Do you remember last year when the Panthers traded for Sam Darnold? Look up who their first game was against last year. It was against the Jets. Now, the Jets aren’t as good as the Browns are, but that opening week had even more motivation for Darnold, and wouldn’t you know it, the Panthers took home the opening week game.
This year, we have Baker Mayfield under center for the Panthers, and wouldn’t you know it, the opening game is against the Browns. Mayfield was the answer at quarterback for a couple of years but ultimately they decided it wasn’t working and they turned to Deshaun Watson. Watson is now suspended so that won’t help the Browns in this one. Not only is Mayfield a change for the team, but Christian McCaffrey is back and that might be a bigger addition. McCaffery is arguably the most dynamic runner out of the backfield. He is utilized in the passing game and running game and can make a difference in both – if he remains healthy. As far as the wide receivers, I do think that DJ Moore and Robbie Anderson are a step down from the weapons that Mayfield did… not much with last year in Cleveland, but they still can make plays and are solid options.
The Browns have quarterback turnover, obviously, but there is more than just a new quarterback. I have to assume they knew Watson wouldn’t be around for the start of the season when they obtained him. That might be why they got Jacoby Brissett. Brissett is a journeyman quarterback that has never really stood out anywhere that he ended up. He hasn’t been brutal anywhere either. But, he is what he is, a backup. Last year he was used in six games (he played in more but I’m talking about where he actually saw some legitimate time) and in those games, the Dolphins went 2-4. They lost three of them by 10 or more points. The other ones were all one-score games. Cleveland definitely has the better running backs and that ground attack can, and will, likely make a difference. Amari Cooper being in the mix will help them with a playmaker on the outside. Defensively, the Browns should be able to get some penetration up front and rush Mayfield into a few bad throws.
The Browns obviously want to come out of the gate with a victory, but I think it will be hard against the Panthers. The Panthers’ defense is better than they probably will get credit for. I also think this is a game that Mayfield probably circled on the calendar already. There is no lack of motivation on either team, but I do think the Panthers can pull this out. After all, I can’t support Brissett on the road in a pick’em. Play the Panthers at -110.
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