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10 things to watch in the Browns’ Week 1 match-up and the NFL

We look at the Antonio Brown mess, stripes in the end zones, some practice squad moves around the league, the Otto Graham statue, and more.

Erik Drost on Flickr

Welcome to Week 1 of the NFL! This weekly column includes a lot of loose ends leading up to Sunday’s game.

Pokorny’s 10 Things to Watch in Week 1 - Browns and the NFL

1. The Antonio Brown Saga: I didn’t think an NFL storyline would overshadow the surprise retirement of Andrew Luck so quickly, but that is what Antonio Brown managed to do. His offseason was bizarre enough with the helmet situation, frostbite on his feet, and basically skipping all of Raiders training camp despite signing a massive contract with them.

But then over the past few days, things got crazier. He had to be restrained in a confrontation with GM Mike Mayock. It looked like he was going to be suspended, but then head coach Jon Gruden tried to smooth things over. It seemed like he might play on Monday Night in Week 1. Then this morning, after finding out his guaranteed money was void ($30 million of it), he asked for his release. He got it — and swiftly, the New England Patriots signed him to a 1-year deal worth up to $15 million, with $9 million in guaranteed money. That sets up for even more of a star-studded matchup when Cleveland faces New England in late-October:

I think my first instinct after hearing about Brown asking for his release is that New England would pounce on him. That’s the one team where, if players sign there, they know it’s the gold standard. That is the place you go to win, make money, but also humble yourself a bit compared to if you were on another team. Part of me also wonders — was this part of a long plan all along? On one hand, Brown seems like a whack job — but his level of talent shows that he basically still got what he wanted.

2. Striped End Zones & Still No Midfield Logo: I still don’t think we’ve got an answer over the past several years as to why the Browns have opted to go without a logo at midfield for home games. Dave Chudowsky of WKYC was told that for 2019, there will be “no midfield logo and no script Browns in end zone.” Instead, the end zones will have a new concept: orange and brown stripes.

You can see a preview of those stripes in the bottom right corner of the image above. I know it is only a teaser, but it looks cool from what I can see.

3. Donnie Lewis Jr. is Back: Up until a day ago, CB Donnie Lewis Jr. was the only member of the Browns’ 2019 NFL Draft class that was not with the team any more. That changed on Saturday, as the team signed him to the practice squad and released OT Paul Adams from the practice squad. Adams was not a member of the Browns during the offseason. CB Phillip Gaines was also released from injured reserve.

What about former Browns who didn’t make the practice squad — did they end up signing elsewhere? Here is a list we could find:

  • DT Trevon Coley signed to the Ravens’ practice squad
  • DE Wyatt Ray signed to the Texans’ practice squad
  • DT Brian Price signed to the Colts’ practice squad
  • OT Brad Seaton signed to the Buccaneers’ practice squad
  • TE Seth DeValve signed to the Jaguars’ 53-man roster

4. Otto Graham Statue & Bud Light Fridges: After unveiling the Jim Brown statue a couple of years ago, in celebration of the NFL’s 100th season, the Otto Graham statue was unveiled Saturday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium:

The statue was announced at the end of July and then delivered/installed at the Southwest Gate on Wednesday. The total statue height is 11 feet, weighing approximately 1,000 pounds. Most fans will be able to see the statue for the first time on Sunday, if they are attending the Browns’ season opener against the Titans.

In other promotional news, Bud Light Victory Fridges were on sale at B.L. & Brown’s Appliance Superstore this past week. Three sizes were available: mini-fridges for $199.00, medium-fridges for $299.99, and then full-size fridges for $599.99.

Getty Images for Bud Light

The fridges sold out right away, but fans can still place orders by visiting the store and ordering them online. I get the impression that the fridges will be a “regular item” as opposed to a limited edition thing, but if you have a decked out Browns-themed room, it might be fun to have!

5. Odds Heading Into the Regular Season: If you are a betting man, here are some Browns-related odds that might be of interest to you heading into the regular season:

  • Most Regular Season Passing Yards: Baker Mayfield has 12/1 odds, tied for 6th-highest in the NFL
  • Most Regular Season Passing TDs: Baker Mayfield has 12/1 odds, tied for 4th-highest in the NFL
  • Highest Regular Season Passer Rating: Baker Mayfield has 33/1 odds, tied for 12th-highest in the NFL
  • The Browns’ Super Bowl odds dropped to 18/1, after previously being 14/1 after the draft; 8th best in the NFL.
  • The Browns’ odds of winning the AFC are 17/2, 4th best in the AFC.
  • Oddly enough, the Browns have 8/5 odds to win the AFC North, which is just a hair behind the Steelers at 3/2 odds.
  • Who will have more regular season TD passes? Baker Mayfield (-6), or New York Giants’ QBs (+6)?
  • Will WR Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi be signed to an NFL roster during 2019 season? Yes (+150) or No (-200)?
  • 14 states are wagering the Chiefs as their top team to win the Super Bowl this year. Two states are wagering the Browns -- Ohio and Oklahoma.

