Will a trip away from the US give the Browns their first win of the season?
The NFL continues their expansion of the brand and the product Sunday morning as the Minnesota Vikings take on the Cleveland Browns. For the second straight week the scene will be Twickenham Stadium in London in front of 70,0000-plus fans. The story of this one is two teams heading in different directions. The Browns are still looking for their first win of the season despite losing four games by just three points. The prevailing theme is inconsistency on offense although they have consistently turned the ball over as a group. It'll be DeShone Kizer under center for his sixth game of the season. Kizer's thrown just three touchdown passes compared to 11 interceptions. On a normal team, those stats would not allow for someone to make more starts, but when your other options are Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler then you persevere with the rookie.
Things will not get any easier for the former Notre Dame signal-caller as the Vikings are one of the best defenses in the league. Minnesota has won three straight and four of its last five games. The defense has allowed more than 20 points just once this season and that was at Pittsburgh back in Week 2. Four straight opponents have thrown for less then 160 yards. The defense has had to carry the offense which has had some issues of their own. Quarterback Sam Bradford is out for Sunday which means Case Keenum gets the call. Keenum has thrown for five touchdowns to two interceptions and has been able to manage the offense. The run game is being relied on by Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray, who are trying to replace the explosiveness lost by the injury to Dalvin Cook.
This is the fourth of five games overseas this season with the fifth coming in mid-November when the Patriots play the Raiders. The other three games were pretty big blowouts with the Jaguars, Saints and Rams each winning by 20 points or more. In some ways, the lack of a true home team evens things up a bit, but it also takes away a home game from someone as well.
Minnesota vs. Cleveland (London)
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 29 at 9:30 a.m. ET
TV Channel: NFL Network
Spread: Vikings -9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. European flavor
One of the many factors that go into a game like this is familiarity with the experience as a whole. Some teams treat this as a business trip and are used to all that surrounds it whether it be the stuff off the field or the time difference. This is just the second time that Minnesota has taken part in a contest like this with the first one being back in 2013, a 34-27 victory over the Steelers. It's Cleveland's first time playing in the NFL's International series so we'll see if the newness of something like this overwhelms the young Browns. Some teams leave really early for their players to get their body clocks right while others don't change their practice schedule and keep things normal as can be. The field at Twickenham Stadium isn't the greatest so the extra time practicing on it would be a benefit. Baltimore lost this year after making its first trip overseas and there were some with the team that admitted they could have put their schedule together a little differently.
2. Will either offense break out?
To some extent, both of these teams are looking for more from their offense. Cleveland is averaging just under 15 points per game and around 300 yards per contest. The lack of weapons is evident when you are relying on the likes of Kenny Britt and Ricardo Louis. Running back Duke Johnson is the team's leading receiver and he's not exactly a game-breaker or anything like that. When you don't have one of those, you have to matriculate down the field and it's hard to trust this offense to not turn it over on 10- and 11-play drives. Minnesota, meanwhile, is averaging just over 20 points and around 350 yards per game. Case Keenum is a good game-manager that has relied on Adam Thielen in Stefon Diggs' absence. The run game has been highly pedestrian behind the Vikes' suspect offensive line. Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon don't inspire fear in opponents at all. First team to 20 points may win this game.
We mentioned the Europe angle to the intangibles involving this game. There's also the mental side of maybe the Vikings going into this one a little overconfident. Let's face it, they should win this contest rather easily, but will the players play like that? With the bye week coming up, there's nothing next week to take their mind away from Sunday. Cleveland's closest games have come at home for the most part, but that's with a highly partisan crowd. The jokes are out there that maybe the Browns are better not playing on U.S. soil. An early big lead for the Vikings will probably clinch themselves a victory.
I mean let's be honest here... Minnesota is going to win this game, the question is by how much. It might be close early as both teams get used to the field and their surroundings, but ultimately talent wins out. The shame of it here for Cleveland is that they could have had Deshaun Watson or Carson Wentz under center, instead of DeShone Kizer. I think we get a low-scoring affair and even in metric numbers, it all adds up to another loss for the Browns.
Prediction: Vikings 24, Browns 10
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
(Top photo courtesy of www.clevelandbrowns.com)