Only the final score is different
Predicting the outcome of the first game of the National Football League season is always more difficult than any other.
Why? Simple. The speed and quickness of the game changes dramatically between the last exhibition game and the first one where money is on the line.
Rookies are told about the change, but until they see it, they have no idea what to expect. Or how to handle it. The game is fast enough to begin with. For those who get it and know what to expect, it eventually slows down.
We watch players go through the motions during the exhibition season. All of which proves absolutely nothing. No way can we tell based on those performances how a team is going do in the regular season.
How many times have we seen teams go unbeaten in the exhibition season only to stagger in with a 5-11 or 6-10 record and maybe worse? And how many times have we seen a team fail to win a practice game and yet make the postseason with no trouble?
We’ve seen the Browns play four exhibitions, winning the first two on the road and dropping the final two at home.
One of the road victories was in Green Bay against one of the best teams in the National Football League. And that proves what? Nothing. Doesn’t mean the Browns are better than the Packers.
Green Bay most likely will win its division, while the Browns most likely will once again bring up the back end of their division.
But that first game of the season is always a mystery until you can record concrete evidence by playing it. Especially if the team you root for has 15 rookies and another dozen who have played only one season.
But when it comes to opening the season at home, picking the Browns to lose is a no-brainer. This Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium, it will be no different when the Philadelphia Eagles invade.
Since returning to the NFL in 1999, the Browns have opened up at home every season but one. That includes the first 11 seasons before hitting the road for the opener in Tampa in 2010.
Their record in those 13 lid lifters? How about 1-12. The lone victory was a 20-3 pasting (relatively speaking) of the Baltimore Ravens in 2004. The Browns finished 4-12 that season, which proved to be the last under coach Butch Davis.
So it’s not difficult to predict the outcome of the first game when it comes to the Browns. The only problem is deciding just how badly they are going to get beaten.
The schedule maker couldn’t have picked a worse rival for the Browns in this one. The Eagles, everyone’s Dream Team last season, got off to a miserable start before finishing strong to check in with an 8-8 record.
They underachieved on just about every level, placing coach Andy Reid’s job on the line this season. Reid is a players’ coach and the theme this year should be retribution, if it already isn’t.
The Eagles are an abundantly talented team and should have no problem handling the Browns. They did so with relative ease just a few weeks ago in the third exhibition game of the season.
In that one, you’ll recall, the Eagles’ pass rush dropped Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden three times and introduced him to the strip sack, NFL style.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Eagles this week welcomed back defensive end Jason Babin, who sat out the exhibition season with an injury. Handling Babin, coming off an 18-sack season, will be rookie offensive right tackle Mitchell Schwartz.
The reality is Browns coach Pat Shurmur has no idea what to expect from his troops. Weeden hasn’t taken a snap since the first half of the Eagles exhibition on Aug. 24. And since he did not play the final exhibition game, that’s 16 days between games.
A lot of rust can build in that period of time, especially for a quarterback who relies on timing. Never mind that he’s been practicing during that period. He’s been practicing against his teammates.
On the plus side, it looks as though top draft pick Trent Richardson will see the field for the first time since undergoing knee surgery a month ago. How much he can give, or how effective he’ll be, is another mystery.
Scott Fujita’s return after winning his appeal in the NFL Bounty scandal is also plus. The Browns are hurting at linebacker and Fujita’s appearance can’t hurt.
Overall, however, this one promises to be a rout as Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, also back from an injury, plays pitch and catch with his receivers, and LeSean McCoy chews up chunks of yardage. Rookie quarterback Nick Foles picked the Browns apart in the exhibition game, so you can only imagine what the veteran Vick will do.
It will not be pretty as the Browns disappoint new owner Jimmy Haslam III and a sold-out CBS as the Eagles undress the Cleveland defense in a game that will be a laugher by halftime. Only Reid’s compassion for his pals with the Browns in the second half will make the final score look relatively decent. Make it:
Eagles 31, Browns 9