With the Buffalo Bills hitting the road to face the Cleveland Browns in an early Week 5 matchup, a slight edge in the AFC’s postseason race is at stake.
Each team is sporting a record of 2-2 right now as Buffalo has traded wins and losses every week thus far and Cleveland is riding a two-game winning streak. Whichever team propels itself to 3-2 will gain some much needed confidence as we near the midseason mark.
So let’s analyze the Bills and Browns in this crucial AFC cross divisional bout.
Spread: Browns -3.5
*Note: Spread info courtesy of FootballLocks.com
Bills Offense vs. Browns Defense
The Bills move better on the ground, but they’ve already fumbled the ball six times (seven if you count the passing game). But Fred Jackson is averaging 5.3 yards per carry and Buffalo averages 152 yards rushing as a team. That said, fumbles are costly for killing drives and Buffalo’s passing game isn’t explosive enough to take care of things on its own.
Meanwhile the Browns’ defense simply didn’t get much help from the offense in the team’s first two games. And yet, the defense has been suffocating the line of scrimmage and locking down in coverage, while the pass rush has been excellent.
Throughout this game Cleveland will be tough to bend, let alone break. Buffalo hasn’t shown any consistency throwing or running and the Browns are just the opposite. The Bills also don’t have the best pass protection either.
Browns Offense vs. Bills Defense
An intriguing matchup here, as Cleveland found new hope in quarterback Brian Hoyer, but still lacks a rushing attack. On the flip side, Buffalo does well in coverage, limiting completions but it has allowed nine passing scores.
The deal-breaker will be the Browns’ pass protection. Buffalo has collected 13 sacks thus far and the Browns have only given up six sacks of Hoyer (through his two games). If the Bills aren’t able to get solid pressure, Cleveland will establish balance early and gradually pull away. Plus, with the better defense to get more possessions, the Browns will simply have more opportunities to win the field-position battle and score.
The Bills have only given up a 53.8 completion percentage to this point and the Browns, although improved, still need to keep developing their aerial assault. Nevertheless, the major disparity is Cleveland continuing to build consistency lately compared to Buffalo remaining stagnant.
Of all the returners in this game, Jim Leonhard is the most experienced but remains a possession guy for that role. In short, don’t expect any big plays on kickoff or punt returns. The Browns are getting nice production from Greg Little and Bobby Rainey on kickoffs, but nothing that has broken a game open.
But field goals may have an impact.
Billy Cundiff for the Browns whiffed on two attempts in Sunday’s win over Cincinnati, but fortunately has the leg to connect from 50-plus yards. Buffalo’s Dan Carpenter can also knock the ball in from downtown and he has attempted more and is more consistent. So, should the Bills find a way to move the rock decently well, expect Carpenter to play a key role.
Expect punting to impact the game more than you’d think. Cleveland’s Spencer Lanning and Buffalo’s Shawn Powell have combined for 18 punts spotted inside the 20-yard line, and the coverage teams are allowing fewer than 10 yards per return.
The defenses have a leg up in this contest. Cleveland, however, is better in that regard and the Browns are gaining momentum offensively.
Buffalo certainly sports the much better rushing attack to shorten the game and control the tempo. Should the Bills keep the Browns off balance and honest with the 1-2 punch of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, Cleveland will be in trouble, especially in the second half.
The downside for Buffalo is its aerial game as EJ Manuel remains a work-in-progress. In addition, the Browns have the coverage to lockdown in one-on-one situations and they rush the passer well. That will be the ultimate deciding factor in this contest.
Cleveland is establishing itself as a complete defense by comparison. Factor in the consistency also unfolding for the Browns’ offense and Buffalo will fall short in the second half.
Pick: Cleveland straight up & against the spread
Browns 24, Bills 13
Follow John on Twitter @Rozum27