"The Sunday Five" is a loosely-titled piece where I talk about five NFL- or Browns-related topics related to this past week. In today's edition, I take a look at what the Browns hope to see out of their division rivals during the bye week.
The best thing the Browns can hope for during their bye week is that they stay on pace with the rest of the teams in their division. If the Bengals and the Steelers lose, the Browns will have sole possession of second place in the division (even if it is kind of cheap to say that). Let's go through each of the games in the division and see the likelihood of that happening.
I could not think of a more suited opponent to head in to Pittsburgh this week and pick up a victory than the Tennessee Titans. This is a Titans team that has already made the Ravens and the Browns look foolish, and I'm willing to call their Week 1 loss to the Jaguars a fluke. They have an efficient defense, and the key to their offense is that their pass protection is so good. The Steelers have already been struggling this year, and they'll be without linebacker James Harrison and running back Rashard Mendenhall. Ben Roethlisberger will have to survive with a foot injury behind an offensive line that has been getting him sacked on 10% of his dropbacks. I like the Titans to drop Pittsburgh to 2-3.
The Bengals will be matched up against the Jaguars this week, and my initial impression is that this is a great week for Cincinnati to move to a surprising 3-2. No one should be ready to crown Andy Dalton as superior than Blaine Gabbert or vice versa at this early stage of their NFL careers, but it's already the second time that Gabbert will be going up against a rookie quarterback from his class. Gabbert will need help from his receivers to get things going, but that won't be easy against the Bengals' top-ranked defense in the league. I think they key for the Jaguars will be getting Maurice Jones-Drew the ball early on, but the Jaguars just seem like an incompetent team with the coaching staff they have. I'm sadly taking the Bengals.
The Ravens, like the Browns, have a bye this week and have looked very intimidating on defense in three of their four victories. The one game they struggled in was against the Titans, and that is because of how good their pass protection was. No matter what blitzes the Ravens threw at Tennessee, Matt Hasselbeck was able to comfortably sit in the pocket and then pick apart a Ravens secondary that is still not elite if they have to cover for awhile. Do any teams in the AFC North have an offensive line that is good enough to handle the Ravens? Right now, I'd say no. They seem like the clear favorites to win the division.
Last week's loss against the Titans could have long-term implications. If the Browns have any desire to be a wildcard team (I'm playing what-if games, not prediction games), the Titans will be one of those teams contending for a spot at the end. They already own a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Browns. In the AFC South, Cleveland still faces Houston later in the season and will have to hope for a swap between them and the Titans (Titans lead the division, Texans hope for the wildcard). Given Houston's late-season tumbles over the years, it wouldn't be out of the question. I also think the Indianapolis Colts get their first win over the Chiefs this week, and then the countdown to the return of Peyton Manning will begin.