Carson Wentz and Baker Mayfield present a matchup of talented but enigmatic quarterbacks
It wasn't so long ago that each team felt confident in Carson Wentz' and Baker Mayfield's status as franchise quarterback. But both signal-callers, drafted in the first two picks of their respective drafts, have had disappointing seasons, to say the least.
Wentz ranks 28th in the NFL with a 50.2 QBR and last with 12 interceptions and 35 sacks. His completion rate (58.2 percent) is 32nd and his yards per attempt (6.1) are 31st. Mayfield isn't nearly as bad — his career-high 71.3 QBR ranks 14th, but his 6.8 yards per attempt and 6.2 percent interception rate are career-low marks.
With inconsistency under center, the Eagles and Browns have struggled to nearly identical point differentials (-29 and -28, respectively). However, with big losses and narrow wins, the Browns have a sparkling record, compared to the Eagles' 3-5-1 mark.
Still, both teams find themselves with plausible playoff chances. One of six AFC teams with a 6-3 mark, the Browns are currently out of the playoffs due to tiebreakers but will have a chance to correct that. And, of course, someone has to win the dreadful NFC East, as much as the teams' play might indicate otherwise. Football Outsiders gives the Browns a 40.6 percent chance of making the playoffs, with the Eagles at 48.7 percent.
Sunday's game could get ugly, as the play could match the cold and wet weather predicted for Northeast Ohio. But it will also give a big boost to the playoff chances of whichever team comes out on top.
Philadelphia at Cleveland
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 22 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Browns -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Baker Mayfield and the Browns' offense wake up?
The Browns have split their last four games, but the way they've gone about doing so is concerning, to say the least. In three of those contests, they scored 10 or fewer points. The Eagles don't have the greatest offense in the world, but Cleveland will need to approach their scoring average of 24.0 points per game to feel comfortable this week.
Mayfield has especially struggled, with fewer than 150 passing yards in three of those contests. They leaned pretty heavily on the run, but only once did he complete more than 60 percent of his passes. Cleveland may have to continue to lean on Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt this week too, since the Eagles rank sixth in the NFL in pass defense and 26th against the run.
When the Browns do go to the air, it's worth keeping an eye on tight ends Austin Hooper, Harrison Bryant, and David Njoku. The Eagles' linebackers struggle in coverage, and their defensive backs are undersized, so there could be an exploitable mismatch here.
However, given the likely weather and Eagles' weakness, a heavy ground game is likely the best way to solve their scoring woes. Nick Chubb looked healthy last week after returning from a stint on injured reserve with a knee injury, and Philadelphia has allowed more than 150 rushing yards per game in its last five contests.
2. Is this Jalen Reagor's chance to shine?
Few teams have struggled to put together a competent receiving corps like the Eagles, and injuries have continued to rear their head in 2020. The team thought they addressed the position in the draft by selecting Reagor out of TCU, but he's missed most of the season with a UCL tear in his thumb.
Sunday might just be his breakout moment. The already-thin Eagles' receiving corps took another hit on Thursday when the team placed J.J. Arcega-Whiteside on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Fellow receiver John Hightower has also missed practice with an illness but was not designated to the list. Meanwhile, Zach Ertz and DeSean Jackson remain on the IR and Alshon Jeffery returned to action just last week and was only marginally effective.
Reagor has steadily improved this season and received a team-high seven targets last week. He is clearly the most talented (healthy) pass catcher on the team, and if someone has to catch passes on this offense, they may as well feed it to their rookie speedster.
3. Can the Eagles stop the Browns' pressure?
Many of the Eagles' struggles have come down to not keeping Wentz upright. He's constantly under pressure behind a line that is badly missing Lane Johnson and Isaac Seumalo, as well as Brandon Brooks, who's missed the entire season. Back when he had a better O-line, Wentz already had a habit of hanging onto the ball too long, and now that fault is sinking the offense.
The good news for Philly on Sunday is that the Browns will be without their top pass-rusher, Myles Garrett. The NFL sack leader was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Friday after missing practice. The Browns are tied for 12th in the league with 22 sacks, but without his 9.5, they would be seventh-worst. Instead, they'll have to lean on veterans Olivier Vernon and Adrian Clayborn and, perhaps more realistically, pressure up the middle from Sheldon Richardson against the Eagles' weak interior.
The Eagles have not won a game this season without winning the turnover battles, something they've only done once. In fact, they've only won games in which they've forced at least two turnovers. Wentz under pressure means more rushed throws, and he's also leading the league with nine fumbles. Avoiding facing Garrett is big — he's responsible for four of the team's nine forced fumbles — but he's only part of the Browns' puzzle.
Given the Eagles' struggles on offense and in stopping the run, this game looks like it was designed to right the Browns' ship. They won't need to ask too much of Baker Mayfield, even if he showed out for 297 passing yards and five touchdowns three weeks ago.
The Browns have been nothing if inconsistent this season, and the projected harsh weather could add a layer of uncertainty to the game. But NFC North teams are 2-18-1 against non-division foes, and that looks unlikely to change on Sunday.
Prediction: Browns 23, Eagles 20