In my season preview column, I predicted that the Browns would get off to a slow start. That has obviously happened, with Cleveland sitting at 0-4. I really went out on a limb with that prediction, I know.
But I specifically earmarked this Week 5 game against the Giants as a watershed moment for the 2012 season, as the Browns would go into New York and beat the defending Super Bowl champions.
On the surface this sounds ridiculous, and I agree. The Giants won the Super Bowl last season for the second time in five years.
The Browns, on the other hand, have never been to the Super Bowl and are currently riding a tidy 10-game losing streak.
Recent history, however, says that none of this matters, as the Browns have made a habit of knocking off the defending Super Bowl champs. They've feat accomplished the last three chances they were afforded.
In a 2008 Monday Night Football game, the 1-3 Browns, led by Derek Anderson, blew out Eli Manning and the Giants 35-14 in Cleveland.
The next season, in 2009, the Browns entered a Thursday night game with a record of 1-11 as heavy underdogs against the Steelers. That lone win came in a 6-3 shootout over Buffalo that saw Anderson throw for 23 yards. And no, that’s not a typo. Riding the wings of a 90-yard passing performance by Brady Quinn and 87 rushing yards from Joshua Cribbs, the Browns defeated Pittsburgh 13-6 and sparked a four-game win streak to end the season (and screw their draft positioning).
2010 saw the Browns get out to a 1-5 start. Colt McCoy was starting just his second career game going into the Super Dome in New Orleans to face the indomitable Saints team that only lost two games the previous year. Eric Mangini opened up his bag of tricks to pull out a 30-17 win despite only getting 74 passing yards from our buddy Colt.
And if you want to count preseason games, the Browns also beat the Packers last season to make it four in a row. But we’ll stick with the three that actually counted.
Going into each of those games, the Browns only had one win. They were simply not a good team going up against great teams. The QB matchups in each game were an absolute joke. Cleveland was going up against future Hall of Famers and countering them with guys who were not fit to start in the NFL. On paper, there was no reason that the Browns should have even had a chance in those games, let alone win.
That’s what happened in the past. Let’s look at the now and hit the Week 5 NFL lines…
(Gamble at your own risk, home team in CAPS, and lines from SportsBook.com.)
Browns (+8.5) over GIANTS
Not only will I take the points with the Browns, I’ll take them for the win. Ninety percent of my confidence with this pick is due to the history of the Browns going up against the defending champions. Opponents come into games against the Browns taking them lightly, thinking they’ll be a pushover. Before they know it, they’re in for a battle.
I tweeted this during the Thursday night game against the Ravens: “Never let an inferior team believe that they’re good and have a chance." The Giants don’t often come out and just blow the handles off opponents. If they allow the Browns to stick around so that it’s only a one-score game at the half, watch out.
The other 10 percent of my confidence with this pick comes from a variety of factors.
1. Since the start of the 2009 season, the Giants are only 14-12 at home. They’re actually a better road team over that time span (15-11). The MetLife Stadium isn’t the daunting environment that the old Meadowlands was, and for some reason, it hasn’t been a major home-field advantage for the Giants. It’s no coincidence that during their two Super Bowl runs, they did it going on the road.
2. The Giants haven't exactly been blowing the doors off people this season. They hold a 2-2 record and have really only looked good once, that coming in a win over the very young Carolina Panthers on Thursday night in Week 3. They certainly don't look like a "super" team so far in 2012.
3. Many of the Giants' struggles likely stem from the many battles they've been having with injuries, particularly in the defensive secondary. Both of their starting safeties and one of their starting corners are listed as "Did Not Participate in Practice" on the injury report. Starting receiver Hakeem Nicks has also been ruled out for Sunday's game. The Giants are far from being full strength at this point.
4. Brandon Weeden has to be better than Anderson, Quinn and McCoy, right? I certainly think so. He's gotten better every game and, unlike at least two of those other QBs, he has the ability to make big plays with his arm. If the Browns could beat the champs with crap quarterbacking, then why can't they do it with Weeden?
