...quite frankly, the Packers are a shadow of the team they were a few years ago. By the end of the day Sunday, they'll likely be 0-3 after facing Tampa Bay. And while the Browns head to Indy ranked as the 4th best offense in yardage (and the Colts are 20th...imagine that), their defense is what will allow Peyton Manning and the Colts to break out of their supposed funk and light up the scoreboard while Trent Dilfer runs for his life from a super-charged Colts defense.
I know, I know. Some folks think it's bad karma to boldly predict a big win. And if that turns out to be the case, I'll just apologize now, because come Monday I'll be thinking about Tennessee....that's my story, and I'm sticking to it. So don't expect an apology next week.
Why am I so certain that the Colts offense will get back into it's groove? Well, there's just too many factors to ignore. Take for example Mike O'Hare at the Detroit News who observed that "...the Browns won at Green Bay but gave up 342 yards passing to Brett Favre, who has one receiver, Donald Driver, who'd be in Indy's top four."
Quite frankly, I expect Cleveland to drop no less than six and as many as eight defenders into coverage out of sheer terror (they'll call it "respect") in hopes of slowing down Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Brandon Stokley. And it might work at times.
But the Browns just don't have a pass rush...zero....zilch...none. They'll have to catch Peyton absent-mindedly bending over after the snap to tie his shoe with the ball tucked under his chin to have a shot at a sack. Manning will find someone open, even if it takes him a bit longer than usual. And if not, the Browns will get tired of watching Edgerrin James' backside running away from them and towards the goal line.
Bud Geracie, at The Mercury News said in his column on Saturday, "What's wrong with the Colts' offense? Nothing -- as the Cleveland Browns will find out Sunday."
And just so you don't think this is a male conspiracy, Tiffany Black at the Atlanta Constitution-Journal had this to say:
"Trent Dilfer threw three more touchdown passes than Peyton Manning last week. What a mismatch this is! Market Correction Week: Colts cover 13 1/2."
Dilfer will be trying to surpass 300-yards passing for the a second-consecutive game after being named AFC Offensive Player of the Week. But history isn't on his side. The last Browns quarterback to do that was Brian Sipe -- and he retired back in 1983.
Meanwhile, you have to wonder if Peyton Manning is as chipper as he's trying to portray himself these days as the media tries to figure out what's "wrong" with him. And has anyone else been wondering if his brother Eli of the New York Giants had the guts to call his big brother and rub his nose in the fact that his quarterback rating (76.3) is higher than Peyton's 74.7 after the first two weeks?
Gosh, I sure hope so.
We've been assured that Peyton is more worried about wins than stats, but something like that coming from his little brother might just unleash a flurry of touchdown passes just to put the youngster back in his place.
You know, as lackluster as the Colts' offense has seemed -- mainly due to comparison to last year's historic run -- they've only scored five points less than Cleveland's 4th-ranked offense over two games. So if the Colts are mired in mediocrity....well....what's that make the Browns' offense? And quite frankly, Cleveland's happy about how their offense is doing. Their offense is playing at their talent level -- perhaps even a bit over it at the moment. And they aren't achieving much more than what the Colts are while the Colts have been muddling through a sluggish pair of performances against some darn fine defenses.
Now just in case you wonder if the Browns defense compares favorably to their Ravens and Jaguars counterparts, let me assure you that they don't. For those of you with one-week memory spans (most of whom should be from Cleveland), two weeks ago the Bengals scored 27 points on the Browns in two quarters and posted 420 yards of offense by the end of the game. And despite what some Bengals fans might tell you while under the influence of their pregame beverages on Sunday, Carson Palmer is no Peyton Manning and Rudi Johnson is no Edgerrin James.
Now I'll admit, it's a bit troubling to acknowledge the fact that Manning has never had a plus-100 quarterback rating during his three previous meetings with the Browns. And the last time they played back in 2003, the Colts only managed to score three field goals.
But the Browns had a defense back then. Their current defense has allowed an average of 25.5 points per game in their first two outings.
"The Browns, as some of you may have noticed Sunday, have some playmakers on offense, especially rookie Braylon Edwards," noted Dennis Dougherty at PackersNews.com in his game predictions this week. "But Cleveland is woefully lacking on defense. Colts 27, Browns 17."
Meanwhile, the Colts defense has been unreal. And as Dougherty sarcastically noted in his column in praise of that group, "The Indianapolis defenders must be getting sore backs from carrying Peyton Manning and the rest of that sorry Colts' offense."
The Colts have allowed just ten points total in their first two games by playing old-school, slobberknockin' football. And it's taken everyone -- except for the Colts -- by surprise.
"The Colts being known for their defense just seems weird, doesn't it," said Andy Nesbitt at FoxSports.com. "It's kind of like McDonald's being known for their fish."
Oh, and by the way...Andy predicts the Colts to run away with this one, 33-10.
The Browns offensive line, which hasn't allowed a sack in their first two games, knows what kind of day they are in for on Sunday against the Colts defense.
"They've got (Dwight) Freeney. They've got (Corey) Simon. They're probably the biggest sack team in the league right now," said right tackle Ryan Tucker. "We started thinking about that game as soon as we got on the plane on the way home from Green Bay."
The Colts defense has been waiting a long time for this type of respect from other teams after being called out repeatedly over the past few years as the weaker sibling in the Colts family.
"This is what we want to do, hit the quarterback, you know?" said Freeney after the Jacksonville game. "Whatever it takes. I mean, I'll do cartwheels, backflips, whatever I have to do to get to the passer. And with our group once one guy gets a hit, then everybody else wants to get in on the action, too."
ESPN's Ron Jaworski is amongst the many who have noticed a huge difference in the defensive line this year.
"From a down-line position, they may be the best pass-rushing group in the NFL," he said. "It's like they've got rockets on their backs."
But, hey...don't sell the Browns short. They beat Brett Favre and the Packers last week for gosh sakes.
Well, Joe Gross at The Capital out of Annapolis summed up his thoughts on that in his NFL predictions column on Saturday when he said, "Can you imagine seeing the Browns' players strutting onto the field at Indianapolis because they beat the Packers at Lambeau Field. Do they think they can do the same on the Colts' home turf? It's sort of humorous, and sort of impossible. COLTS, 31-14."
Oh, and on the outside chance Joe, Tiffany, Mike, Bud, Glenn, Andy and I are wrong on this one? Don't forget....I'm already thinking about next week's game against Tennessee. My short-term memory is worse than the typical Cleveland fan's.
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