Saints, Browns both still looking for their first win
Week 2's meeting between Cleveland and New Orleans pits a pair of teams that experienced different outcomes in their openers that kept both out of the win column. The Browns managed to end their 17-game losing streak in the season opener, albeit via a tie with the Steelers. Cleveland staged a 14-point comeback in the fourth quarter to send the game into overtime, but the extra period settled nothing as it ended in a 21-21 tie. The Browns have recorded just one win in their last 36 games.
For the Saints, Week 1 saw their defense revert to the ineptness that marred the 2014-16 seasons, as the Buccaneers scored on seven of their 11 possessions. And two of Tampa Bay's possessions ended because the clock expired at the end of each half. The Bucs had to punt only once. The result was a 48-40 loss at home to open the season for New Orleans.
The Browns lead the all-time series against the Saints, 13-4, including an 8-2 mark in New Orleans. Cleveland has won five of six against the Saints dating back to 1993.
Cleveland at New Orleans
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 16 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Saints -8.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Saints’ secondary to be shredded again?
Ryan Fitzpatrick experienced one the most successful days of his professional career, completing 21-of-28 passes for 417 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Even the dreadful Black and Gold defenses of 2015-16 never allowed a quarterback more than 400 passing yards in a game. The noticeably improved defense of last season permitted only one quarterback, Tom Brady, to throw for more than 400 yards in a game. Was New Orleans’ supposedly improved defense exposed as overhyped, or was Fitzpatrick’s performance merely a one-time implosion?
In contrast, Tyrod Taylor completed 15-of-40 passes for 197 yards with one touchdown and one interception in 70 minutes of work last week. In his sole appearance against the Saints last November with the Bills, he completed only 9-of-18 passes for 56 yards, an interception and no touchdowns. He had more success on the ground, running three times for 27 yards, though he was sacked twice.
2. Who can force and cash in turnovers?
The Steelers fumbled the ball away three times while also throwing three interceptions to the Browns. Cleveland committed only one turnover, an interception. Despite the turnover margin being plus-5 in favor of the Browns, they could follow up those gifts with only one touchdown, three punts, a missed field goal and the end of the first half. The Browns must be able to force multiple turnovers per game, then convert those into points every time.
The Saints gave away the ball twice against the Buccaneers. Both were fumbles. The Bucs returned the first one for a touchdown late in the first half. The second one set up the Buccaneers near midfield, leading to a touchdown and inflating their lead to 24 points. The Saints cannot give away the ball while not taking it away at all.
3. Who feels more pressure to win?
The Browns managed to end their 17-game losing streak last week, but they've still won just once since the start of the 2016 season. Will their 14-point rally in the fourth quarter give them confidence that they can defeat one of the NFC's preseason favorites on the road? Will they still be thinking about their blocked field goal attempt in the final 10 seconds of overtime that would have given them their first victory since Christmas Eve of 2016?
The Saints dropped their season opener for the fifth straight year. They have come out of the gates losing their first two contests in five of the last six seasons. After four of those 0-2 starts, New Orleans failed to finish with a winning record or advance to the playoffs. During the past nine seasons, when the Saints have at least split their first two games, they qualified for the playoffs every time. They did rebound last year after falling to their first two opponents, both of whom advanced to their respective conference championships. Could they recover from losses to two teams projected to finish in the cellar of their divisions?
Losing a second home game after having dropped the first against a divisional opponent would drop a significant obstacle in New Orleans’ path to repeating as NFC South champions. The Browns showed a lot of heart in nearly upsetting their archrivals. This game will go down to the final minute with the Browns heartbreakingly falling just a bit short again.
Prediction: Saints 34, Browns 30
— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com.