The Cleveland Browns have a chance to clinch a playoff berth with a win over the New York Jets on Thursday night, having won three in a row. They’ll be looking to avenge last season’s 31-30 loss to a Jets team seeking their third win in four games. According to our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook, the Browns are favored by 7.5 points in this game.
When these teams met last season, Joe Flacco was the hero as he brought the New York Jets back from 30-17 down and threw the winning touchdown pass to Garrett Wilson in the last minute. However, Flacco was basically out of the league this year.
The Browns, having lost starter Deshaun Watson, and having not had much success with backups PJ Walker and Dorian Thompson-Robinson at the helm, decided to give Flacco a shot. He’s been a revelation, passing for over 300 yards in each of their last three games to rejuvenate the team’s postseason chances.
Flacco already has almost 200 more yards than Watson managed in six appearances, but he has also thrown seven interceptions.
Thompson-Robinson, a fifth round rookie, was just placed on injured reserve, so Walker is back in the number two role. He won one of his two starts, but he completed less than 50 percent of his passes and had five interceptions to just one touchdown pass.
The Browns were expected to have one of the league’s best offensive lines at the start of the season, but they lost right tackle Jack Conklin in week one and then lost left tackle Jedrick Wills in the middle of the season.
They’ve been solid inside, though, as center Ethan Pocic and Pro Bowl guards Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller have only missed two starts between them. They’ve been good in the running game, although Teller has given up a team high six sacks.
Geron Christian has been starting at left tackle since Wills went down and James Hudson has recently taken over at right tackle after an injury to fourth round rookie Dawand Jones. Jones had replaced Conklin at right tackle. Both Christian and Hudson, who has a team-high nine penalties, have struggled.
Off the bench, Michael Dunn started one game for Bitonio at left guard and Nick Harris started one at center for Pocic. Leroy Watson is the main backup at tackle but neither he nor sixth round rookie center Luke Wypler have played much.
The Browns suffered another injury blow when Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb went on injured reserve with a knee injury. Chubb had been averaging six yards per carry.
In his absence, Jerome Ford has stepped up and now leads the team with 743 rushing yards. He also has 40 catches and seven total touchdowns. Ford has been dangerous out of wildcat packages.
The Browns brought back Kareem Hunt when Chubb went down, but he’s only averaged three yards per carry in a backup role. Pierre Strong has been a decent change of pace back, with a 4.4 yards per carry average.
Amari Cooper exploded for 265 receiving yards against the Texans on Sunday, but he was already having a great season. Cooper is now up to 1,250 receiving yards on the year, which is a career high. Cooper has been nursing a heel injury and didn’t practice all week, but presumably that was just a precaution. He is listed as questionable for the game.
The Browns’ second best target has been tight end David Njoku, who has 75 catches and six touchdowns, although he’s averaging just under 10 yards per catch.
Ex-Jet Elijah Moore has caught a career high 54 passes, although he’s only scored one touchdown and is averaging less than 11 yards per catch.
Donovan Peoples-Jones was one of their other productive targets, but they traded him away at the trade deadline, giving more opportunities to the likes of David Bell, Marquise Goodwin and Cedric Tillman. Tillman, a third round rookie, now has 17 receptions. James Proche has barely seen any action on offense.
Tight end depth comes from Jordan Akins and Harrison Bryant. Bryant has caught three touchdown passes.
As ever, the Browns’ defense is spearheaded by Pro Bowl defensive end Myles Garrett, who leads the team with 13 sacks. Za’Darius Smith is the other starting defensive end and he’s racked up 5.5 sacks and 20 quarterback hits.
Ogbo Okoronkwo and Alex Wright are the main reserves on the edge. Okoronkwo has been productive with 12 tackles for loss, including 4.5 sacks, but he missed the last game due to injury and has been ruled out again this week.
Sam Kamara saw his first action last week and fourth round rookie Isaiah McGuire has also been in the rotation a couple of times, so one of them will probably play again this week with Okoronkwo not ready to return.
Dalvin Tomlinson, who has three sacks, and Jordan Elliott are the starters on the inside. Shelby Harris and Maurice Hurst provided good depth off the bench, but Hurst just went on injured reserve, so third round rookie Siaki Ika has moved into the rotation. Harris, another former Jet, has a knack for batting down passes at the line. He has five passes defensed this season.
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah has been the Browns’ most productive linebacker this year, as he’s been filling out the stat sheet with 90 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 6 pass breakups, 3.5 sacks and 2 interceptions.
The other two starters are Sione Takitaki and Anthony Walker. Walker missed last week’s game, with Tony Fields making his third start of the year and Matthew Adams also playing a season-high 20 snaps. Walker was officially ruled out for today’s game on Wednesday.
Undrafted rookie Mohamoud Diabate and Jordan Kunaszyk have barely seen any action, but they are available as cover. Jacob Phillips, who started some games last year, went on injured reserve in preseason.
The starters at cornerback are listed as veteran Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome, who was the team’s last first round pick back in 2021. However, Martin Emerson has also started 11 games, including the last eight, as the Browns are often in nickel personnel. The trio have been productive, as they’ve combined for 35 pass breakups, but Emerson leads the team with four interceptions.
Newsome gets the most work in the slot, but reserves Mike Ford and Cameron Mitchell have also seen time there, and Kahlef Hailassie has had some reps on the outside. Mitchell and Hailassie are both rookies, with Mitchell being drafted in the fifth round and Hailassie initially being an undrafted free agent signed by the Chiefs, after it was originally reported he had signed with the Jets.
The Browns have had injury issues at safety. Their best safety, Grant Delpit, and Rodney McLeod both are on injured reserve. Juan Thornhill and D’Anthony Bell are currently listed as the starters, but Thornhill missed the last few games, and undrafted rookie Ronnie Hickman has been starting in his place. Thornhill returned to practice on Wednesday, but he is listed as questionable.
Veteran Duron Harmon was just signed to the roster earlier this month and he had an interception in the last game.
The Browns might not still be in contention if not for kicker Dustin Hopkins, who has made four game winners for them this season. Hopkins has only missed five kicks all season.
Punter Corey Bojorquez is 7th in the league for gross punt average for the second year in a row, having led the league in 2020. He’s given up almost 400 yards on returns, though.
The Browns headed into this week with both Hopkins and Bojorquez as injury doubts, but they have punter Matt Haack and kicker Riley Patterson on their practice squad as cover. Hopkins is out and Bojorquez doubtful for this game, so you can expect both Haack and Patterson to be elevated.
The return game hasn’t had much success this year, with Strong’s longest kickoff return being a 36-yarder and Proche’s longest punt return netting 21 yards. Moore has also fielded a couple of punts in relief of Proche. Cleveland did bring pro bowler Jakeem Grant in last season, but he suffered a season ending injury in camp for the second year in a row.
The kick coverage unit hasn’t been bad, but they did give up a touchdown return on a kickoff against the Texans last week. The Browns’ punt gunners, Ford and Strong, are both productive in coverage, as is Adams.
Finally, don’t forget that Garrett had a viral moment earlier in the year when he hopped over the offensive line to bat down a field goal attempt.