FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland will be the site of a fun NFL interconference showdown between the Seattle Seahawks and the Cleveland Browns. This game is an ideal made-for-television drama, as both teams have a mix of star power and polarizing figures and are two teams whose seasons are trending in opposite directions.
Seattle (4-1) is coming off an emotional 30-29 win over the Los Angeles Rams last Thursday night at CenturyLink Field. Russell Wilson further cemented his MVP candidacy with another electrifying performance against the Rams. Wilson completed 17-of-23 passes for 268 yards and four touchdowns, including a signature highlight-reel throw to Tyler Lockett late in the first quarter. The Seahawks defense bent but didn’t break, which has been the theme of the early portion of the 2019 season. They also did a nice job of limiting the Rams running game to 82 yards on 18 carries and survived Jared Goff’s 395-yard passing effort.
Meanwhile, the Browns (2-3) were absolutely throttled by San Francisco on Monday night by a score of 31-3 thanks in large part to four turnovers, which will kill any team on the road regardless of talent level. Baker Mayfield struggled against the 49ers' relentless defensive front, completing only 8-of-22 passes for 100 yards with two interceptions. The Browns are HBO's "Hard Knocks" on steroids — you don’t know from week to week what version of this team is going to show up.
Seattle at Cleveland
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 13 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Seahawks -1.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Running the football
The Seahawks will attempt to keep the Browns' Myles Garrett-led pass rush at bay. One of the best ways to do that will be to establish the running game right away. Against the Rams, Chris Carson rushed for 118 yards on 27 carries and caught the eventual game-winning touchdown. It will be up to the Seattle offensive line to impose its will on Cleveland's defensive front right away. If Seattle can get that done, it will set up Wilson nicely to go to work with the play-action pass, which will also slow down the pass rush.
As for the Browns, they need to stay committed to running the football to take pressure off of the offensive line. Cleveland was at its best offensively back in Week 4 when it went to Baltimore and beat the Ravens 40-25. That day, Nick Chubb rushed for 165 yards on 20 carries and three touchdowns. That level of execution running the ball set Mayfield up nicely in the passing game, as he threw for 342 yards against a good Baltimore defense. Head coach Freddie Kitchens and offensive coordinator Todd Monken will be under the microscope this week as the Seahawks defensive staff will probably dare them to run the football instead of trusting Mayfield to win the game himself.
2. Russell Wilson vs. Baker Mayfield
Wilson has huge advantages over Mayfield in terms of statistics, experience, and maturity in simply handling the job of a franchise quarterback in the NFL. This season, Wilson has thrown for 1,409 yards and 12 touchdowns with zero interceptions, and he is completing 73.1 percent of his passes. Mayfield is completing only 55.9 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,247 yards with four touchdowns and eight interceptions, resulting in a passer rating of 68.5. Both guys are undersized quarterbacks with chips on their shoulders, but Wilson typically carries himself in a first-class manner, while Mayfield seems to get entangled in verbal battles with people like Rex Ryan, Colin Cowherd, and others, allowing off-the-field issues to become distractions. Wilson just continues to get better in all phases of his game and makes the players around him better, which is what elite quarterbacks do.
3. Cleveland's mindset
On paper, the Browns have a formidable offense with Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, and Baker Mayfield. However, when you trade your best offensive lineman (Kevin Zeitler) like general manager John Dorsey did to get Beckham, it’s a recipe for potential chemistry issues. Like Mayfield, Beckham has allowed off-the-field issues — such as getting fined for wearing $190,000 watches on the field — to become distractions. In addition, Beckham has not amassed his typical numbers, leading to frustration for him and for his coach, who has allowed the nonstop barrage of questions about Beckham to get to him.
Seattle is the more rested team, having played on Thursday night in Week 5, so that should mitigate the travel factor. Head coach Pete Carroll and his staff should not have much of a problem getting the team ready to go mentally. It will just come down to execution on both sides of the ball. The Seahawks will wear down Cleveland by running the ball, and Wilson will continue his MVP-level play and his team to a two-score victory on Sunday.
Prediction: Seahawks 31, Browns 20
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter@ScottWhittum.