Long ago, when Jim Brown was undeniably the NFL’s best player, the Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Cardinals were actually rivals, facing off twice a year. Nowadays however, these two teams don’t see much of each other. In fact, next weekend will be Arizona’s first trip to Cleveland in 12 years.
Even though they rarely meet up anymore, they’ve still played some classic games in recent history. In 2012, John Skelton led his Cards past Seneca Wallace’s Browns in overtime. The 2007 rendition ended in controversy; Cleveland’s comeback bid fell short when Derek Anderson’s pass to Kellen Winslow was not ruled a “force out.” (Yeesh, remember that rule? We can thank these two teams for getting rid of it.)
This time around should be another quality game despite the two teams trending in opposite directions. Arizona has elevated their status to Super Bowl contender and are the front-runners to win the stacked NFC West. Cleveland has played hard and looked good in the last few weeks, but they still aren’t getting the wins necessary to make a playoff push. Trailing both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in AFC North, they can’t afford any more setbacks.
Even though it’s an inter-conference game, a win would help Cleveland’s cause and prove they’re not NFL’s punching bag anymore.
It won’t be easy for the Browns, though. This is now a pass-first offense thanks to the success Josh McCown is having. Arizona’s ball-hawing secondary will allow yards, but they can also make a play on the ball if you’re not careful: they currently lead the NFL in interceptions with 11.
Cleveland would be well served to rediscover the ground game success they had last season. But instead of a three-headed monster, Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson, and Robert Turbin have been more of a no-headed monster. (It now seems like Kyle Shanahan might have been kinda important, especially given what he’s doing in Atlanta with Devonta Freeman.)
Arizona will also rotate three running backs, but Chris Johnson, David Johnson, and Andre Ellington each have defined roles. As the lead-dog in the ground game, “CJ2K” should have a big day against a Cleveland D that, to be blunt, sucks against the run.
In fact, Mike Pettine’s defense has pretty much regressed in every category. Cleveland had a strong playmaking secondary last year, tallying 21 interceptions, but they’ve fallen off this year. Still, with guys like Joe Haden and Tashaun Gipson in place, Carson Palmer can’t take this team lightly. Last week against Pittsburgh, Palmer threw two interceptions and led an offense that went just one of four in the red zone.
This entire Cardinals team didn’t look great in their last trip to the northeast, allowing a Landry Jones Steelers team to mount a second half comeback, falling 25-13. They’ll need a better showing against the Browns, who have been much better since a Week 1 blowout to the Jets (in which McCown left early with a concussion).
The Cards have the edge, but expect a close game.
Straight-up pick: Cardinals.
(Photo Credit: Greg Buch | FFSwami.com (Originally posted to Flick)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/])