Friday, September 21, 2012

Are you ready for a victory?

Normally, home field advantage in the National Football League rates three points for the home team.

Which means oddsmakers believe the Browns are quite a bit worse than the Buffalo Bills after installing the Bills as three-point favorites for Sunday’s get together at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Apparently, the Browns’ 27-point explosion in last Sunday’s loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati didn’t impress the guys who play with these numbers. Neither did the Browns’ almost victory the week before against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Normally, it is said these guys know what they are doing. They’re not wrong very often. After all, isn’t that how they make their money? The fact the line hasn’t budged is testament to that.

So are the Bills really six points better than the Browns when you factor in home field advantage?

Not when you factor in that they have lost eight straight games on the road. And they are 3-14 on foreign fields since Chan Gailey took over the head coaching duties in 2010 following the firing of Dick Jauron.

Yes, that Dick Jauron, the guy who now makes a living with the Browns as their defensive coordinator.

Now Jauron most likely won’t say it, mainly because he’s a soft-spoken guy who probably doesn’t believe in grudges. Somehow, it wouldn’t be surprising if he has a few tricks in store for his old team.

There is no question the Bills can put points (63 in two games) on the board at a furious pace. When you have a running back like C. J. Spillers chewing up chunks of real estate – he averages 10 yards a carry – and a quarterback like Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is not shy when it comes to throwing the football, the Bills are tough on offense.

But they also allow the opposition to put points (65) on the board at a similar pace. What was supposed to be an improved defense, mainly through the acquisition of defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, has been somewhat of an early disappointment.

Williams and Anderson, sack specialists brought in to juice up the pass rush, have zero sacks and a combined six tackles in the Bills’ first two games. One gets the feeling the Browns’ offensive line will be severely tested as the Bills’ frustration mounts.

Despite forcing and recovering four fumbles this season, the Buffalo defense has been rather generous, permitting 806 total yards, 538 through the air. They made New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez look like an All-Pro in the season-opening 48-28 loss.

Now Brandon Weeden is no Mark Sanchez, but his surprising near-flawless performance in last Sunday’s loss in Cincinnati gives rise to the hope that facing a worse secondary than the Bengals’ could produce a similar, if not better, result.

The rookie quarterback seemed to have a better understanding of what needed to be done and it showed in his confident throwing. There is no reason to believe we won’t see something close to a repeat against the Bills.

With Trent Richardson slowly becoming the kind of running back who can keep the pressure off his quarterback with his strong running, Weeden’s play-action passes will be that much more effective.

The key, however, will be the Browns’ ability to slow down – it’s too good to be shut down – the Buffalo offense. The Browns, who average four sacks a game, face an offensive line that has kept Fitzpatrick clean all season. They must make him unload before he wants and generally harass him. If he gets time to throw, watch out.

When you have receivers like Stevie Johnson, tight end Scott Chandler and Spiller out of the backfield, Fitzgerald can hurt teams in many ways. The Cleveland secondary, torched last Sunday by Cincinnati's  Andy Dalton, will be busy.

On third down, the Bills are a Jekyll/Hyde team. They convert 52% (11 of 21) of the time on that down, yet allow the opposition to convert 54% (15 of 28) of the time.

It promises to be a high-scoring game, one the Browns might not have been able to win a year ago because of an anemic offense. With Weeden, Richardson & Co. playing as well as they did last week, the Browns rarely will ever be out of a game.

This one is no different. Against a Buffalo defense that might be worse than Cleveland’s, this will be the week the Browns get off the schneid. Make it:

Browns 27, Bills 21

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