Greetings and salutations, one and all. Yours truly is stepping into the breach for this week’s picks column, as Eric and his lady fair are out gallivanting around Europe and getting ready to attend this week’s game at Twickenham. So, I will do my best to fill the void. This won’t have all the cool GIFs and stuff that Eric’s column usually does, because I have basically no idea how to do that sort of stuff (though it’s something I should probably learn at some point), but I’ll do my best here anyway.
This week, the Vikings ride their three-game winning streak and their 5-2 record into jolly old England to do battle with the Cleveland Browns, who remain one of the NFL’s two winless teams after falling in overtime last week. Do the Vikings need to worry about falling into a trap prior to their bye week?
They shouldn’t. But, this is the NFL, and stranger things have happened.
When the Browns have the ball
Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson has garnered a reputation over the years of being a bit of a “quarterback whisperer.” Apparently this season, he’s whispering so softly that nobody can hear him at all, because he’s putting on a nice display of how not to handle a rookie quarterback.
Jackson named rookie DeShone Kizer as his starting quarterback out of Training Camp this year. Kizer started the Browns’ first five games, getting benched at halftime of the fifth game. He then sat out the Browns’ sixth game, but was the starter for last week’s game. . .during which he was benched again. But, he’s been named the starter for this week, unless Jackson changes his mind sometime between now and Sunday.
Kizer has had a bit of a rough go of things, as he’s thrown just three touchdown passes to 11 interceptions so far this season. If the past few weeks have been any indication, we should probably anticipate seeing Kevin Hogan and/or Cody Kessler at some point. Whoever the Browns put behind center on Sunday, for the first time in 11 seasons they won’t have the luxury of the NFL’s best offensive tackle protecting their blind side.
Joe Thomas, who had not missed a snap in his NFL career prior to last week, is now done for the season with a torn triceps muscle. In his place, the Browns will be starting Spencer Drango, a fifth-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Drango will be getting his first start at left tackle on Sunday, and all he’ll be asked to do is block Everson Griffen for four quarters. I’d expect to see Drango getting a lot of help on Sunday in that task, because Griffen would likely have his way with Drango Unchained.
The Browns’ best offensive weapon, as things stand right now, is probably running back Duke Johnson. The Browns don’t use him much in the run game, which is puzzling given that he averages over five yards per carry, but he does currently lead the Browns with 32 receptions in their first seven games. Of course, passing to running backs likely means having to face the wrath of Anthony Barr, who is having a big-time bounce back year after a rough 2016.
The other main face to look for in the passing game for Cleveland is rookie tight end David Njoku. Browns’ quarterbacks have thrown for seven touchdowns this season, and Njoku has been on the receiving end of three of them. Njoku is an incredible physical talent, but the limitations of Cleveland’s quarterbacks, and the Cleveland offense as a whole, have limited his production. The Browns gave Kenny Britt a big free agent contract this offseason, but he really hasn’t done much beyond angering his coach and getting sent home early from road games. If he does play, he’s likely going to see a lot of Xavier Rhodes, which makes him a non-factor.
This is probably going to come off sounding quite arrogant, but the Minnesota defense would have to, literally, not show up in order for Cleveland’s offense to get anything accomplished. Kizer is going to give the Vikings opportunities for turnovers, and that could lead to Jackson playing musical quarterbacks during the contest. If the Vikings don’t give the Browns short fields to work with, I think the “home” team in this one is going to have a difficult time getting points.
When the Vikings have the ball
As if the Browns didn’t have enough other issues, rookie defensive end Myles Garrett, the top overall pick in this past year’s draft, entered the league’s concussion protocol on Tuesday and might not even make the trip to London. If he doesn’t, it would definitely make things easier for the Vikings’ offense.
The Vikings are looking to get some folks back on offense, notably wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who has missed the team’s last two games with a groin injury. The word is filtering down that Diggs might play this week, but if he’s borderline it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Vikings keep him on the bench for this one and wait to bring him back until after the bye week. Offensive tackle Riley Reiff did not practice on Wednesday after leaving Sunday’s win with a knee issue, but I would be surprised to not see him starting this weekend. The team might get offensive guard Nick Easton back, too.
