The last undefeated team in the NFL is on the road Sunday as the Arizona Cardinals take on the Cleveland Browns. These two met just two years ago when Arizona beat Cleveland 38-24 at home. Kenyan Drake ran for four touchdowns in the victory and out-gained Nick Chubb, who accounted for 127 rushing yards and a touchdown himself. The Cardinals have won four straight and five of their last six in this series.
Arizona moved to 5-0 after holding serve at home 17-10 against the 49ers. It was the team's worst offensive effort by far as Kyler Murray passed for 239 yards and wide receiver Rondale Moore was the team's leading rusher with 38 yards. For the third time this season, the Cards held their opponent to less than 20 points, although San Francisco did manage to outgain Arizona by 34 yards.
Cleveland (3-2) is back home after losing a shootout in Los Angeles 47-42 to the Chargers. The defense was gashed by the Chargers, who put up almost 500 yards and 27 first downs in the win. Baker Mayfield threw for two touchdowns while Chubb ran for 161 yards. The Browns led by seven with 4:45 left but proceeded to give up two touchdowns to Austin Ekeler, leading to the painful loss, which saw Cleveland become the first team in NFL history to lose a game while scoring 40-plus points and not have a single turnover.
Arizona (5-0) at Cleveland (3-2)
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 17 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Spread: Browns -3
Three Things to Watch
Arizona hits the road for the fourth time already this season, so the body clock factor could be in play because of the time zone difference. But the Cardinals also are 3-0 away from home with wins at Tennessee, Jacksonville and in Los Angeles over the Rams, so this team has confidence in their ability to succeed in unfamiliar environments. A home date with lowly Houston is next so there's no concern when it comes to focus. However, Arizona is dealing with a COVID outbreak and will be without head coach Kliff Kingsbury and linebacker Chandler Jones, who leads the team with five sacks (all of them coming in the opener against the Titans), is on the Reserve/COVID-19 list putting his availability into question. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers will split the head-coaching duties in Kingsbury's absence. Two other members of the organization (defensive lineman Zach Allen and quarterbacks coach Cam Turner) also tested positive for the virus on Friday and will miss Sunday's game, and it's possible there could be additional personnel impacted by this outbreak.
Meanwhile, this will be the first of three straight at home for Cleveland. The Browns are 2-0 thus far at FirstEnergy Stadium, beating the Texans in Week 2 and the Bears in Week 3 by a combined 30 points (57-37). It'll be a quick turnaround for next week's "Thursday Night Football" matchup with Denver but at least Cleveland isn't the team that has to travel. There is the concern about carryover following a tough loss though, and quite a few key players have been limited participants in practice this week due to a variety of ailments, but that could be precautionary or for rest purposes. One player that has already been ruled out, however, is Chubb, who will miss Sunday's game because of a calf injury.
2. Time of possession
These are two of the top 10 teams in the NFL in keeping the football. Cleveland checks in at 34:46 this season, which is good for second, while the Cardinals are sixth at 32:16. The Browns' running game grinds a ton of clock and is part of their winning formula. They have the league's No. 1 rushing offense (187.6 ypg), but it will obviously look a little different with Chubb sitting this one out. Kareem Hunt has been a lead back before and he's averaging 5.4 yards per carry this season with a team-high five rushing touchdowns. He'll be asked to carry a bigger load than usual against Arizona and he's missed some practice time this week with a wrist injury. Fortunately, the Cardinals are on the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to stopping the run, ranking 28th at 139 yards on the ground per contest. If there's a potential silver lining it's the fact that they have been even worse in this department at home (164.5 ypg), so at least this one is on the road.
3. One week mirage?
The Browns allowed 47 points to the Chargers last week after holding their previous three opponents to a combined 34. Granted, the competition was a little lower, as it was the Texans, Bears, and Vikings, but still, the defense was in good form. Cleveland is second in rushing and 11th in passing yards per game allowed. San Francisco is the only team thus far that has been able to hold Arizona to fewer than 31 points. Last week was Murray's worst game of the season as he got no help from the run game, which was borderline non-existent. Even though Murray himself is a threat to make things happen with his legs (does have three rushing touchdowns), he needs contributions from Chase Edmonds and James Conner to keep defenses honest. Otherwise, opponents can pin their ears back and come after him. Murray has been sacked 10 times and this week must contend with Myles Garrett, the NFL's current leader with seven QB takedowns. Overall, the Browns are third in sacks with a total of 16.
There will be no more undefeated teams after this Sunday. Back home, the Browns are a different team, and I think their defense stands tall in this one. Arizona can't run it well and Cleveland will smother the Cardinals' ground game. The offense also will be impacted by the absence of Kingsbury, who typically calls the plays. Even though the Browns will be without Chubb, look for Hunt to find plenty of running room, which will open things up for Baker Mayfield to get his various tight ends involved. Cleveland wins a close one.
Prediction: Browns 23, Cardinals 20
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.