The Cowboys and Browns couldn’t be more different. As a franchise, Dallas has enjoyed the greatest winning percentage in NFL history and has five Super Bowl victories to its name. The Browns, on the other hand, have been languishing in the football cellars for seemingly eternity.
Yet when these two teams meet on Sunday, the Browns will be the team with the better record. Coming off back-to-back wins for just the second time in the last six years, Cleveland is sitting at 2-1 under new head coach Kevin Stefanski. His analytics-driven approach, which includes a play-action-heavy offense, has made Baker Mayfield look significantly better than he did last season, and the offense as a whole is starting to live up to the lofty expectations they generated last year.
But while the Browns may be turning a corner this year, their history is pretty bleak. As for their history with the Cowboys, it’s almost nonexistent. This iteration of the Browns, which was established in 1999, has only played the Cowboys four times. Dallas has won all four of those games.
The first such matchup came in Week 2 of the 2004 season. The Cowboys, in Bill Parcells’ second season as the head coach, had to cut Quincy Carter in training camp and roll with veteran Vinny Testaverde at quarterback. They got blown out in the season opener, but rebounded against Cleveland, winning 19-12. Later that year, the Browns would fire their head coach with five games remaining on the schedule.
The second contest between the Cowboys and Browns was the season opener of the 2008 season. Led by Wade Phillips, the Cowboys were coming off an incredible season that ended early in the playoffs. They entered the year as strong contenders, and while we know how that turned out, they at least looked the part in Week 1, blasting Cleveland 28-10. The Browns fired their head coach at the conclusion of the year.
The third such game came in the 2012 season, four days prior to the Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Classic. It was Jason Garrett’s second full season as the head coach, and he led an inconsistent 4-5 team with a struggling defense up against the 2-7 Browns, who were coming off of their bye week. Brandon Weeden, in his rookie season, was Cleveland’s starting quarterback, which is why it was surprising that the Browns took Dallas to overtime. But Dallas kicked a game-winning field goal to get the victory 23-20. After the season concluded, Cleveland fired their head coach.
The fourth, and most recent, time these two teams met was the first week of November in the 2016 season. Dallas entered the game with a record of 6-1, buoyed by their sensational rookie duo of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. The Browns, on the other hand, had alternated between five different starting quarterbacks (Josh McCown, Cody Kessler, Charlie Whitehurst, Robert Griffin III, and Kevin Hogan) and were predictably terrible, entering the game with a 0-8 record. The Cowboys dominated 35-10 and at the end of the season, after finishing 1-15, the Browns surprisingly did not fire their coach.
That’s it for the history between these two teams as they currently exist. Prior to this current iteration of the Browns, though, the teams played 27 times. While those Browns teams are technically still considered part of Browns history, the organization itself went on to become the Baltimore Ravens following the 1995 season.
But for that time, the Browns dominated the series between these two teams, winning 17 of those 27 games. Much of this history occurred very early on, as 19 of the 27 games took place in the first ten seasons of the Cowboys’ existence as a franchise; both teams were in the NFC East at the time, so they regularly played each other twice a year until the 1970 NFL-AFL merger caused the Browns to move to the AFC. The Cowboys’ fourth-ever game was in Dallas hosting the Browns, and Cleveland blew them out 48-7. The Cowboys’ lone touchdown was a Don Heinrich touchdown pass to Billy Howton.
The Browns wound up winning their first four games against the Cowboys before Dallas eked out a win in December of 1962. As punishment for finally beating the Browns, Cleveland went on to win the next seven straight games against Dallas. As the Cowboys grew into contenders towards the late 60’s, they started to play closer and closer games against Cleveland, at one point winning four straight including a playoff bout in the 1967 season.
But the final matchup between the two teams prior to Cleveland leaving for the AFC was the 1969 Eastern Conference Championship game. The Cowboys, at 11-2-1, faced off against the 10-3-1 Browns in what was expected to be a battle of titans. Instead, Cleveland blew Dallas out of the water 38-14 to advance. That Browns team ultimately fell one game shy of making what is now known as Super Bowl IV.
At the time of the NFL-AFL merger, the Browns held a commanding 14-5 record against the Cowboys. But after moving to different conferences, these teams that had grown accustomed to playing each other would only meet again eight times in the next two and a half decades. For what it’s worth, Dallas went 5-3 in those games, including going 1-1 against the Bill Belichick-led Browns.
At one point in football, this was a budding rivalry. The Cowboys were a little brother of sorts, just starting to make their rise to prominence when the league changed dramatically and cut out the regular meetings between the Cowboys and Browns. Since then, Cleveland has lost their football team and gained it back, only for that iteration to be absolutely awful, with just two winning seasons since the franchise was reinstated in 1999.
While there may not be much of that rivalry anymore, there will be plenty of motivation for both teams to perform on Sunday. The Browns are trying to prove they’ve turned the corner, while the Cowboys are looking to bounce back after a tough loss and hopefully kick off a winning streak of their own.