No matter how many good young assets the Browns put together, if they are going to be a competitive in the coming years, they are going to have to be able to get past divisional opponents. That means playing the Bengals, Steelers and Ravens six times every year.
After starting the 0-5, including giving the Giants a scare in week five, Cleveland has won two of their past three games and narrowly missed beating the Colts a few weeks ago that would have put their current streak at three. Brandon Weeden is still fresh in the league, but he has begun to develop a solid chemistry with his offensive line and receivers that has surprised some around the league.
The Browns took a risk in the supplemental draft when they spent a second round pick on Josh Gordon, a receiver with immense potential but sporadic success at the college level. So far, the investment has paid off. Gordon is a big play wideout who will not win you any PPR leagues, but he will get down the field and abuse secondaries. He averages 22.3 yards per catch, tops in the league amongst wideouts with at least 15 catches. He has also found the end zone four times for the Browns.
But enough about their aerial attack. If the Browns are really going to have any success, it will begin and end on the ground. Trent Richardson is their franchise back, and they have the pieces in place on the wall in front of him that could make him elite before the season is done. Joe Thomas has been holding down the blind side since he entered the league, and second rounder Mitchell Schwartz is holding down the right side.
With these two beats on the end, Richardson is could have a decade of success in his future. Richardson has been dealing with some soreness due to a rib injury suffered a few weeks ago, but he went to work on the Chargers front seven last week so there is no reason to believe that he shouldn't gouge the banged Ravens defence.
Speaking of that Ravens defence, it might be a lot worse than anyone could have expected. We have come to expect so much from them in the past decade, but they are falling apart at the seams and being held together by a mixture of young players and those still on the mend. Haloti Ngata will play sparingly due to continued injury issues and Ed Reed is not playing like the ballhawk of old.
Greg Little is going to work the underneath routes while Gordon goes for the homeruns over the top. If Weeden can get some time in the pocket, we might see an outright upset on our hands. The Browns pass rush is also getting a nice boost with Phil Taylor coming back in from the PUP list. The second year player is a space eater on the inside of the defensive line, and could cause headaches if he can get into the backfield consistently.
Since Joe Haden drew back into the lineup for the Browns, their pass defence has improved significantly. After getting gouged by the Bengals in his first game back, the Browns have allowed 173 and 148 yards through the air and less than 56% completion percentage in their past two games. He has the skills to shut down his side of the field, and the rest of the secondary has stepped up to blanket the rest of the Colts and Chargers in the past few weeks.
The Ravens have allowed more than 400 yards in back-to-back games since Ray Lewis and Webb went down for the season. Their run defence has been especially bad as they are getting hit for 142.9 yards per game on the ground, good for 30th in the league. If Richardson can get the running game established early, the Ravens will be forced to load the box and leave Gordon on solo coverage on the outside.
The Browns are at home where Jimmy Haslam has watched them win their first two home games under his ownership, and despite the Ravens coming off of a bye week, the Browns may have the pieces in place to win three of four. Take the Browns and the points, they will keep it close.
Pick of the week record: 4-4.
The Rams traveled to London last week and got handled by the Pats. They got out to an early lead, but Brady came back and put up four scores on them before half. It was over and ugly in a hurry. On to the next one.