We are so close to the end, Cleveland. Thirteen weeks, thirteen losses, but the finish line is mercifully in sight.
The march toward #OhFor16in16 appears to be gaining speed and infamy is less than a month away. So if the Cleveland Browns (0-13) want to avoid some undesirable company as the century’s second winless NFL team, they had best bring some energy when they drive northeast to visit the Buffalo Bills (6-7).
Are the Browns favored?
That question feels so sarcastic now. No, the Browns are ten-point road dogs which means for the fourteenth straight week Las Vegas expects little from the Orange and Brown. It’s hard to blame them as they haven’t covered since Week 6 against the Tennessee Titans. Winning games is one thing. Not being able to even eclipse the point-spread provided by Vegas—many of which have been double-digits—is another.
What about the historical aspect?
Cleveland leads the all-time series 11-8, including a playoff win during the 1989 season. Since the Browns returned in 1999, both teams have struggled in the League which based on scheduling rules means they play each other constantly. In eight 21st century matchups the series is tied 4-4. Buffalo took a 26-10 win in 2014 and Cleveland most recently triumphed 37-24 in 2013, a Thursday night game that saw hometown hero Brian Hoyer suffer a season-ending ACL injury. Brandon Weeden mopped up and the defense and special teams did enough to get Cleveland an elusive primetime win.
Do the Bills Care?
A little. At 6-7, the Bills are mathematically alive for the playoffs, but their prospects are dim after dropping two straight. They cannot catch the New England Patriots in the AFC East, but have a chance in the wild card race. The Bills are tenth in the conference, two games behind the sixth-seed Denver Broncos with four teams between them. Buffalo’s only chance is to win out, giving them a 9-7 record, and hope that some wild shenanigans open the door to the playoffs. Sports Club Stats gives them a 3.4 percent chance to crack the postseason which means they will likely extend their league longest 17-season run without a postseason appearance. The Bills have not enjoyed a January game since 1999’s Music City Miracle.
Buffalo dropped their first two games to open the year. They rebounded with a four-game win streak, including a 16-0 victory at New England, before dropping the next three. The streaky season continued with a two-game win streak against Cincinnati and Jacksonville and most recently a two game losing streak at the hands of Oakland and Pittsburgh. The team’s hot and cold ways may spell doom for head coach Rex Ryan. Rumors are swirling that regardless of how the season concludes, the flamboyant head coach’s days are numbered. Buffalo’s offense ranks tenth on the league (25.0 ppg) and the defense sits 17th (23.2 ppg).
As the Browns season circles the drain, their opponents will feel an extra motivation to defeat Cleveland – no one wants to be the team that gives up that elusive win. “We ain’t gonna be that team,” declared Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. “That’s just a guarantee.” Strong words from the Buffalo camp but understandable. So few teams make the playoffs that in December pride is as much a motivating factor as anything else. Five Thirty Eight gives the Browns a 12 percent chance to win this week which feels about right considering the club’s emotional state. For what it’s worth, they’re more than three times as likely (44 percent) to go 0-16 than they are to beat Buffalo this Sunday.
Where do we go from here?
As the losses and frustration mounts, it’s fair for Browns fans to seek out targets at which we can distribute blame. The best destination for said vitriol appears to be the front office. Management showed little desire to spend its copious cap money during the offseason and seem content to tank 2016 and aim for contention circa 2019. I for one do not blame the players; in fact I have been heartened to see so many young men playing hard even when they know the game is over and there will be no postseason glory to chase. No one wants to see their team quit, and so far the Browns have shown a willingness to stand up and take their lumps. Even if they take the collar for sixteen weeks, there is something to be said for effort. Does that mean I’m happy with the losses or #TrustTheProcess? Hell no, but silver linings are hard to come by this year so I’ll take what I can get.
Buffalo by and large understands Cleveland’s pain. They are one of the few cities in the country that can absolutely commiserate with the agony of sports ineptitude that Cleveland has historically suffered. But now that the Cavs are DEFENDING CHAMPIONS, are we no longer kindred spirits? If we are counting total seasons without a title then the city of Buffalo now has the second longest drought of any North American city. Perhaps some flustered Buffaloners will take solace in seeing the Browns flattened at New Era Field.
Or perhaps Cleveland can twist the knife a little more with a late season win. Either way this game takes us one week closer to 2017.