Cleveland Browns (0-0) at New York Jets (0-0)
Sunday, September 13th
1 PM ET, CBS
The Browns begin another season with yet another quarterback under center. This year’s guy is Josh McCown. McCown is a mediocre quarterback who may be the worst starting quarterback in the NFL. To make matters worse, McCown also doesn’t have good receivers to throw to either. Dwayne Bowe has looked extremely lethargic this preseason, and he was even mentioned as a potential roster cut just last week. Starting opposite Bowe is Brian Hartline, which shouldn’t excite anyone. And in the slot is Andrew Hawkins, who may be the best receiver the Brown’s have. The Jets have a great tandem at cornerback in Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, who should be able to shut down both Bowe and Hartline. The Jets also have Buster Skrine, who plays nickelback. Skrine is a former Brown and should know more than a thing or two about the Cleveland passing offense.
Running the ball may not be easier this week for Cleveland either. Isaiah Crowell is the starting runningback, and he’s also the only healthy runner the Browns have on the roster. Duke Johnson, the only other tailback on Cleveland’s team, is suffering from a couple injuries and may not see the field much. That’s more bad news for Cleveland, as Johnson is the superior player to Crowell. While Crowell isn’t terrible, he isn’t a receiving threat out of the backfield and he also isn’t particularly shifty. And while Cleveland’s offensive line is solid, especially on the left side and center, the Jet’s run defense should have the upper hand in this facet of the game. Their defensive line of Leonard Williams, Damon Harrison and Muhammad Wilkerson should be able to open up plenty of holes for their run stuffing linebackers, who could live in the backfield Sunday.
New York Offense:
With Geno Smith out until Week 6 with a broken jaw, Ryan Fitzpatrick is in charge of the offense now. And while Josh McCown is the worst starting quarterback in the NFL, Fitzpatrick is only slightly better. Maybe. Fitzpatrick at least has a couple targets he can get the ball to. Brandon Marshall had a down year last year, but he’s still talented enough to have a bounceback season. Eric Decker won’t put up the numbers he did in Denver, but he’s still a very good number two receiver who can make some plays when the ball comes his way. The Browns might have a better pass defense than the Jets, which would combat New York having the better offense. Joe Haden had a bit of a down year last year, but chances are he performs better this season. Tramon Williams is opposite Haden, and he’s certainly the weak link of the defense, as Tashaun Gipson and Donte’ Whitner may be the best safety tandem the league has to offer.
The Jets’ rushing attack is significantly more efficient than that of the Browns. Chris Ivory is a player similar to Isaiah Crowell, but Ivory shows more decidedness when he hits the hole and he also runs with more power. Ivory also doesn’t have the ball security issues that plague Crowell. Ivory showed this preseason that his hands have improved from last year, and he may be on the field for all three downs the majority of this game. The Browns’ had a weak rush defense last year in terms of YPA, but they looked to have improved that unit after watching them this preseason. Danny Shelton is a major upgrade at nose tackle over Phil Taylor, while Nate Orchard looked good at outside linebacker. The Jets’ don’t have a particularly good offensive line, as outside of center Nick Mangold, not one starter had a solid year last season.
Randy Starks. Starks came over from Miami in the offseason, and while he didn’t play in a 3-4 the last few seasons there, he certainly looked like a natural in the system this preseason. Starks is very good at stopping the run, and while he isn’t the same pass rusher he used to be, he can still get after the quarterback when need be. Considering how abysmal Cleveland was at stopping the run last season, the addition of Starks was a good one, and he’ll look to tear up the Jet’s raggedy offensive line.
X-Factor, New York:
Jeff Cumberland. Cumberland was used more as a blocking tight end as last season progressed, with Jace Amaro becoming the team’s pass catching tight end. Cumberland was solid last year when he was thrown to, and with Amaro out, it looks like Cumberland could receive more targets this season. Karlos Dansby is very effective at stopping the run, but his ability to defende the pass has wained as he’s gotten older, and with Ryan Fitzpatrick unlikely to throw the ball vertically much, Cumberland could find himself in a position to take advantage of some holes in the defense in the short and intermediate passing game.
Result: New York 20, Cleveland 9
To be brutally honest, neither of these teams are going to finish better than 4-12 by my prediction. Both offense’s lack at least league average quarterback play, and while there are good players on each defense, the lack of ability to score will hinder both teams. The Jets usually play well opening week of the season, especially at home, but points will be very hard to come by in this one. Whoever wins this game is hurting their draft position come April.
Josh McCown: 18-31, 192, 2 INT’s
Ryan Fitzpatrick: 20-33, 217, 1 TD, 1 INT
Isaiah Crowell: 16 carries, 59 yards
Duke Johnson: 7 carries, 33 yards; 3 catches, 29 yards
Chris Ivory: 22 carries, 93 yards, 1 TD; 4 catches, 21 yards
Zac Stacy: 4 carries, 11 yards;
Andrew Hawkins: 5 catches, 71 yards
Dwayne Bowe: 4 catches, 41 yards
Brian Hartline: 4 catches, 39 yards
Brandon Marshall: 6 catches, 81 yards, 1 TD
Eric Decker: 5 catches, 63 yards
Rob Housler: 1 catch, 4 yards
E.J. Bibbs: 1 catch, 8 yards
Jeff Cumberland: 5 catches, 52 yards