Good news/bad news time for the Browns, road warriors for the next three Sundays.
Bad news: They have made five trips thus far this season with just one victory. That, of course was, inexplicably, in New Orleans against the Saints.
Now the good news: Their first stop is in Miami, normally an unfriendly visit at this time of the year except for the obvious weather break. That's not the good news. The 6-5 Dolphins have the exact same home record as the Browns' success on the road. They're 1-4.
No one can explain why. A quick check of their schedule shows that perhaps it's because the losses have been to the New York Jets, New England, Pittsburgh and Chicago, four of the best teams in the National Football League. Spoiling the winless-at-home embarrassment was a victory over Tennessee a few weeks ago.
The Dolphins have also shown an interesting schedule characteristic this season. After winning their first two games on the road, they lost their next two at home. Since then, they have gone W-L-W-L-W-L-W. Consistently inconsistent.
So . . . what could one glean from such a pattern? Why a Browns victory of course. The Dolphins are due to lose and they are at home. A double whammy. Right?
Well, not exactly.
Consider, for example, that the Browns have traveled to Miami six times over the years and won just once. That was 40 years ago when the NFL was a 16-team league and the Dolphins played in the American Football League. Since the merger the following season, the Browns are winless in five Miami trips.
Which, of course, means they are due. Right?
Well . . not exactly.
This one is a puzzler. The Dolphins are a Jekyll-Hyde team and the Browns are Team Unpredictable. You never know what you're going to get from week to week.
We know the Browns will be led again by Jake Delhomme, the notorious Captain Interception. The over/under on Delhomme picks Sunday is just one, however, because the Dolphins secondary is not noted for its ballhawking skills. To that end, the Dolphins cut Jason Allen, their leading interceptor with three, a few weeks ago after opposing teams started picking on him successfully.
They picked up veteran Al Harris as a free agent to stabilize the back end of their defense. With three second-year men in the secondary, two at cornerback, it was essential to bring a veteran presence back there. Harris and fellow veteran Benny Sapp should provide that experience.
The key for the Browns on offense is to neutralize Miami's large (they average 6-3 and all weigh about 250 pounds) and very active linebackers. All are extremely quick and fast, especially outside backers Tim Dobbins and Cameron Wake. Dobbins (6-1, 245 ) fills in for Channing Crowder, doubtful with a knee injury.
On offense, the Dolphins can hurt you in many different ways. Conventionally, it's with a 1-2 punch with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams running behind an offensive line that averages 6-5 and 324 pounds. Although they've scrapped extensive use of the Wildcat with Brown as the trigger, they haven't totally abandoned it. But it's not something the Browns won't be prepared for since they run virtually the same scheme with Joshua Cribbs.
The big difference in the offense is the return to health of Chad Henne, who put up 307 yards and a couple of touchdowns last Sunday in the victory at Oakland. However, the former Michigan quarterback is prone to throwing the ball to the opposition as his 12 picks attest.
The Browns must pay particular attention to Davone Bess, the little wide receiver from Hawaii who is extremely dangerous in the red zone. And if leading receiver Brandon Marshall's hamstring prevents him from playing, look for Henne to target former Ohio State wideout Brian Hartline and tight end Anthony Fasano.
This one very well could turn into a defensive battle. The Browns are due for a good game on that side of the ball and the Dolphins have surrendered 56 points in their last three home games after giving up 72 in their first two.
Field goals should be the deciding factor as Phil Dawson and Dan Carpenter stage a duel. In the end, Miami finally wins another home game. Make it:
Dolphins 22, Browns 12