5. Oh yeah, Trent Richardson is really good. As bad as the Browns have been against the run this season, the Giants have actually been worse, giving up 118.2 yards per game. They surrendered 123 yards to LeSean McCoy last week and 131 yards to DeMarco Murray in the opener against the Cowboys, losing both games. Richardson has a very good chance this week to explode.
The Browns have knocked off the champs before; they'll do it again this week.
REDSKINS (+3) over Falcons
The Falcons aren't quite as strong as their undefeated record indicates. They get their first loss this week as they go to Washington. Robert Griffin III, who continues to demonstrate that he probably was worth the king's ransom the 'Skins gave up for him, has a huge game and pulls out a late come-from-behind victory in front the home crowd.
STEELERS (-3.5) over Eagles
The line basically says that the two teams are about equal. While I think that the Steelers aren't what they used to be, they're in better health coming off the bye week and at home. Also, the Eagles really aren't that good.
Packers (-7) over COLTS
Green Bay hasn't played great so far this season, certainly not up to its potential or anything near what it did last season. The Colts might be the worst team in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers gets back on track against a pretty bad Colts defense.
BENGALS (-3.5) over Dolphins
If the Bengals are going to go back to the playoffs this season, then these are the kinds of games that they have to take care of. Miami hasn't played bad the past couple weeks, but it still isn't a team that Cincinnati should have too much trouble with at home.
Ravens (-6.5) over CHIEFS
I might not pick the Chiefs again for the rest of this season. Some games, they aren't very good and in others, they're just downright terrible. Our old pal Romeo Crennel is doing about as good in Kansas City as he did here in Cleveland.
PANTHERS (-3) over Seahawks
Cam Newton and the Panthers really should have won last week against the Falcons. One of two things happen this week. Either...
A. They come out in a blaze of rage over blowing the game last week, Newton goes off and the offense drops 40 on Seattle flying cross-country.
B. A young team crumbles after a couple plays early don't go their way and the Seahawks win convincingly.
It's always tough picking young teams, but I think scenario A happens and they rebound for a big win.
JAGUARS (+5) over Bears
This is exactly the kind of game that spells disaster for the Jekyll and Hyde Bears. Coming off a big Monday night win, going on the road against an inferior team is a recipe for an upset if I ever saw one.
Titans (+6) over VIKINGS
It might be a little premature to start making the Vikings nearly a touchdown favorite. They've had a couple of nice wins, but I don't feel strongly enough about them to pick them to cover this spread. Jake Locker's status for Sunday is still in question, which worries me a little, but Matt Hasselbeck is still a competent NFL QB.
PATRIOTS (-6.5) over Broncos
Do you think the Patriots will be able to get up for a game against their archrival Peyton Manning? They got out to a very slow start in the first half last week against Buffalo before flipping the switch and eviscerating the Bills. Tom Brady gets off to a quick start and Manning's noodle arm doesn't have the juice to make the comebacks that he used to in this matchup.
49ERS (-10) over Bills
Speaking of the Bills...they have to go cross-country and play one of the best defenses in the NFL. San Francisco will play very stingy and not give Ryan Fitzpatrick those quick and easy throws, forcing him out of his comfort zone into making more deep passes. And Ryan Fitzpatrick not being in his comfort zone is basically a nightmare for Bills fans. I might be nuts to lay 10 points, but I think the Bills stink. So that's that.
SAINTS (-3.5) over Chargers
I find it difficult to believe that the 0-4 Saints are actually the favorites in the Sunday night game. This fact should scare me away into picking the Chargers, but I think there will be a renewed energy in the Super Dome as Drew Brees breaks Johnny Unitas' record for consecutive games with a passing TD that will propel the Saints to their first victory of the season. I'd feel better if I only had to lay three points, but I'll stick with it.
Texans (-9) over JETS
I should put an asterisk on this pick, with the exception that if Tim Tebow takes over at QB at halftime that I'd like to change my pick. But seeing as how the Jets are without their best receiver and corner, Mark Sanchez stinks and the Texans are really good, I'll go with Houston even though they're laying so many points on the road.
Last week: 8-6
You can follow Benjamin Flack on Twitter @ClevelandFlack.
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