Football is finally back, ladies and gentlemen! The Browns haven’t had a particularly good time with home openers in recent years, but they’ll try to reverse those trends this Sunday when Marcus Mariota and co come to town.
With that, let’s have a look at some of the factors and make a prediction on how the game will go:
The decisive matchup: Baker Mayfield vs. Titans Defense
Seems somewhat generic, no? The Browns defense draws a favorable matchup against a somewhat underwhelming overall Tennessee offense. But you don’t win games by strictly keeping the other team’s offense at bay. Baker Mayfield drew criticism with a subpar preseason performance against the Buccaneers. Sure, it was just preseason ball, but Clevelanders are largely still riding the hype off of last year’s positive season combined with a massively eventful offseason and that slow Week 3 performance surely caused some anxiety. This will be a chance to make everyone forget about that. And the Titans defense is no joke; it allowed the third-fewest points per game in the league last year and is returning nine of its eleven starters from that unit. To make matters more interesting, former Ravens Defensive Coordinator of eight years Dean Pees has had plenty of experience facing the Browns, though never a unit quite like this.
Ultimately, Baker Mayfield doesn’t need to have a flawless performance to win; he just has to make good decisions and good throws to his talented core around him. Nick Chubb will force the Titans to respect the running game and a prolific duo of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry will give Baker plenty of chances to do exactly that.
The X Factor: The Browns pass rush vs the Titans Offensive Line
While Baker Mayfield will draw plenty of attention, this is a great chance for the Browns’ defense, particularly the pass rush, to start the season off strong. The recent announcement that Pro Bowl tackle Taylor Lewan will be suspended for the first four games of the season must have talented pass rushers such as Myles Garrett, Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson salivating. Marcus Mariota got hit (a lot) last season and has had injury problems throughout his career. Take that, give him an offensive line featuring a lineman who has yet to play a single NFL snap to date and there will be ample opportunities to hit Mariota early and often; physically, and mentally.
The Over/Under: Number of field goals Austin Seibert makes
The Titans defense is sturdy and though the Browns have a lot of firepower on offense, first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens and company have yet to get actual game action to meld, as a unit. Kicking deficiencies in Cleveland have seemingly been a thing since old timer Phil Dawson departed for the Bay Area in 2013. Greg Joseph is out and Austin Seibert is in. How many field goals will he attempt? Will he miss any? Missed field goals are huge momentum swings in football. Considering the stingy defense the Browns face on Sunday, we’re going to set this O/U to 3.
The Browns open up the season with a resounding victory against the Titans. It won’t be a blowout, but the game will not be much in doubt towards the end of the third quarter.
Browns 27, Titans 13