The model is calling bullshit on Baker Mayfield (allegedly) saying he's going to fuck up his former team. With a strength of 5.42, we like the Browns to cover on the road.
Cleveland @ Carolina
Cleveland 18, Carolina 31
When Cleveland has the ball:
It turns out, literally trading your entire draft from now till the end of time and giving a man with 24 sexual assault complaints a 240 million dollar fully guaranteed contract while simultaneously alienating your quarterback isn't the best strategy. It's truly perplexing given how well the Browns have handled their quarterback situation throughout the years.
But that's neither here nor there. For week 1, the Browns are left with Jacoby Brissett under center. Brissett has dropped back 1,409 times in his 6 year NFL career -- he holds a completion percentage barely above 60 (60.2%) and has gained 6.4 yards per attempt. His PFF grade is typically in the high 50s/low 60s, though he did earn a 76.3 grade on 259 dropbacks last year in Miami. Brissett is a decent backup, but has routinely struggled when given the opportunity to play. He will play behind one of the best offensive lines in football that is returning all 5 starters with the exception of C JC Tretter. Ex Seahawk Ethan Pocic will step in -- he struggled greatly in his first three years, but has played at a much more average level the last two. The Browns issues along the line were health related, but with tackles Jedrick Willis and Jack Conklin both healthy, as well as stud guards Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller ready to go, this is one of the few lines in football that can keep Brissett and his career 2.92 seconds time to throw up right. With Jarvis Landry (Saints), Rashard Higgins (Panthers, revenge game), and Austin Hooper (Titans) all on different teams, the receiving options in Cleveland will look a lot different. In what was one of the better moves of the offseason, the Browns received Amari Cooper for a 5th round draft pick, who will step in and immediately be the top option. Behind Cooper, however, is a weakness, with Donovan Peoples-Jones, TE David Njoku, Demetric Felton, TE Harrison Bryant, and rookie David Bell the next receivers by projected targets. The Browns will return Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, arguably the best 1-2 RB punch in football. The Panthers defensive line features Brian Burns, who is entering his 4th season and has been a productive pass rusher (50-plus pressures each of the last two seasons), but had an abysmal 43.8 PFF run defense grade last season. Yetur Gross-Matos, a 2nd round edge rusher from 2020, has been struggled so far in his young career with both injuries and on the field production. DT Derrick Brown, the 7th overall selection in 2020, still hasn't lived up to the hype. Brown will start alongside Matt Ioannidis, who at 28 years old actually qualifies as a veteran presence along the young defensive line. The linebacking core does feature Shaq Thompson, an extremely productive and underrated player. The secondary features a pair of top 10 picks from the last 3 drafts -- CJ Henderson is the 9th overall selection from 2020 and Jaycee Horn was selected 8th overall in 2021. Horn only managed 142 snaps last season due to injury, and Henderson is already on his second team. As mentioned, playing cornerback in the NFL is basically illegal, and we've predictably seen a trend of young corners struggling. It's fair to give these guys a chance to prove themselves, but also fair to point out that nobody on the Panthers roster is capable of covering Amari Cooper. Jeremy Chinn and Xavier Woods should give Panthers fans some comfort at the safety position.
When the Panthers have the ball:
The Panthers 2021 experiment with Sam Darnold went predictably poorly, and with the 2022 draft class producing zero top tier quarterbacks, they were left to hope that a certain team burned the bridge of a capable starter that they can scoop up for a 5th round pick. I won't mention which team, that would be mean, but Baker Mayfield is now the quarterback of the Carolina Panthers. Mayfield has had an interesting career -- the 2018 1st overall draft pick had a very productive rookie year before having a down year in 2019. He earned a 81.6 PFF grade in 2020, but then had the worst year of his career in 2021. Mayfield was likely playing through some tough shoulder pain in 2021, giving Carolina hope that he can return to form. The offensive line is in a rebuilding phase, but they do have RT Taylor Mortin, who is consistently a solid tackle. 6th overall selection Iekm Ekwonu steps in to immediately play left tackle, but his poor performance in pass protection in the preseason could be an indication that there may be some growing pains to start the year. The receiving core is led by DJ Moore, who has over 1,100 yards and a 75-plus PFF grade in each of the last three seasons. Behind Moore is Robby Anderson, ex Jaguar Laviska Shenault Jr., and 2021 second rounder Terrace Marshall Jr. Anderson has shown to be a productive player, but he's coming off a very bad 2021 season. Marshall could develop, naturally, but his 0.5 yards per route run last season hint that this likely won't happen anytime soon. The tight end room is led by Ian Thomas, and I do not feel it's necessary to go further than that. Christian McCaffrey is healthy again to be both a workhorse back and a receiving threat, which at least gives the Panthers another threat outside of Moore. The Browns defensive line is led by Myles Garrett, who has established himself as a premier pass rusher in the league and plays mostly on the right hand side -- putting him in the cross hairs of a rookie left tackle. Jadeveon Clowney was resigned to be a solid number 2 pass rusher, but the interior of the line is weak. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (JOK) put together a fine rookie season at linebacker, giving the Browns some stability in the 2nd level. He'll play next to Anthony Walker, who is not a household name by any stretch, but still a reliable starter. The secondary should be a reliable unit, led by cornerback Denzel Ward and safety John Johnson. CB Greg Newsome II and S Grant Delpit are entering their 2nd and 3rd seasons, respectively, and are both high draft picks who played well the stretch last season. The biggest question is the other corner position, with Greedy Williams (hamstring) out, 3rd round rookie Martin Emerson looks poised to see serious playing time.