Two teams on the hunt for rebound campaigns after miserable outings a year ago meet Saturday when the Cleveland Browns make the trip to Detroit to face the Lions.
Detroit, led by new head coach Jim Caldwell, looks to usher in a new era of disciplined football after a seven-win performance last year. A culture change might just be enough to put what is an already talented roster over the top and into the postseason.
Cleveland, on the other hand, simply wants to improve on a four-win output from last season and begin a new era of its own—if Johnny Manziel is ready for the spotlight.
It may not have the look of a marquee matchup on paper, but Saturday's duel has all the makings of one fans should catch from start to finish thanks to intriguing storylines and positional battles.
Below, fans will find how to watch the affair and what to key in on as they observe.
When: Saturday, Aug. 9, at 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Ford Field, Detroit
Watch: Lions TV (local)
Live Stream: NFL Preseason Live
Betting Info: (via Odds Shark)
Spread: Detroit (-1.5)
Team Injury Reports
Updated info can be found here once reports are released.
Johnny and Friends
Nobody really knows how the quarterback carousel in Cleveland will pan out, and that includes head coach Mike Pettine.
"(They'll) probably (alternate) more day-to-day at this point,'' said Pettine, per Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. "I don't think we'll do this for the entire week, and then we'll meet at some point midweek to discuss how we want to handle the reps in the Detroit game.''
It is perhaps the most interesting battle the preseason as a whole has to offer. Manziel seems to be coming for the starting gig, especially as his confidence with the first team continues to grow, as captured by ESPN Cleveland:
Manziel: Its good for me to get in with the 1's. It was a different pace and its important for me to get on the same page with them. #Browns— ESPN Cleveland (@ESPNCleveland) August 6, 2014
That said, Pettine feels it is wise to roll with his veteran, at least for the contest in Detroit:
#browns pettine on why he's starting Hoyer: "he's done nothing to have that taken away from him"— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) August 6, 2014
After that, much can change.
But the battle under center is not the only noteworthy thing to watch for with the Browns. Look at running back, a spot where Ben Tate is penciled in as the starter after three years as a backup to Arian Foster in Houston.
Tate has missed eight games in three years, so one can be led to believe that Terrance West, Cleveland's third-round pick, can gain significant ground Saturday with a strong showing. Really, he has spent the summer doing just that already.
“I was a little shocked with Terrance today,” Pettine said after the first practice of camp, per August Fagerstrom and Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. “I had to double-check my roster card to make sure I was looking at the right number."
Perhaps the rookie most flying under the radar? The No. 8 overall pick, Justin Gilbert. As one can glean from his No. 2 listing on the depth chart and this video from Kevin Jones of the Browns website, the Oklahoma State product is living up to his billing:
So, to summarize, Manziel might have to overcome a defensive line that includes, but is not limited to, Ndamukong Suh. So does West, who is battling a three-year pro brought on in free agency to specifically hold the starting gig. Gilbert might match up with Calvin Johnson.
Yeah, buckle in for the ride.
Quiet New Faces in the Motor City
Believe it or not, things are just as exciting for the Lions, sans inflatable swans and money phones.
There is No. 40 overall pick Kyle Van Noy, who has mostly worked as a backup behind Ashlee Palmer at strong-side linebacker to this point.
“That’s something I can’t control,” Van Noy said of his fluctuating practice reps, per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “What I can control is how hard I work, doing my assignment right and doing it to the best of my ability. I think those three things are what I focus on, and the rest is the coaches’ and the higher-ranking officials’ jobs.”
Saturday, though? Van Noy will be unleashed to chase down Manziel and prove he should have the No. 1 spot on the depth chart by the time the season rolls around.
Do not forget No. 10 overall pick Eric Ebron either. The former North Carolina star has apparently dropped a ton of passes in camp and has subsequently been slapped into third place on the depth chart.
Joining Ebron in a new-look cast for quarterback Matthew Stafford is free-agent acquisition Golden Tate. He ranked as the No. 18 overall wideout in the NFL last year at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and his 7.9 yards per catch after reception average ranked him No. 2 overall, not to mention his 506 yards after the catch.
In other words, fans are about to get a glimpse at what might just be the NFL's most dangerous offense this season. And it will come against a great overall defense headed by elite corner Joe Haden.
What to Expect
Which team will win?
Mistakes, and lots of them.
But in all seriousness, it is a shame this is not a regular-season affair. The offense-defense dynamic is superb, but fans will get quarterbacks such as Dan Orlovsky, and elite pass-rushers will sit on the bench.
It has the makings of an entertaining affair throughout, though, if not just to see high-profile rookies such as Gilbert, Manziel and Van Noy go to work. As an added caveat, the scoreboard should be alight. And who knows? Maybe Mr. Johnny Football will work his improvisation magic for a few big plays in the process.
Prediction: Browns 35, Lions 30