6. One Big Thank You to the Giants: Browns GM John Dorsey wanted to improve the Browns’ receiving corp and pass rush this offseason, and one giant package trade with the New York Giants helped allow that. Yes, Cleveland did give up two strong assets on RG Kevin Zeitler and SS Jabrill Peppers, but take a look at where the Browns rank at pass rush and receiver heading into the 2019 season:

The Browns are ranked No. 3 in pass rush, only behind the Jaguars and Eagles. The Browns rank No. 6 in receiving corps, behind the Texans, Chiefs, Rams, Falcons, and Eagles (note: that last ranking was prior to the Patriots acquiring Antonio Brown). I am confident heading into Sunday’s game, but the only fear I have pop into my head every so often is, “What if I am so excited about those units, that I’ve turned a blind eye to some weakness that the Titans have found and will expose on gameday?”

7. The Greg Robinson Story: Last week, when I saw the note that the Browns had released LT Greg Robinson, but instant reaction was, “WTF?” But then, within a few minutes, I noticed the connection to the timing of placing OL Drew Forbes on injured reserve. Cleveland needed to get to 53 players before 4:00 PM that day, but if they had IR’ed Forbes before 4:00 PM, he would’ve been ineligible to return from IR later this season.

Therefore, the Browns (in part) decided to cut Robinson in order to temporarily clear a roster space, with the intent to re-sign him the next day. In fact, unless I missed it, the team never announced any release or re-signing related to Robinson — it only appeared on the NFL transaction log. The concern was that, “What if another team comes in to sign Robinson now?” I thought there might be some type of extra contract extension or bonus coming Robinson’s way as a result of whatever “handshake deal” the team talked about with he and his agent.

However, according to the contract websites, Robinson simply re-signed on a 1-year, $6.4 million deal. He already earned the $600,000 in bonuses from his previous 1-year, $7 million deal, so it nets out to the same thing. You’d have to think that some type of incentive was negotiated for Robinson. He did have regularly-scheduled weigh-in bonuses in his original contract, so I wonder if those were (by chance) removed from the stipulation and converted to something else. We’ll see if any news comes out about it over time.

8. Browns’ 2019 Team Captains: The Browns’ captains this year include:

Offense: QB Baker Mayfield
Defense: LB Christian Kirksey
Special Teams: LS Charley Hughlett

The captains are voted on by teammates. This year, only one captain was named per unit as opposed to two per unit last year. The team will have gameday captains that change week by week as well. This is the third straight year that Kirksey has been a team captain, but the first time for Mayfield and Hughlett. Here is what head coach Hue Jackson thought about those selections:

9. NFL Week 1 Picks: Here are my Week 1 picks, along with a few notes.

  • The Dolphins are in complete re-build mode, so I am expecting the Ravens to rip through them. I have a similar expectation for the Seahawks tearing through the Bengals; I am intrigued to see how well Seattle’s pass-rush performs.
  • Top teams like the Rams and Chiefs get the early-season benefit of the doubt, despite playing on the road. However, Jacksonville could be in for a rebound year, so we’ll see if they pose an upset threat to the Chiefs.
  • I feel like the Colts still have a high-caliber and well-coached team, and Jacoby Brissett has done some good things for them. But I still feel iffy about picking them in Week 1 against a Chargers team, even though they have their own running back issues.
  • Kyler Murray will start right off the bat for the Cardinals, and I’m going with them in a mini-upset over the Lions. I also have the 49ers (on the road) taking out the Buccaneers. If my picks come true, the entire NFC West would begin the season at 1-0.
  • As for all the prime time games, I have a clean sweep going for the home teams. That includes the Oakland Raiders, who I see playing with a tiny bit of an edge over a Broncos team that seems like the standard of a “meh” team in the NFL right now.

10. Predicting the Browns’ Week 1 Inactives: I predict the following players will be inactive for Sunday’s game against the Titans:

Projected Inactives: QB Drew Stanton, WR Damion Ratley, WR KhaDarel Hodge, TE Pharaoh Brown, OL Justin McCray, LB Sione Takitaki, and S Sheldrick Redwine.

As a reminder, there need to be seven inactives each week. The coaches can’t be blind to the fact that Garrett Gilbert offers more than Stanton if he’s needed on gameday, so I have Stanton as one inactive. I don’t think Ratley or Hodge have had time to develop niches on gameday yet. Brown is inactive due to only needing three tight ends on gameday.

McCray is inactive because the team would have two other right guard candidates on the roster in Wyatt Teller and Austin Corbett. Takitaki is the only injury-related inactive; otherwise, I would have it be Malik Jefferson. Redwine is a guy who I feel made the team due to being a fourth-round pick, but who isn’t ready for a defensive role yet.