The New York Jets seriously could move above .500 in a few short days, as they travel to Cleveland to face the 0-4 Browns in Week 5. On the other hand, the fact that their game against this woefully bad team isn’t a guaranteed win just reflects on the uncertainty of this roster. Put simply, it’s going to be a close one, and possibly another wild ride, a la New York’s Week 4 win over Jacksonville.
The Jets can take pride in the fact that they haven’t lost to Cleveland since 2007, winning their last four matchups. That includes last year’s 31-28 nailbiter in which New York came back from a 20-7 halftime deficit. Josh McCown led Cleveland into battle and dropped 341 yards and two touchdowns on the Jets on 25-for-49 passing. (He also threw interceptions to erstwhile Jets safety Marcus Gilchrist and lame-duck linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin.)
And who can forget the 2015 season opener at MetLife, when McCown left the game with a concussion and Johnny “Football” Manziel replaced him? Yeah, the Jets had an easier time winning that one, 31-10.
McCown wears green and white now, not brown and orange. It’s the first time he’s facing his former team since joining the Jets in free agency – but then again, the journeyman inevitably faces some of his six former teams every season. If there’s one defense we should expect McCown to have a handle on this season, it’s the one he faced in practice for the last two years.
It’s worth noting, though, that Cleveland’s first overall pick, defensive end Myles Garrett, is scheduled to make his regular season debut. Garrett sprained his ankle in a practice the week before opening day. Head coach Hue Jackson said Thursday his staff will keep Garrett on a “pitch count,” marking the very real concern I have about former New York Mets exec and current Cleveland numbers guru Sashi Brown infecting the team with his darn baseball terminology. It takes the same amount of syllables to say “play count” and it’s actually accurate to the sport in question. At any rate, McCown won’t toss a perfect game if a home run hitter like Garrett gets in his face.
McCown’s Cleveland counterpart will be rookie sensation Deshone Kizer. Make sure you read that last sentence with a bit of salt on your tongue. I don’t deny Kizer has had some fine moments so far, but the fact is he hasn’t earned his first career win yet. The Browns looked like fighters in a 21-18 loss to Pittsburgh opening weekend, and a little less so when losing to Baltimore Week 2, 24-10. Since then they’ve enabled the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals to win their respective first games of 2017, and it’s looking worse and worse.
In Kizer’s defense, he has meager weapons around him to work with. The Browns’ leading receiver through four games is running back Duke Johnson with 207 yards, followed by former Princeton tight end and white savior Seth DeValve with 134. The wide receiver with the most receptions and receiving yards? Why, Ricardo Louis, of course. Finally, an assignment Jets fans can trust Buster Skrine (the former Brown himself) to handle.
For the Browns to take control of this game, they’ll have to rely on leading rusher Isaiah Crowell to cut up the Jets’ 29th-ranked rushing defense. After New York got itself together just enough to stuff overrated Jay Ajayi in Week 3, they reverted back to Swiss cheese Week 4 against the two-headed monster of Leonard Fournette and Chris Ivory.
Don’t call this a trap game for the Jets, folks. For one thing, Vegas odds have ranged from making the Jets two-point favorites to being a straightforward pick ’em. And ESPN’s Football Power Index inexplicably thinks the Browns’ likelihood of winning is almost 60-40. (The Football Power Index favored Cleveland in Weeks 3 and 4, too, so maybe the Football Power Index has a cozy little vacation home in the Great Lakes or something.)
For another thing, the doubt surrounding the Jets is found not only in Las Vegas and wonky football algorithms, but on Jets Drive itself as well. Jets coach Todd Bowles gladly told reporters Thursday that his team is “not good enough to look past anybody.”
Yes, be concerned about the Cleveland Browns. And be concerned if the green and white beat the brown and orange and take themselves out of the running for 2018’s No. 1 draft pick before the leaves turn brown and orange. I made my official game prediction on this week’s Jet Fuel Podcast, but sometimes, it seems like there’s no winning with this team.