Last week the Browns put themselves in a 27-3 hole going into halftime against the Steelers. Many fans were ready to cast this team off at halftime and start scouring 2015 mock drafts. But, the team came out of halftime as a completely different team, outscoring Pittsburgh 24-3 in the second half. Granted, it was still 3 points short of a victory, but there were some things to be excited about from the Steelers game.
However, I'm not here to talk about last week. I'm here to tell you why we'll win this week. The Browns 2014 home-opener is Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. And here's why they'll win...
1. New Orleans' Defense
The New Orleans D is coached up by one Rob Ryan. Browns fans ought to be familiar with his flowing locks of beautiful grey curls, as he was the defensive coordinator for the Browns from 2009-2010. Ryan joined the Saints in 2013 just a few days after he'd accepted the same position with the Rams, before balking. Last year the team defense rated in the top-10 according to Football Outsiders rankings for DVOA. Football Outsiders did rate them 20th against the run, however. Last season the Saints gave up 111.6 yards per game on the ground, good for 19th in league (just behind the Browns at 111.3).
The Saints struggles against the run have carried over to this season, albeit that it is just one game. After one game, the Saints Def DVOA is 53.3%, good for last in the NFL. Last week against the Falcons the New Orleans defense was gashed to the tune of 568 yards. The Saints D surrendered 123 yards on the ground against Atlanta, which also grades as 19th in the NFL from week 1. That bodes well for the Browns, a team that amassed 183 yards on the ground last week.
And we haven't even touched on the Saints pass defense. Matt Ryan and the Falcons TORCHED them to the for 445 yards passing. Now, I'm not saying Brian Hoyer is on the same level as Matt Ryan, nowhere close. And our top receivers would probably be 4th or 5th on the Falcons' core. But, that doesn't mean that the Browns can't have success against the Saints on Sunday. If the Browns are going to win Sunday, they'll need to make sure the second half team shows up from the Steelers game. If that's the case, they should be just fine against the Saints D.
2. Cleveland's RB's
I touched on it briefly above, but the Browns may have found a dynamic duo in Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell. The Browns starting RB Ben Tate will be out at least a couple weeks, but I don't think that slows down the Browns backfield. All three of the Browns backs last week averaged over 6 yards per carry. That's not too shabby. West eclipsed 100 yards in his first career game. Crowell may have only gotten 5 carries on the day, but he made them count, turning 2 into scores.
Does a one-game success for the Browns RBs automatically make them one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL? Probably not. But, a good performance against the Saints certainly will make the case that they're not just a one-game-wonder.
My prediction for the game Sunday is West will get 18-20 carries, 90+ yards, and a score. While Crowell will get another 8-10 carries, 50+ yards, and a score.
Optimistic? Certainly. Realistic? We'll find out Sunday.
3. New Orleans on the road
Since Sean Payton took over as head coach of the New Orleans Saints in 2006, the Saints have had a winning percentage of 62%. That's pretty good. That's the Saints, so yes, that includes the 2012 version that saw Payton suspended the entire season. In September road games since 2006, the Saints winning percentage is 43%.
Everyone knows the Saints road woes in the playoffs. Their last 3 playoff losses have all been on the road. But they've also struggled early in the season on the road. As I mentioned they're win percentage of 43% isn't great, they're 6-8 in those games.
The Saints lost a shootout to the Falcons last week on the road. The Saints play in the Superdome, and the Falcons play in the Georgia Dome. The Browns play outdoors. While it's not a late December game in Cleveland, it certainly is different than playing in dome conditions. I like our chances with the Saints outdoors, on the road.
Cleveland lost a tough one in Pittsburgh last week. The Saints lost a tough one in Atlanta last week. The Browns will have their home-opener sold out and rocking. The Saints will be hoping the Browns from the first half of last week's game show up. The Browns will hope their second half team shows up.
The Browns will need to take advantage of a Saints defense that can be spotty. They'll need to rely on the rookie backs to step up with Ben Tate injured. Pair those two items with the Saints propensity for dropping road games early on, and we've got the recipe for a victory.
What do you all think? Why are you optimistic for Sunday?