The Cleveland Browns used to own the New York Giants. Between 1970-90, the Browns never lost a game to the Giants – okay, so they only played three times during that 20-year span, but Cleveland won all three of those games. But this game is in New York – well, East Rutherford, N.J. if you must get technical – and that’s not been a fun place for the Browns. They haven’t won a game there that mattered in the standings since beating the Giants 35-33 on Dec. 1, 1985.
It’s Only Preseason – This is always a vital fact of life to remember when wagering on NFL exhibition play. You have no idea how long the veterans will perform during any of these games, and just because a team was lousy last season, don’t discount them from winning. Consider the 2017 Browns. Coming off a 1-15 season in 2016, all Cleveland did was go 4-0 during preseason play a year ago – and then follow up by rolling winless through the regular season.
They Might Beat Giants – One of Cleveland’s four preseason victims a year ago was the Giants. Cleveland won 10-6 at home in a Week Two matchup. The star of the game was Cleveland quarterback DeShone Kizer. He completed 8-of-13 passes for 74 yards and ran for 35 yards and a touchdown. But you won’t see him in this year’s game. Kizer was traded by the Browns to the Green Bay Packers last March. Kizer was the 27th QB to start a regular-season game for the Browns since 1999.
On The Other Hand – As we noted above, Cleveland doesn’t much like playing at MetLife Stadium, home to the Giants, and that even includes preseason play. The last time the Browns were there for an exhibition game was on Aug. 18, 2008, and they lost 37-34, scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter to make the final score respectable. Since the Browns were reborn as an NFL expansion franchise in 1999, they are 2-1 in preseason play against the Giants, but both wins have come in Cleveland.
It Figures To Be Close – The one thing we can learn from those three Browns-Giants preseason tilts is that the final outcome will be a tight affair. Cleveland won 10-6 in 2017, and as mentioned above, lost 37-34 in 2008. In 2005, the Browns downed the Giants 17-14. It also figures to be low scoring. That 2008 contest is the only time in the last nine preseason games between the two teams that both topped 20 points, and in six of those nine games, neither team hit the 20-point plateau.
Can You Smell What Baker Is Cooking – The game should prove to be the coming out party for Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, the quarterback the Browns took with the first pick of the 2018 NFL Draft. Of course, you probably don’t want to mention the name of the last Heisman Trophy-winning QB the Browns drafted. That would be Johnny Manziel, currently toiling with the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats. In mini-camp, Mayfield took second-string reps behind veteran Tyrod Taylor.
Will They Tyrod One On – The Browns acquired Taylor from the Buffalo Bills and while he’s not a superstar, he is a very efficient quarterback and a heady player. According to Pro Football Focus, Taylor owns a one percent interception rate from the pocket, second-lowest in the NFL. His under-pressure interception rate is even better – 0.8 percent – also second-best in the league. Taylor’s elusiveness does endear him to coaches, and if Cleveland isn’t going to be much better this season, why throw the future of the team to the wolves?
On The Clock – Taylor got the Bills to the playoffs last season for the first time since 1999, ending the longest active postseason drought in the NFL and focusing all eyes on his new team. The Browns last visited the postseason in 2002, and ascend to throne of the team waiting the longest to appear in a playoff game. Cleveland lost 36-33 to Pittsburgh in a 2002 AFC Wildcard game. The Browns last won a playoff game in 1994, beating the New England Patriots 20-14. The coach who won that game for the Browns? Bill Belichick.
Can They Rise Up – Two years ago, the Giants were 11-5 and a playoff team, so might they bounce back in a big way in 2018? Certainly, adding running back and explosive return man Saquon Barkley, who was a threat every time he touched the ball at Penn State, gives the Giants some playmakers on offense. That’s if Pro Bowl receiver Odell Beckham Jr. rebounds. He’s in the last year of his contract, so either Beckham plays lights out in search of a new deal, or he pouts all year long and waits to get out of the Big Apple.
Is Eli Done Like Dinner – Last season, the Giants actually benched two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Eli Manning – along with Nick Foles the only QBs to beat Tom Brady in a Super Bowl game – ending his starting streak at 201 games. While there’s no doubt that Peyton’s little brother is closer to the end than the beginning of his career, was last season’s debacle an indiciation of his decline, or the decline of the team that surrounded Manning?
Not Your Average Joe – It won’t get the kind of media attention that the Taylor-Mayfield battle will under center, but a significant piece of the Browns’ puzzle will be determining who replaces the retired Joe Thomas at the key position of left tackle. The 10-time Pro Bowler played 10,062 consecutive snaps protecting his QB’s blind side until a triceps injury ended what turned out to be his farewell season.
Thomas was the latest cog in a long-standing tradition of All-Pro left tackles in Cleveland, a group that includes Hall of Famer Lou Groza (1950-59), Dick Schafrath (1960-71) and Doug Dieken (1972-84). Shon Coleman, Austin Corbett and Joe Bitonio will all be given a shot to fill the impressive cleats of Thomas at left tackle.