The Cleveland Browns open the 2022 regular season on Sunday as they travel to Charlotte to take on the Carolina Panthers.
The Browns will be looking to break a pair of streaks as they have not won a Week 1 game since 2004 and last won on the road in Week 1 in 1994.
Even for this franchise, which has continually found ways to lose games over the years, those streaks seem unfathomable.
Still, this is a new season filled with new opportunities, so here is what you need to know about the game, along with a few storylines to watch, as the Browns embark on the Jacoby Brissett era for the next 11 games.
Records: Cleveland is 0-0. Carolina is 0-0.
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
Stadium: Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
TV: WOIO CBS
Announcers: Spero Dedes and Jay Feely
Radio: ESPN 850, 92.3 The Fan, 98.5 WNCX
Announcers: Jim Donovan, Nathan Zegura, Jerod Cherry (sidelines)
Last meeting: The Browns won the last meeting, 26-20, in Week 14 of the 2018 season.
All-time series: Carolina leads the all-time series 4-2. The Browns have lost both of their road games against the Panthers.
Weather: 79 degrees and cloudy, with a 24 percent chance of precipitation. (weather.com)
Uniform: The Browns will be wearing the always classy brown jerseys and white pants.
kicking off the season with a classic combo #CLEvsCAR | #Browns pic.twitter.com/8KPNFUFafn— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 9, 2022
Injury report: Browns - Questionable: Right tackle Jack Conklin (knee), offensive tackle Chris Hubbard (elbow). Out: wide receiver Michael Woods II (illness/hamstring), cornerback Greedy Williams (hamstring). Panthers - Questionable: Linebacker Brandon Smith (thigh).
The line: Pick ‘em (Draft Kings)
A Few Things to Watch
Baker “off the leash”: While the schedule came out after the Browns traded quarterback Baker Mayfield to the Panthers, the NFL still landed an opening-day matchup that would have otherwise been a bit of an afterthought.
To no one’s surprise, Mayfield will be starting under center on Sunday against the team that made him the No. 1 overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft. Given his history in similar situations, it would be silly to say that the Browns do not have to be concerned about Mayfield.
In college, Mayfield came out on the winning side in his return to Texas Tech in 2016 and against Ohio State in 2017. On the NFL level, one of his most memorable moments came when he led the Browns to a win over the Cincinnati Bengals with former Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson on the sidelines.
Mayfield and the ever-present “chip on his shoulder” will be looking to do the same on Sunday against the Browns. But the Cleveland coaching staff knows Mayfield and his weaknesses better than anyone, possibly even Mayfield himself, and with an entire offseason to prepare should be able to put together a solid gameplan for the defense.
If not, the Browns run a real chance at adding another Week 1 loss to their current streak.
Jacoby SZN: While much of the focus has been on Baker Mayfield, there is another quarterback who will be playing in the game.
Sunday marks the first of an 11-game stretch where Jacoby Brissett will handle QB1 duties while Deshaun Watson serves his suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
Ahead of Week 1, @JBrissett12 sat down with @ByKimberleyA to talk about what it means to him to be Cleveland’s QB1. pic.twitter.com/fGdWfxIYqT— Outside The Lines (@OTLonESPN) September 9, 2022
Brissett isn’t going to set the league on fire with his play, but he does have 37 starts under his belt and generally avoids turning the ball over as he has only thrown 17 interceptions against 36 touchdown passes in his NFL career.
Sunday’s game will also be the first that Brissett has played with Cleveland’s top offensive players, so if he can keep the turnovers to a minimum and simply hit the open receiver - something that Browns fans have lamented quarterbacks not being able to consistently accomplish in recent years - then the Browns should be in a good position when Watson finally returns in December.
Welcome to the NFL, rook: The Panthers worked to rebuild their offensive line with the biggest move being the selection of left tackle Ikem Ekwonu with the No. 6 overall pick of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Watch out, Myles is gonna have some new moves in his bag pic.twitter.com/44aWmQMked— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 9, 2022
While Ekwonu is known for his work in the run game, his pass blocking is still a work in progress and he will be making his first NFL stop lined up across from All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett, who has worked to take his game to another level, according to defensive coordinator Joe Woods (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“He is playing at another level in practice. This guy is coming off the edge two feet from the ground. It is impressive, and he looks like a running back playing defensive end. From a leadership standpoint, I think he really is trying to take over that room not only vocally but by example of what he is doing. I definitely feel like his mindset is to be a dominant player this year. I know it always is, but it just feels different from what I saw so far in practice.”
Mayfield has often been more comfortable throwing when he can move out of the pocket. But if Garrett can continually get the better of Ekwonu, then Mayfield may not like what he finds when he rolls away from Garrett only to see defensive end Jadeveon Clowney waiting for him.
Garrett enters the season with 58.5 career sacks, which leaves him 18 sacks behind Clay Matthew’s official team record of 76.5 and 18.5 sacks behind Bill Glass’ unofficial record of 77.
He won’t break the record on Sunday, but in facing a rookie at left tackle, Garrett should be able to cut into that deficit by at least a couple of sacks.
On to Plan B: The Browns thought they had solved their issues in the return game when they signed Pro Bowl kick returner Jakeem Grant Sr. in free agency.
That plan blew up in August when Grant tore his Achilles tendon and landed on the injured reserve list for the season.
The lone bright spot is that the injury happened early enough to give special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, reportedly one of the best in the business, time to come up with a plan to replace Grant.
The first man up for the job is Demetric Felton Jr., who got a taste of the return game last season as a rookie as he returned 32 punts for an average of 7.1 yards per return, and nine kickoffs for an average of 19.1 yards per return.
It could be argued that Felton was one of several players the Browns tried out as returners last season that led them to sign Grant in free agency, but Priefer said last year’s experience will serve Felton well this season (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“He had never returned a punt until a year ago in an actual game. He has worked extremely hard in his ball security, tracking punts, catching punts and just the little nuances of where your hands are, your elbows, your feet, your body position and how to track it, get to the spot and move your feet to adjust and those little things. Hundreds and hundreds of reps since last year in terms of the spring, training camp and then this past week. He is, I do not want to say comfortable because I never want my returner to be comfortable, but I want him to be confident. I think he is much more confident than he was a year ago.”
The Browns should not expect Felton to match the type of production that Grant provides in the return game, but as long as can consistently field punts and remember that there is little advantage to returning a kickoff out of the end zone, then that may be enough of a win for the team.
A Final Quote
Running back Nick Chubb:
Those are just a few things to keep an eye on; now it is time to have your say. What are you looking for from the Browns in Sunday’s game against the Panthers?