With the release of all 32 NFL teams' schedules, teams like the Cleveland Browns now know what lies ahead of them for the upcoming 2024 season.

The Browns have been one of the biggest laughingstock teams in the league for some time now. Before the 2020 season, Cleveland hadn't made a postseason appearance since 2002. Then, after a two-year absence, they made their return last season to the surprise of most last year. That was even after they suffered a number of key injuries to important players, most notably that of Deshaun Watson and Nick Chubb. But the leagues No. 1 total defense kept the team in contention.

Watson's replacement last season, Joe Flacco, won't be returning this upcoming season. But the Browns and head coach Kevin Stefanski should have Watson back, ready and healthy, by the time the season opens on September 8 at home against the Dallas Cowboys. That will be just the first game of what is the third-hardest schedule in the NFL in 2024, according to Sharp Football Analysis.

But if the Browns want to make their second consecutive trip back to the postseason since 1988 and 1989, they're going to have a treacherous path that will challenge them on their way back.

The Browns need to rack up wins early

If the Browns want to rack up a bunch of their wins, then they may want to do it early. Why, you ask? Well, in four out of their first six games, they'll face teams that didn't make the postseason last season. And the ones they are facing (Cowboys, Eagles) have quite a few question marks surrounding them entering 2024.

After facing some stiffer competition from Weeks 7-10 (Bengals, Ravens, Chargers), they'll get a bye. But to their benefit, all three of those games are at home, where the Browns went 8-1 last year. That means they won't leave Cleveland for a month (October 14-November 16).

After a trip to New Orleans on November 17 coming off a bye, that's when it could really get interesting for the Browns.

The Browns face their best competition late

Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson talks with head coach Kevin Stefanski during a workout, Wednesday, June 8, 2022 in Berea.
© Phil Masturzo / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Browns will have four prime-time games in 2024, but they won't come until Week 12. That's likely due to what Cleveland will be facing from Week 12 until Week 18.

For one, every single game will be against AFC competition. Two, all but one of the teams the Browns will face during this last stretch of their 2024 schedule made the playoffs last season. And three, four out of their seven games are against division rivals. The Browns only play two of their division rivals in the first half of the season (Bengals, Ravens), both at home.

The Browns have to face the Steelers in two out of the first three weeks of the stretch, with the first on Thursday Night Football and the last being in Pittsburgh. Then it's Denver for Monday Night Football. They then have the distinct pleasure of hosting the Chiefs the next week, followed by Thursday Night Football in Cincinnati, then Sunday Night Football back at home against the Dolphins, and finally the season ender against the Ravens away.

One would assume that the Steelers, even after a 10-win season last year, will potentially be better thanks to an improved quarterback room with either Russell Wilson or Justin Fields behind center. The Broncos are full of uncertainty and likely playing a rookie quarterback. The Chiefs should still be the Chiefs, vying for their 10th consecutive postseason appearance. The Dolphins could be fighting for one of the remaining playoff spots. And the Ravens should be playoff bound again, hoping for one of the top seeds.

And that's ultimately what will make this stretch so tough. With seven AFC teams down the last stretch, and all but one likely in playoff contention, each team will be playing for something, whether it be a spot or seeding.