at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on December 30.
After taking over the first-team offense in the second quarter of a Week 3 win over the New York Jets, Mayfield completed 310 of his 486 attempts (63.8 percent) for 3,725 yards and 27 touchdowns against 14 interceptions.
Under the direction of new Browns coach Freddie Kitchens, who was the interim offensive coordinator for the second half of the 2018 season, Mayfield completed 180 of his 263 attempts (68.4 percent) for 2,254 yards and 19 touchdowns against eight interceptions.
Also, Mayfield and Kitchens helped rally the Browns to a memorable finish over the second half of the season.
At 2-5-1 following a 33-18 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 28 and in the middle of an unprecedented midseason coaching staff upheaval following the dismissals of Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley with eight games left to play, the 2018 Browns looked to be anything but a team capable of the greatest year-to-year turnaround in franchise history.
But a 5-3 record over the second half of the season and a three-game winning streak in December secured the Browns’ greatest turnaround in team history, as they finished plus-7.5 in wins over last year’s winless campaign.
Also, the offseason acquisition of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. from the New York Giants certainly cannot hurt.
Over 59 regular-season games, including 56 starts, in five years with the New York Giants, Beckham Jr. turned 622 targets into 390 receptions for 5,476 yards and 44 touchdowns. Beckham Jr. averaged 92.8 yards per game, including a league-best 108.8 during the 2014 season.
A three-time Pro Bowler, Beckham Jr. has put four 1,000-yard and three double-digit touchdown seasons on his resume since being selected with a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft out of Louisiana State University.
Last season, Beckham Jr. turned in a 77-catch, 1,052-yard, six-touchdown effort for the Giants.
The Browns have not been featured on Sunday Night Football since 2008, and are just 1-9 in Sunday prime-time games.