TAMPA, Fla. — This was another extremely difficult game to pick, so much so that I changed my prediction from the video we taped on Friday morning.
I might regret it the same way you regret changing your answer on a multiple choice test. But a lot has happened since that video, including the Browns trading Carlos Hyde to the Jaguars for a fifth-round pick in 2019.
The trade paves the way for rookie Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson to get the ball more, and that just might be what the Browns need to jump start this sluggish offense.
Chubb will be motivated to have a big game in his first time out as the workhorse back. Johnson has raised his hand to get the ball more, and now he’s got to back it up.
Baker Mayfield, coming off the ‘worst game I’ve ever had’ will come out with a renewed vigor after the Chargers took it to him. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley has also called upon Jarvis Landry to step up and lead the team, and he’s due for a breakout game against the Bucs’ 32nd-ranked pass defense.
The 2-3 Bucs have allowed touchdowns on 15 of their opponents’ 16 trips inside the 20 for a 93.8 conversion rate. If the Browns (2-3-1) can’t score some TDs against this team, they’ll be hard-pressed to do so against the Steelers and Chiefs.
What’s more, Bucs’ starting defensive linemen Gerald McCoy (calf) and Vinny Curry (ankle) have been ruled out.
The reason I originally picked the Bucs to win was because of their No. 1-ranked passing offense and a trio of formidable receivers in Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin. They’re averaging 28 points a game for No. 8 in the NFL, and Jameis Winston is completing 75 percent of his passes.
The Browns’ defense played horribly against the Chargers last week. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams lit into them and Myles Garrett vowed to take his frustrations out on the Bucs. He also called out the officiating and needs to back that up.
If the defensive front can get pressure on Winston, they can force him into some bad throws, and Damarious Randall and Denzel Ward will be there to intercept him. I think one or both will have picks in this game. Winston has thrown four interceptions in his six quarters and is vulnerable in that area.
The defense was abysmal against the run last week (246 yards), but the Bucs don’t usually run the ball much. They’re 31st in rushing, but mostly because they live and die by the pass. Last week, they ran for 121 yards on the Falcons.
The game could come down to turnovers, and the Bucs don’t take it away much. They have only one interception this season, and five takeaways overall for second-fewest in the NFL. They’re 30th in the NFL at minus-6.
The Bucs just fired their defensive coordinator in Mike Smith and have lost three straight games. The Browns, on the other hand, are looking to snap a 23-game road losing streak.