Two hot teams trying to prove who is for real in 2020
The Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts are riding three-game win streaks after season-opening losses when they enter this Week 5 matchup. Indy has won 10 of its last 12 matchups in this series, although the last contest between the two teams came back in 2017 when the Colts edged the Browns, 31-28. T.Y. Hilton racked up 153 receiving yards and a touchdown in the victory with Jacoby Brissett dueling DeShone Kizer under center.
The Colts have been fantastic this season, especially on defense since their Week 1 loss to the Jaguars in Jacksonville. Since then, they've held the Vikings, Jets, and Bears to a combined 29 points and outscored them by 54 overall. After its loss, Indy changed to a more ball-control offense that relies more on rookie running back Jonathan Taylor than veteran quarterback Philip Rivers. Since throwing it 46 times, Rivers has had 25, 21, and 29 pass attempts. There are still some improvements to be made, but with really good line play on both sides of the ball, they'll always be in the game.
After he Browns lost Week 1 to the Ravens, a lot of people wondered if the new coaching staff was like all of the previous ones. But Kevin Stefanski changed that narrative when his team scored 118 points in victories over Cincinnati, Washington, and Dallas. Last week, they racked up 307 yards on the ground even after losing Nick Chubb early in a win over the Cowboys. The defense nearly coughed up the lead, though, so that's a bit of a concern. They've given up 30 or more in three of the four contests.
Indianapolis at Cleveland
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 11 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Colts -2.5
Three Things to Watch
It's the second straight road trip for Indianapolis, which played in Chicago yesterday. Indy's next contest is at home against the Bengals in Week 6 before a bye, so focus won't be an issue. Meanwhile, this is the lone home game for the Browns over a four-week span. They have road tilts in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati after this, so that is something to consider. Also, they are coming off the emotional road win against the Cowboys. Intangibles slightly favor the road team.
2. Strength on strength
The Browns are averaging 5.9 yards per carry this season, and by running the ball a ton, they are taking pressure off Baker Mayfield. As mentioned above, they were able to grind Dallas down last week with their stable of backs. Chubb's injury would hurt most teams, but with Kareem Hunt as the backup, things didn't skip a beat. D'Ernest Johnson even came in and gave the team a huge lift, as he's averaging over seven yards per game. This is all part of Stefanski's game plan for Cleveland.
Sunday should be good test for Cleveland since Indy is holding opponents to just 3.6 yards per carry. Dalvin Cook has had the most success with 63 yards on 14 carries against this unit. James Robinson racked up 62 yards in Week 1, while Frank Gore had 57 in Week 3. If they can do the same to Hunt et al, then this will fall on Mayfield, who can be very inconsistent.
3. Mo touches for Alie-Cox
The newest former basketball player to make a splash in the NFL is Indianapolis tight end Mo Alie-Cox. Cox was a star player for VCU who transitioned to football once he graduated. He's spent several years in Indy and is finally blossoming into a star in Jack Doyle's absence. At first, he spent most of his time as a blocker, but he's stepped up to become a lot more with 11 receptions for 194 yards and two touchdowns. The reason why we bring him up is also because the Browns have been gashed by tight ends. They've allowed 24 receptions, 248 yards, and four touchdowns after giving up the second-most fantasy points to tight ends last season. Put Alie-Cox on your DFS radar for Week 4.
Is it weird that despite being 3-1, I don't believe in the Browns yet? They nearly coughed up last week's game against the Cowboys and don't have a very good defense. Indy's going to dominate the game up front with their O-line and D-line. The question is will it be Mayfield or Rivers who makes the big mistake that leads to a loss. I'm guessing it'll be Baker as the Colts move to 4-1.
Prediction: Colts 27, Browns 21
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.