There's more than meets the eye to this week's offering
People were likely snickering as soon as they saw it on the NFL’s primetime schedule: Week 3, Jets at Browns. Typical Thursday night snoozer. The team that so many said could go winless last season against the team that actually did go winless.
And even now there’s not much to get excited about, right? The Browns still haven’t won, although they have scared the Saints and bungled a winnable game into a tie against the Steelers. The Jets won their opener in Detroit, but it’s hard to be impressed given how bad the Lions look. And they wasted a strong defensive performance in a loss last week, a familiar theme from a year ago.
Still... are we sure these teams can’t be good? The Jets turn the ball over a lot, not unexpected for a team starting a rookie quarterback, but they also take it away and rank fifth in total defense. The Browns could be 2–0 if not for kicker Zane Gonzalez, who was waived after missing two field goals and two PATs in a three-point loss to the Saints on Sunday after having the potential game-winning kick blocked in overtime against the Steelers in Week 1.
New York at Cleveland
Kickoff: Thursday, Sept. 20 at 8:20 p.m. ET
TV: NFL Network
Spread: Browns -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Riding the rookie roller-coaster
Sam Darnold hasn’t been perfect in his first two NFL starts, but he has been exciting. He bounced back in the season opener after throwing a pick-six on his first NFL play. He threw for 334 yards against the Dolphins last week but tossed a costly interception early and got the Jets into the end zone only once. He’ll have his hands full with a Browns defense that kept Drew Brees in check last week and forced six turnovers against the Steelers in the opener, including three interceptions of Ben Roethlisberger.
2. The Browns' defense might be for real... if it’s healthy
Granted, Cleveland gave up a ton of yards in Week 1 to the Steelers, but the six turnovers made up for it. The Browns followed that up by holding Brees and the Saints to 275 yards in the Superdome. No team held New Orleans under 300 yards anywhere last season. In fact, you have to go back to 2012 to find a game in which the Saints didn’t gain at least 300 yards at home. So they could give a rookie passer fits... if they are at full strength, which is unlikely. Four starters — including both cornerbacks — are questionable for the Jets game, and on a short week it’s a safe bet they won’t all be active. Life becomes easier for Darnold if corners Denzel Ward and Damarious Randall can’t go.
3. Tyrod Taylor is who we thought he was
He’s uncharacteristically thrown interceptions in each of his first two games as a Brown, but Taylor otherwise is doing pretty much what he always has done as a starting quarterback. He takes a few more sacks than you’d like (10 through two games) but he also extends drives and drives defenses crazy with his legs (103 yards on 8.6 ypc and a touchdown so far this season). How long will that be enough to hold off top overall pick Baker Mayfield? A win would help, because the longer Cleveland is winless the sooner it will look to the future. Taylor usually found success against the Jets as a starter for the Bills (three wins in five starts with eight TDs and two INTs), but again, the formula for his success was familiar: He’s 3–0 against the Jets when his defense allows 17 or fewer points. It’s a safe bet the interceptions will disappear, but will he win enough games to delay the Baker Mayfield era?
Despite the hints that these teams might be on the rise, they’re not there yet. Also, the Jets opened the season on a Monday night, meaning this is their third game in 11 days. In addition to the physical challenges, that’s a lot to throw at a rookie quarterback. This could swing the other way if none of the banged-up starters on the Browns' defense can go, but we’ll take the home team to finally get in the win column.