The Browns have actually been pretty solid on defense, at least in terms of yards allowed. They boast one of the better run defenses in the league, allowing opponents only about three yards/carry. The pass is a bit of a different story, as only the New York Jets have allowed more passing touchdowns than the 14 that the Browns have given up this season so far. The Vikings’ running game, thanks to the revamped offensive line and the two-headed monster of Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon, has gotten the job done these past three weeks despite the absence of rookie phenom Dalvin Cook, but they may find tougher sledding against this Cleveland defense. They’ll need to be aware of linebacker Jamie Collins, who is one of the NFL’s best, as well as defensive back Jason McCourty, who has collected three interceptions this season.
It appears that the Vikings will, once again, be rolling with Case Keenum at quarterback in this one, and he will need to continue limiting his mistakes and moving the offense down the field. Keenum didn’t have a great game last week, but aside from his interception on the Vikings’ first offensive play, didn’t make any egregious errors. His accuracy last week was troubling, particularly early on, and hopefully he can improve on that this week.
As anyone that’s read the site over the years knows, I hate to predict blowouts, even blowouts that see the Vikings get a victory. But, frankly, I’m not sure if I can see this one going any other way. In order for it not to, a lot of things are going to have to go right for the Browns. . .and, more importantly, a lot of things would have to go wrong for Minnesota. I mean multiple turnovers, special teams lapses, things of that nature. I don’t see it happening, and I see whoever the Browns have at quarterback at any given time having a very long afternoon in this one.
Vikings 34, Browns 10
Other NFL Games (home team in CAPS)
Dolphins over RAVENS
I still don’t know who Joe Flacco is throwing the ball to. Frankly, Joe Flacco might not know, either. Problematic.
BILLS over Raiders
I know that the Raiders “saved their season” last week against Kansas City. But I never like teams taking this trip to the East Coast, so we’ll see how this goes.
PATRIOTS over Chargers
See above, though the difference between these two teams is markedly more pronounced. I’m guessing that the fog won’t be an issue in this one, either.
EAGLES over Niners
This game seems like as good a time as any to announce the one-time return of the Gratuitous Picture of the Week! Here’s a cheesecake photo for everyone to enjoy.
No cheerleaders, don’t be mad. Let this cheesecake fix your sad! (Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
By the way, if you’re still in a Survivor Pool and haven’t burned the Eagles yet, this is your pick.
BENGALS over Colts
The Colts may have managed to screw up their quarterback situation even worse than the Browns, which is saying something. And with two wins, they may have already taken themselves out of the running for the top pick in this year’s draft.
SAINTS over Bears
In order to win this one, Mitchell “Don’t You Dare Call Me Mitch” Trubisky might have to complete more than four passes. Awfully tall task. Not sure they can do it.
JETS over Falcons
The hell you say? I thought the Jets were supposed to be tanking. The Atlanta offense clearly isn’t the same without Kyle Shanahan, and the Jets’ defense has been good. This is your upset of the week.
Panthers over BUCCANEERS
Cam Newton isn’t talking to the media, while Jameis Winston may have fallen victim to the Ryan Fitzpatrick curse. Even if Winston does go in this one, he’s not 100%.
SEAHAWKS over Texans
There isn’t anybody hotter than DeShaun Watson right now, but he will have a tough test against the Legion of Boom and their latest addition, 206-year old Dwight Freeney. This might be the best game of the week, and I’ll give the nod to the home team.
Cowboys over REDSKINS
Washington is coming off of a tough loss on Monday night, and the Cowboys will have Ezekiel Elliot in the backfield once again. This should be a decent game as well. . .at least, I hope so, given that this and the Seahawks/Texans game will be all that the Red Zone channel has to offer for the late slate.
Steelers over LIONS
The Steelers might not have Jerome Bettis (WHO IS FROM DETROIT DID YOU KNOW THAT) in this one, but they should have enough to handle a pretty banged-up Lions team.
CHIEFS over Broncos
Denver’s offense has gotten to the point where their best option at quarterback might be. . .Brock Osweiler. That’s about all you need to know as far as their chances in this one.
Eric’s picks, live from Europe
Miami over Baltimore
Minnesota over Cleveland
Oakland over Buffalo
New England over Los Angeles Chargers
Philadelphia over San Francisco (survivor pick)
Cincinnati over Indianapolis
New Orleans over Chicago
Atlanta over New York Jets
Tampa Bay over Carolina
Seattle over Houston
Washington over Dallas
Pittsburgh over Detroit
Kansas City over Denver
Record last week: 10-5
Overall record this season: 59-47
There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Your NFL picks for this week. Enjoy, and remember. . .this is for informational purposes only. Unless you win.