A pair of NFL teams trying to help their playoff chances will match up against each other when Cleveland hosts Las Vegas on Tuesday. Originally scheduled for Saturday, this game was one of three moved by the NFL due to league-wide COVID-19 concerns.
The Raiders have won three straight against the Browns, including their last meeting, a 16-6 road victory in Week 8 last season. The two squads combined for five field goals in that game with a Derek Carr-to-Hunter Renfrow connection in the fourth quarter the only touchdown. The weather was not great for that early November game at FirstEnergy Stadium, but it should not be as much of a factor for this one.
Las Vegas (6-7) enters this game badly needing a win, something the Raiders have done just once since their Week 5 bye. Last week was particularly ugly, letting Kansas City score on a fumble return on the first play of the game before going on to lose 48-9 on the road. The offense has been stagnant, scoring 17 points or fewer in five of the last six games. Tight end Darren Waller's absence has been significant during this skid. And the defense hasn't been able to pick up the slack, surrendering 32 or more points in four of the last five contests.
Meanwhile, the Browns (7-6) enter this game with momentum following last week's 24-22 win over AFC North-leading Baltimore. Cleveland nearly let this game slip away, as the Ravens rallied behind backup quarterback Tyler Huntley after Lamar Jackson left with an ankle injury, but the Browns' defense held strong after Baltimore recovered an onside kick down by just two with 1:17 left. Baker Mayfield tossed a pair of touchdown passes, and the defense bent (389 yards allowed) but certainly didn't break (four sacks, two turnovers) in picking up the big victory.
Las Vegas (6-7) at Cleveland (7-6)
Kickoff: Monday, Dec. 20 at 5 p.m. ET
TV: NFL Network
Spread: Browns -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Who is available?
The Browns' roster issues due to a COVID-19 outbreak are the main reason this game was moved. As of Friday afternoon when the schedule change was announced, Cleveland had 20 members of the active roster on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, and head coach Kevin Stefanski also tested positive. The laundry list included both Baker Mayfield and Case Keenum, which leaves Nick Mullens in line to start at quarterback.
Mullens, who started 16 games (5-11) over three seasons (2018-20) for San Francisco, was just elevated from the practice squad. The Browns also signed Kyle Lauletta from Jacksonville's practice squad to their active roster. Given the quarterback situation, even more pressure will fall on a running game that will be led by Nick Chubb but will have D'Ernest Johnson in reserve with Kareem Hunt already ruled out because of an ankle injury suffered last week (and he went on the COVID list on Friday).
Besides the quarterbacks, 11 defensive players also are on the COVID list, a group that includes five defensive backs and three linemen. Not to be left out, punter Jamie Gillan is on there too. On top of this, cornerback Greg Newsome II (concussion) has been ruled out, and tackle Malik Jackson (knee) is questionable. It truly is an "all hands on deck" situation for Cleveland.
2. Running game
Because of its quarterback situation, Cleveland may look to stay grounded on offense. It helps that Las Vegas comes into this game ranked 26th in the NFL at 125.3 rushing yards allowed per game. Chubb has had a hard time finding much traction on the ground recently, as he's totaled just 75 yards in his last two games (both against Baltimore), so this could be the opportunity for him to break out a bit. Although he may have to do so running behind what could be a makeshift offensive line. On the other side, the Browns are 11th in the NFL in rushing defense (106.2 ypg), but that number has ballooned to 144.7 over the last three contests (at Patriots, vs. Lions, at Ravens). But the Raiders have just one 100-yard rushing game from any player this season (Peyton Barber, 111 vs. Miami in Week 3), and it's hard to see that changing considering Josh Jacobs is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry and is coming off of a 24-yard effort in last Sunday's blowout against the Chiefs.
3. Carr can't do it all by himself
Derek Carr has played well this season with just one game where he's thrown multiple interceptions. But he also has totaled just 18 touchdown passes through 13 contests (vs. 10 INTs) and has just three scoring strikes over the last four games. Not surprisingly, the Raiders have scored 15 or fewer points in three of those, which were all losses. Carr is definitely missing Waller, who suffered a knee injury in the Week 12 win on Thanksgiving in Dallas, but also running back Kenyan Drake (broke his ankle in Week 12 and is done for the season), who was a weapon as a receiver out of the backfield. Hunter Renfrow has been fantastic and he's currently tied for fifth in the NFL with 86 receptions, but Carr needs more help from other pass catchers. Bryan Edwards has shown flashes of brilliance, but consistency has been an issue. And DeSean Jackson is averaging 29 yards per reception since joining the team, but he's caught a total of six passes in five games. Against a potentially depleted Cleveland secondary, it could be now or never for someone not named Renfrow to step up.
Between the Browns' COVID issues and the scheduling change, there is so much uncertainty now surrounding this game. Not surprisingly, the line totally shifted from Cleveland earlier in the week but it could go back to the home team now that the game itself has been pushed back. It's really difficult to get a sense of what shape the Browns' depth chart will be in by Tuesday night but what hasn't changed are Las Vegas' season-long defensive issues or the fact that this offense doesn't scare anyone right now. Unless Cleveland's roster situation gets worse than it is now, the Browns should have enough manpower (looking at you Myles Garrett) to get the job done at home despite the unusual circumstances.
Prediction: Browns 20, Raiders 13
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.