The Cleveland Browns are ambling towards irrelevance in Week 8 as they host the San Diego Chargers. Unable to build on their first win of the season, the Browns now sit at 1-6 and are in danger of falling to the cellar of the league once again.
San Diego is coming off of a bye and is in the midst of a a two-game slide of its own, including a blown 24-0 halftime lead to the Denver Broncos in its most recent game. That just adds to the Chargers' recent history of early-season woes.
It is essentially a must-win scenario for the Chargers, who are looking to get to 4-3 and keep pace with the Broncos in the AFC West. Meanwhile, the Browns are continuing to fight for respectability. Despite visible improvement in the team from last season, it has not translated to victories.
Here is a closer look at Sunday's matchup in Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Current Betting Line (via Bovada):
Spread: San Diego (-3)
Money Line: San Diego (-150), Cleveland (+130)
This is a rather conservative line for a game featuring two teams with such a disparity in records. But the line is fair since the Browns have been competitive in every game thus far. The passionate Cleveland fans can be an equalizer no matter which opponent is on the field.
What's at Stake
This is a battle of head coaches who should be on the hot seat for different reasons. Cleveland's Pat Shurmur has failed to give the team a lift since becoming head coach before the very difficult lockout situation of 2011. New owner Jimmy Haslam can't be too pleased with what he's seen thus far.
On the other sideline, Norv Turner has had success with the Chargers, but they are looked upon as an underachieving team each year. It's hard to argue with the results that Turner's offensive philosophy has produced for QB Philip Rivers and the passing game. However, San Diego still can't seem to get over the postseason hump, regardless of the circumstances.
Not only is the job security of both coaches on the line, but the Chargers could recapture the lead in the AFC West with a win and a Denver Broncos loss. Unfortunately for Cleveland, there isn't much hope to win the North division anymore.
Injury News (via ESPN):
San Diego Chargers
Eddie Royal, WR (hamstring) QUESTIONABLE—the former Denver Bronco has only notched 7.5 yards per catch on 13 receptions and hasn't quite matched the promise of his 91-catch rookie campaign. He also hasn't had a huge impact as a punt returner, and his status for Cleveland remains in question.
Trent Richardson, RB (ribs) QUESTIONABLE—there has been talk that the Browns will sit the No. 3 overall pick until after the Week 10 bye. Apparently, Richardson doesn't want to sit, so it will be interesting to see how Cleveland utilizes him on Sunday.
Montario Hardesty, RB (knee) QUESTIONABLE—unfortunately, knee issues have been all too common for the 2010 second-round pick. More trouble has had him limited in practice this week. If Hardesty can't go, the Browns' backfield will be very thin.
Mohamed Massaquoi, WR (hamstring) QUESTIONABLE—it has been weeks since the oft-injured Browns wideout has played. After starting out as QB Brandon Weeden's favorite target, Massaquoi has been out since early in Week 3 with a nagging hamstring issue. He remains up in the air for the Chargers game.
Ahtyba Rubin, DT (calf) QUESTIONABLE—one of the busiest defensive tackles in the league, it has been rare for Rubin to leave the lineup. But a calf injury has him at 50-50 to play in Week 8.
Cleveland's front seven will have to perform well to contain Chargers RB Ryan Mathews, who is an all-purpose threat out of the backfield. If San Diego is able to establish the run, it will be a long day for the Browns.
The rookie defensive tackle tandem of Billy Winn and John Hughes will have to play big in the potential absence of Rubin. Fourth-round pick James-Michael Johnson must also have a more significant impact at strong side linebacker.
11th Hour Fantasy Advice:
The bye week should have helped the Pro Bowler get more on the same page with his receivers—and, more importantly, allow him to recover from his implosion on Monday Night Football in Week 6. Expect a big day from Rivers, because the Browns' defense hasn't been all that impressive across the board. The return of Joe Haden to the Cleveland secondary has helped, but there are still too many holes for a QB of Rivers' caliber to exploit.
With his ability to run and be a receiver out of the backfield, Mathews should be in for a big fantasy day. A bye week will have him ready to run downhill, and he will be anxious to get back at it against a porous defense after he was somewhat ineffective in the Denver game.
Shurmur has a penchant for calling pass plays in the West Coast system, and Weeden has thrown 272 passes through seven games—good for the third-most attempts in the NFL. The Chargers are also just 25th against the pass, so the first-round rookie is a good bet to slide into your lineup in a spot-start situation. The trend of airing it out will be even more prominent if Richardson and Hardesty can't go or are limited.
Four touchdowns in the past three games makes Gordon the Browns' most productive playmaking receiver in recent memory. The second-round supplemental draft pick came into camp late, but is already flashing the ability that GM Tom Heckert saw in him to take such a bold risk. With a lot of passing likely in store once again, Gordon will be the top target if Massaquoi can't go.
Both teams have turned it over a lot in 2012 and have created a lot of turnovers to counter. That should lend itself to a wild afternoon. The Browns will be competitive once again, but the better team will win this one.
San Diego is too talented to lose three games in a row, and the Chargers have had an extra week to prepare. Cleveland continues to find ways to lose rather than the opposite and could be very shorthanded with regard to some of its key players.
Final score: Chargers 27, Browns 24