The third preseason game is usually considered the dress rehearsal for the regular-season opener. But the NFL schedule makers took that term to the extreme for the Cleveland Browns.
On Friday night, Cleveland will face the Eagles, the same team the Browns will start the season against in 16 days. Both games will even be played at the same site, Cleveland Browns Stadium.
While many teams use the third preseason game to prepare for the opener, the Browns and the Eagles will do their best not to show what they'll do in the first game of the season.
"I'd have to imagine it's going to be pretty vanilla this first time out," quarterback Brandon Weeden said, via the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "Why would they come in and show us their blitzes ...? I'm going to plan like they are going to blitz and do all the things they do, and then just take what they give me. But I have to say it will be a little different Week 1 than what it will be [Friday]."
The NFL has been in charge of scheduling the first three preseason games for each team since realignment in 2002. League spokesman Michael Signora told ESPN Radio in Cleveland that the goal of the schedule is create the "most compelling national television schedule while limiting travel as much as possible."
“While it is unusual for teams to play in the preseason and then again very early in the regular season, there was no specific reason for it," Signora said. "Again, creating the schedule takes into account a variety of considerations, including working around stadium blocks and availability, honoring as many team requests as possible, making the national television schedule, etc.”
If you thought the Browns' scheduling quirk with the Eagles was crazy, it makes more sense than the last time this happened to Cleveland. In 1989, the Browns played the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third week of the preseason and then again in the regular-season opener.