A season with unusually high expectations for the Cleveland Browns gets started this weekend when they host the Tennessee Titans. Game time is set for 1:00 EST on Sunday, September 8 at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland. Fans in certain markets can watch the game on CBS.
According to our Week 1 NFL odds, the Browns are favored by 5.5 points at home. The over/under for the game is set at 45.5 points.
Just two years ago, the Browns went through the entire season without a win. Today, they are one of the most trendy picks as a dark horse in the AFC to reach the Super Bowl. Cleveland shocked everyone with their 7-8-1 campaign last year that actually had them playing meaningful games in December. The Browns also made some moves during the offseason that have many believing they’ll be even better this season.
Of course, the Browns also have a first-time head coach in Freddie Kitchens, who called their offensive plays during their resurgence the second half of the 2018 season. It’s also a franchise that’s so accustomed to losing that it’ll be interesting to see how they handle people actually believing that they’ll be good.
Meanwhile, the Titans are hoping to get back to the playoffs in 2019 after missing out last season despite a 9-7 record. Tennessee parted ways with head coach Mike Mularkey after reaching the Divisional Round of the playoffs in 2017. Mike Vrabel took away and nearly got the Titans to the playoffs after a four-game winning streak in December, only to lose to the Colts the final week of the season.
The Titans remain in what many believe is the most wide-open division in the NFL, so the opportunity is there to get back to the playoffs. However, with Vrabel still unproven as a head coach and quarterback Marcus Mariota facing a make-or-break season, the Titans appear to be at a crossroads. This makes a fast start to the season critical.
At the very least, fans are hoping this game turns out better than the last time the Browns faced the Titans in 2017. That game ended 12-9 in overtime without a touchdown being scored. The Titans won, obviously, as the Browns went winless that season, although that game was the closest Cleveland game to winning a game that year.
Forgive me, but I’m going to buy into the preseason hype surrounding the Browns. I’d feel a lot more comfortable if this spread was less than a field goal. But for as many questions there are about the Browns, the Titans have nearly as many themselves. I don’t particularly trust Tennessee, especially on the road, so I’ll lean toward the Browns to win by a touchdown and cover.
Mariota’s performance could be the biggest factor in the outcome of his game. When he’s on his game, he can be outstanding. But he can also be frustrating and inconsistent. In the end, how good Mariota plays could come down to the help around him. The Titans will need to establish their running game behind Derrick Henry and keep Mariota protected in the pocket if they want him to be at his best.
Cleveland’s run defense was a weakness last season while Henry finished the season strong. The Titans also have Dion Lewis has a nice complement in the backfield. Running the ball effectively will give Tennessee a chance to keep this game close and steal a win on the road. However, the Browns have a new defensive coordinator in Steve Wilkes and will surely be primed to stop the run and force Mariota to beat them with his arm.
Moreover, if the Titans can’t run the ball, they don’t stand much of a chance. The Browns of a scary pass rush led by Myles Garrett, who had 13.5 sacks last season and could be even better this year. The Browns also added Olivier Vernon during the offseason, so Garrett isn’t the only high-level pass rusher on Cleveland’s defense.
Not only did the Tennessee offense struggle during the preseason, but they’ll also be without left tackle Taylor Lewan, who is suspended for the first four weeks of the season. If the Titans find themselves in must-pass situations, things could get ugly for them upfront.
The good news for the Titans is that their defense was usually reliable last year. It was one of the biggest reasons they were in the playoff hunt. However, they’ll face a stiff challenge on Sunday after Baker Mayfield had such a promising rookie season. The Browns also added Odell Beckham Jr. over the summer, giving their offense an elite playmaker to go along with nice complementary playmakers like Jarvis Landry and David Njoku.
The Titans also have a new set of pass rushers on their defense, so that part of their defense has some uncertainty. Without enough pressure on Mayfield, the Tennessee secondary can’t be expected to keep track of Beckham for too long, opening the door to big plays.
As mentioned, if the Browns can’t stop the run, they could be in some trouble. But that might be the only lifeline the Titans have in this game. It seems more likely that this will be a close and competitive game until the Mayfield-Beckham tandem connects on a couple of big plays. That should be enough for the Browns to cover 5.5 points.