These Cleveland Browns and the Buffalo Bills have certainly played their fair share of...low-scoring games against each other, haven't they? From 2007 to 2010, they played each other each season, with the following outcomes:
2007: Browns 8, Bills 0
2008: Browns 29, Bills 27
2009: Browns 6, Bills 3
2010: Bills 13, Browns 6
The Browns did not face the Bills in 2011, but they are going head-to-head again in 2012 since both teams finished last in their division a year ago. Will we have another low-scoring affair between these two teams, or will it be more like last week's shootout type of game against the Bengals? Our full position-by-position breakdown for the Bills vs. Browns game, as well as my prediction, is after the jump.
Here is a disclaimer for anyone who is unfamiliar with my determination of who has the "advantage" in these rankings. They take into account what a player has done throughout their career, a player's potential, and recent performances. Ryan Fitzpatrick has more experience than Brandon Weeden, but as I mentioned in one of my key points on Friday, he has been very inconsistent. He is the type of guy who will throw three touchdowns one week, and three interceptions the next week. Buffalo might have rewarded him with a new contract at the wrong time last year.
Weeden is coming off of a very solid performance against the Bengals' secondary. Although he struggled badly in Week 1, when you weigh his two outings against each other, I would feel pretty confident that the Weeden who played last week is the type of player he will be in the NFL. He showed the ability to stand tall in the pocket and deliver a strong, accurate throw with pressure in his face. That experience will come in handy against a strong Bills defensive line.
On one side, you have C.J. Spiller -- the leading rusher in the NFL who is averaging over 10 yards a carry through two games. Spiller is a third-year player who is finally getting his opportunity to carry the load in Buffalo after the injury to Fred Jackson.
On the other side, you have Trent Richardson. Richardson made a splash last week with two touchdowns, including one highlight-reel play that earned him the AFC Rookie of the Week honor. Sometimes, running backs are plug-and-play guys. I think each of these teams hope that Spiller and Richardson can be a different breed of a player -- ones that don't have to rely on a brilliant offensive line to do all of the work for them. It'll be interesting to see who shines more between Richardson and Spiller in Week 3. My guess is that both guys have above average performances.
Mohamed Massaquoi has looked very good to start off the 2012 campaign, but the Browns' group of receivers are a unit that I am still looking for more consistency from. With the unit having been shaky for a couple of years, I don't want to jump the gun and give them too much respect after a solid performance or too. With tight end Alex Smith out this week, we could see Jordan Cameron get more of his reps. That could be about 25 percent of the offensive snaps.
The Bills get the advantage because of Stevie Johnson. Johnson has had a few big-time drops, but when it comes down to it, he has proven to be a decent No. 1 receiver for Fitzpatrick. After Johnson, the Bills are pretty thin at wide receiver. Their No. 2 receiver, David Nelson, is done for the year, and youngsters T.J. Graham and Donald Jones will be thrown into the mix. Tight end Scott Chandler is an oft-used threat in the red zone, so it will be important for Cleveland's safeties to guard him tightly down there.
I often give a lot of credit to the Browns' offensive line, and I will do the same here: they rebounded well against the Bengals' defense last week. I'm still a bit concerned that Joe Thomas seems to be getting beat around the edge once a game, but it's not like he's struggling every other play or anything.
The Bills have done a lot over these first two games to earn them an "even" ranking here. Through two games, they have helped pave the way for the leading rusher in the NFL, C.J. Spiller. Also, Ryan Fitzpatrick has not been sacked through two games. How can I give Cleveland the advantage when I take those two elements into consideration? The Bills' offensive line could be overachieving, but who knows -- maybe the addition of Cordy Glenn at left tackle, and the stability across the rest of the line, really will pay off.
The Bills invested a lot in their defensive line this offseason when they brought in defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson to go along with defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. In terms of potential, this could be the best defensive line in the AFC. The issue is that they did virtually nothing in the team's Week 1 loss to the Jets. They made a splash against the Chiefs in Week 2, but can they wreak havoc every week?
The Browns' front four have been pretty good too. They took a hit last week when defensive end Juqua Parker and defensive tackle Billy Winn left early on with injuries. Winn is expected to return and start this week, while Parker might be a game-time decision. Frostee Rucker has lived up to his contract through two games. Jabaal Sheard has been pretty quiet through two games, logging just three tackles, but the coaching staff says that teams are paying a lot of attention to him, helping out the rest of the line in turn.
The Bills' starting unit consists of OLB Arthur Moats (6th round draft pick in 2010), MLB Kelvin Sheppard (3rd round pick in 2011), and veteran OLB Nick Barnett. Barnett is the most complete player out of the group, while I still need to see a bit more out of Moats and Sheppard.
Cleveland has the advantage here because of D'Qwell Jackson, but it's not a significant advantage because of mediocrity at outside linebacker. I used to be a supporter of Scott Fujita still starting, but I have jumped ship to wanting a younger guy like L.J. Fort to receive more playing time. Kaluka Maiava has done a fair job, but doesn't seem to come up with many drive-changing plays.
The Browns' secondary struggled big time last week, but they will get a big boost this week with Sheldon Brown expected to return to action. The word is that Buster Skrine will take Brown's spot in the starting lineup still, with Brown playing in three-receiver sets. I don't agree with that, but I guess they like having Skrine's speed and aggressiveness in there, hoping that he will improve with more experience. The other big change, as reported by Mary Kay Cabot of the Plain Dealer, is that Eric Hagg has supposedly lost his starting role and will be replaced by Usama Young. We'll see.
The Bills drafted Stephon Gilmore in the first round of the draft, and he will be going up against either Massaquoi or Little this week. Buffalo has had continuity at the safety position for several years with George Wilson and Jarius Byrd. Neither team has a top-tier secondary at this point. Cleveland would have the edge with Joe Haden, but he will be serving game two of his four-game suspension.
There have been too many detrimental mistakes on special teams for the Browns to give them an advantage, which is a shame considering the solid play of Phil Dawson, Reggie Hodges, and Joshua Cribbs. Cleveland is expected to get Ray Ventrone back in coverage this week, and a few other personnel changes could be made.
Buffalo has always featured a solid special teams unit too. Rian Lindell hasn't attempted a field goal this season, but he, like Dawson has been consistent for a long time (a career 80% success rate). Leodis McKelvin is a threatening return man too; he took a punt back for an 88-yard touchdown against the Chiefs last week.
While the Bills exploded last week, they were terrible in Week 1 against the Jets. Cleveland hasn't exactly strung together two consistent games on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball either. I think Cleveland's offensive line will have a little bit of difficulty at some points with the Bills' front four, leading to a more lackluster offensive performance than we saw last week. On the same note, I expect the defense to improve -- after seeing where the secondary failed last week, Dick Jauron will make the appropriate adjustments. Fitzpatrick is an inconsistent quarterback, and he'll turn the ball over one too many times against Cleveland.