After almost a two-year losing streak, the Cleveland Browns are now 1-1-1 (oddly the same record as their divisional rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers) after beating the New York Jets 21-17 last Thursday in front of 73,200 fans and 5.2 million U.S. households.
A big reason that Week 3 matchup was the network's highest rated and most-watched exclusive Thursday night game since December of 2015 was the fact that quarterback Baker Mayfield, the number one overall pick in this year’s draft, finally got a chance to play. The Browns responded by overcoming a 14-0 deficit and notching their first win since December of 2016.
Against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, Mayfield will start for the first time this season and try to prove that beating the Jets was no fluke and that he is the solution for which the hapless Browns have been searching.
The Raiders, on the other hand, haven’t won a 2018 game yet, and fans are beginning to question whether hiring and overpaying head coach Jon Gruden, who’s been in the broadcast booth for the last nine years, was a mistake or not.
The Raiders’ pass rush has degraded since they traded away their quarterback hunting three-time Pro Bowler and 2016 Defensive Player of the Year, Khalil Mack. Oakland’s offense has been coming up short, as well, especially in crucial moments. Their 56 percent red zone efficiency rate is 19th in the league.
If the Raiders can’t beat the Browns, they’ll drop to 0-4 and continue to fly solo in the AFC West basement.
Who’s favored to win this Week 4 Browns-Raiders matchup?
Which team has a better offense? Defense? Special teams?
Which team’s quarterback is more likely to lead his team to victory?
We’re going to compare the Browns and the Raiders and attempt to answer those questions and more.
The 2018 Browns offense is officially updated
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor started the Browns’ first three games but he was not getting the job done.
In the two-and-a-half games that Taylor played in, he threw for 462 total yards, averaging 92.4 passing yards per half. In the half of the Jets game (plus two minutes) that Baker Mayfield played after Taylor left injured (concussion), he passed for 201 yards.
Taylor had only completed 48.8 percent of his passes (41-for-84) and was rated 63.7 over his three games. Mayfield completed 73.9 percent of his passes (17-for-23) for a passer rating of 100.1.
Head coach Hue Jackson named Mayfield the starter against the Raiders, so he’ll finally be throwing to the ‘ones’ and it will count. So far, the Browns have only averaged 20 points per game, but Mayfield and his highly accurate arm has the chance to improve on that. He’ll target 3x Pro Bowler and last season’s NFL receptions leader Jarvis Landry, outstanding rookie receiver Antonio Calloway, and last season’s first round draft pick tight end David Njoku.
The Browns three-headed rushing monster (Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson and rookie Nick Chubb) have combined for 134.3 yards per game (5th best) and should give Oakland’s run defense (ranked 22nd) a solid run for their money.
The 2018 Raiders offense is sputtering, despite Carr
After three losses, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is ranked 6th in passing yards (936) and his completion percentage (76.6) is second only to future hall-of-famer Drew Brees (80.6). His numbers under pressure are where he falls short – just a 32.1 passer rating over 24 attempts – and according to ESPN his current 42.5 quarterback rating (QBR) is ranked 22nd out of 31 qualified NFL passers.
Amari Cooper and newly acquired Jordy Nelson lead a receiver corps that’s sixth best in total passing yards per game (302.0) while Marshawn Lynch’s and Jalen Richard’s running back crew have averaged 98.7 yards per game, tied for 16th best.
The biggest problem is the Oakland offense’s inability to score. They average just 17.3 points per game and against a productive Mayfield led Browns team that might not be quite enough.
Browns Defense ranks 13th in the league, Raiders D ranks 20th
Cleveland’s defense was the main reason the Browns almost beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1 and the New Orleans Saints in Week 2. They picked off the Steelers’ Big Ben 3 times, sacked him 4 times and held him to just one touchdown all day. The Browns’ defense held Drew Brees to just 243 yards and 2 touchdowns, plus they sacked him 3 times.
Last week in the win against the Jets, they twice sacked and twice intercepted rookie quarterback Sam Darnold and once Mayfield got in the game the Browns defense held New York to just a field goal. Can Derek Carr thrive under that much pressure?
The Raiders’ pass rush has degraded greatly since they traded three-time Pro Bowl and 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears for two draft picks. They’re currently ranked last in the league in sacks with only three, and ranked 24th in interceptions with just 1. Mack, on the other hand, has 4 sacks and an interception already for the Bears. Whoops.
How will Mayfield do against the Raiders D?
Well, their pass defense has allowed a 106.4 passer rating against them so far this season, which would most likely be just fine with rookie Mayfield and the Browns in his first official NFL start.
In Week 1, Browns placekicker Zane Gonzales had a potential game-winning field goal blocked, while in Week 2 he missed two extra points and two field goals, including a potential game-tying 56-yarder in the final few seconds.
Gonzales was replaced with undrafted free agent Greg Joseph, who made good on a pair of field goals against the Jets, including a 45-yarder, and both of his extra point attempts. Joseph’s longest field goal was at FAU when he kicked a 54-yarder against Navy.
Raiders rookie kicker Eddy Pineiro was placed on injured reserve (groin), so now the kicking duties fall on the leg of veteran Mike Nugent. In three games, he’s made all of his field goals but missed an extra point attempt in Week 2 against the Denver Broncos.
Nugent’s career-longest field goal was on January 4, 2015, when he kicked a 58-yard field goal during the AFC first-round playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts.
Browns-Raiders prediction and odds
The oddsmakers have the Raiders favored to beat the Browns by 2.5 with an over/under of 45.
CBSSports.com’s final score prediction: Raiders 23, Browns 20.