When the Harvard Brain Trust decided the Cleveland Browns (0-4) should tank last season, there was concern that it would kick off an NBA-esque race to the bottom that the NFL had never before known. It remains unclear if the HBT is still playing for the future in 2017, but a quick review of the current roster seems to indicate they are not as worried about the present. The Browns are far from a success, but their “salt the earth” rebuild may have inspired the New York Jets (2-2). The Jets spent the offseason signing inexpensive talent and shedding onerous contracts. With both teams seemingly more interested in the Draft, let’s take stock of what might happen when these two clubs collide.
Are the Browns Favored?
Not anymore. You would think that the bookies would no better than to favor the Browns by now, but earlier this week winless Cleveland was listed as the one point favorite. The line currently sits at 0.0 and at this point it is unclear if the line is more confidence in Cleveland or disrespect for New York.
The Browns lead the all-time series 12-11 including the classic overtime playoff win in January 1987. The Jets have rattled off four straight wins; the last Cleveland victory came in 2007. Jamal Lewis ran for two scores that afternoon and Braylon Edwards caught a touchdown pass. The Browns haven’t beaten the Jets at home since 2006.
New York opened the 2017 season with two straight losses at Buffalo and at Oakland. The Big Green leveled the ledger with home wins over Miami and Jacksonville. New York ranks 21st in both team offense (18.75 ppg) and defense (23 ppg).
Browns fans will recognize Jets starting quarterback Josh McCown. The 38-year-old has thrown 82-of-117 passing for 826 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions on the season. When head coach Todd Bowles named McCown the starter media pundits interpreted that as the white flag of surrender in a tankfest, but McCown has held his water in the backfield. Bilal Powell leads the team with 49 carries for 235 yards and two scores. The passing game centers around Robby Anderson (12 receptions, 204 yards, 1 TD) and Jermaine Kearse (18 receptions, 182 yards, 2 TD). Former-Brown Buster Skrine patrols the secondary. He is enjoying a decent year with 19 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. Former Ohio State wide receiver Devin Smith remains on the injured reserve list as he recovers from a torn ACL.
The game doubles as the professional football debut of top overall pick Myles Garrett. The Browns list Garrett as “Probable” for Sunday as he continues his recovery from a high ankle sprain, and he is widely expected to play on Sunday. Garrett showed promise in the preseason, and no doubt Browns fans are salivating at the chance to see this game breaking pass rusher disrupt the Jets backfield. As questions continue to mount about the talent the HBT has brought into the fold, a memorable Garrett debut would bolster the front office’s standing. Garrett’s presence and potential as defensive (dare I say Watt-esque) cornerstone would offer some peace to diehards.
Are there reasons for hope on Sunday? The numbers would suggest as much. The following table shows the week in which the Browns won their first game over the past ten seasons:
Last season was a bit of an outlier, but on average Cleveland wins its first game of the season in Week 4.6 which we will round up to 5. Ignoring the knee-buckling sadness of that stat, the upcoming Week 5 matchup with the ineffectual Jets means that the trend has a moderate chance of continuing. For reference, over the same stretch of time the New England Patriots first win comes in Week 1.1.
With the Browns once again looking more towards the future than present there is a logic that says the team’s best bet lies in securing a top draft pick. The Jets schedule will only get more difficult from here with matchups against New England, Atlanta, and Kansas City looming so it’s conceivable that they may finish with around two wins. Are the Browns better off just lying down and playing the long game? Maybe, but I still want to win. The draft talk works as a balm after a loss, but before the game is played (especially with Garrett taking the field against a beatable opponent) Cleveland has plenty of reason to tune in.