There is no bigger preseason contest on the Week 2 slate than when Cleveland travels to Washington on Monday Night Football.
The matchup not only features two teams on the hunt to turn things around with a variety of new names in place, it touts Johnny Manziel and a host of other storylines worthy of the national spotlight.
Cleveland lost last week but did manage to get the Johnny Football debut out of the way to much fanfare and little actually learned in the process. Washington got a win that same week, but the offense continues to be a bit of a mystery under new head coach Jay Gruden.
Below, let's take a look at all of the integral viewing info and some of the finer details fans should watch for Monday night.
When: Monday, Aug. 18, at 8 p.m. ET
Where: FedEx Field, Landover, Maryland
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Betting Info: (via Odds Shark)
Spread: Washington (-4)
Team Injury Reports
Updated info can be found here once reports are released.
The QB Battle in Cleveland
Look, this story is not going anywhere. Behind all of the hoopla and speculation is an actual quarterback battle put on by coaches who, believe it or not, just want to win football games this season.
Coach Mike Pettine has put an end to much of the rumbling by telling the media the job is very much up for grabs, per Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com:
#browns Pettine said Manziel can still win the job "sure he can"...has told both of them it's still up for grabs— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) August 15, 2014
#browns coach Pettine said "every option is still on the table" in QB competition despite Hoyer starting in Washington— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) August 15, 2014
Manziel was rather ho-hum in his pro debut, completing seven passes for 63 yards and adding another 27 on the ground. It went about as expected, with Manziel visibly realizing mid-play that he is no longer one of the fastest players on the field—he also missed a wideout for a big gain on fourth down and hardly got past the marker.
So it makes sense that, when pairing his performance with Brian Hoyer's downright wealth of experience, the veteran is the starter Monday, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport:
The problem for Manziel is rather simple—the coaching staff surely does not want to throw him to the wolves in Pittsburgh on the road Week 1, so it is up to him to give them no other choice when push comes to shove.
For Manziel, that means a better set of decisions. The zip on the ball was there and he made some nice throws, but better reads in a quicker manner will equate to a starting gig by the time the season rolls around.
It is a shame such attention gets heaved at the quarterback competition, though, because the Browns quietly have a great defense and a first-round pick by the name of Justin Gilbert who will do nothing but help it improve. Offensively, rookie running back Terrance West might just unseat Ben Tate for the starting gig.
But Monday, all eyes are on the men under center in another hostile environment. One is more popular than the other, but the other has done little to lose his job.
The Revamped Offense in Washington
Gruden is fortunate in that his first stop as a head coach already came very equipped in the offensive weapons department.
There is running back Alfred Morris, who has rushed for a minimum of 1,275 yards in each of his two seasons as a pro in a system that sounds like it will remain largely unchanged.
Wideout Pierre Garcon led the NFL in receptions last year, while DeSean Jackson is a new face and might just make his debut with the team Monday. Gruden sounds especially thrilled about his pair of star wideouts, as the team's Twitter account notes:
But above all else, there is Robert Griffin III, who comes off a down year.
Interestingly enough, while Manziel is used by RGIII's former offensive coordinator (Kyle Shanahan) in such a way as to replicate that success, Gruden also knows a thing or two about getting the most out of young quarterbacks thanks to his time in Cincinnati.
"He has the keys to the franchise in his hands," Gruden said, per ESPN.com's John Keim. "He'll take us a long way. He has to make the right decisions and we're counting on him to do that."
RGIII attempted just four passes in his preseason debut, but one has to figure he will see a somewhat bigger workload against the stout Cleveland defense. Morris will get some work, too, but watch out for rookie back Lache Seastrunk, who exploded for 63 yards last week.
Gruden will still keep most of his schemes vanilla, but an offense in need of a serious jell thanks to new faces and a new head man could use the extra spotlight of a national game as a trial by fire. So too could the depth led by promising quarterback Kirk Cousins.
What to Expect
These two teams won a combined seven games last season, but thanks to noticeable overhauls in key areas and the propensity for young rosters to finally come of age, this one didn't need the national microscope to qualify as a must-see affair.
Which team wins?
Folks will flock for Manziel, but make sure to stay all the way through. Depth for both teams is becoming a strong suit in key areas, and besides, it is the only football fans will get before a two-day hiatus.
As far as a winner goes, it is hard to argue against the one-two punch Washington touts at quarterback, which should be enough to pull through. If not, the impressive depth in the backfield will allow Gruden's team to grind out a victory at home.
Prediction: Washington 28, Cleveland 20
Note: Preseason stats courtesy of NFL.com.