New Orleans Saints (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS, 0-0 O/U) vs. Cleveland Browns (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS, 0-0 O/U)
NFL: Thursday, August 10, 2017, FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland, Ohio, 8 pm ET
Lines: Pick ‘Em; Over/Under: 38.5
It’s August and that means the start of preseason action for the National Football League. The New Orleans Saints kick off their preseason slate as they travel to face the Cleveland Browns Thursday night. New Orleans looks to improve on last season’s third place finish in the NFC South and return to the postseason for the first time since 2013. Cleveland hopes that their infusion of high draft choices can help them win more than five games for just the second time in the last decade. The Browns hold a 13-4 edge in the regular season series between the teams, including a 26-24 win here in the last matchup on September 14, 2014.
New Orleans Saints Hope to Improve Defensively
New Orleans finished 7-9 last season mainly due to their inability to stop opposing teams from putting points on the board. The Saints were second in scoring offense last season as they piled up 469 points but finished second last in scoring defense as they gave up 454 points. New Orleans gave up at least 34 points in six games last season: the fewest points they allowed in a contest was 16. The Saints will have to retool at least a bit offensively as the team dealt Brandin Cooks (78 catches, 1173 yards, 8 TD) to New England for a first-round pick. In one of the more head scratching decisions of the offseason, the Saints inked Adrian Peterson to a contract. He’ll be battling for time with Mark Ingram (205 carries, 1043 yards, six TD) and rookie Alvin Kamara for what can be considered a limited number of touches given the Saints’ propensity for throwing the ball.
At quarterback, the Saints continue to rely on the ageless Drew Brees, who hit 471 of 673 throws for 5,208 yards with 37 touchdowns and 15 interceptions at age 37 last season. Michael Thomas, who led the team with 92 catches for 1,137 yards and nine scores as a rookie last season, will be the feature receiver with Willie Snead (72 catches, 895 yards, 4 TD) and free agent acquisition Ted Ginn Jr. in the mix. Defensively, the Saints cut loose safeties Jairus Byrd and Roman Harper: they’ll hope that rookie Marshon Lattimore, drafted 11th overall, and Delvin Breaux can man the corner slots. New Orleans has to develop more of a pass rush to force opposing quarterbacks into bad decisions: Cameron Jordan led the team with 7.5 sacks. With Nick Fairley (6.5 sacks) out for the year with a heart condition, the Saints have to find some guys to generate some heat.
Cleveland Browns Look for Youth Movement to Pay Dividends
Cleveland stumbled to a 1-15 mark last season, giving them the top pick in the NFL Draft, which they used to select defensive end Myles Garrett from Texas A&M. The Browns also went out and picked up the versatile Jabrill Peppers from Michigan along with tight end David Njoku from Miami (FL) in the first round. The Browns still have plenty of question marks to address: after all, they finished next to last in the league in scoring offense and third-worst in scoring defense in 2016. Cleveland didn’t score more than 28 points in a game last season while allowing at least 30 points on seven occasions.
It remains to be seen who will be under center. The team has Cody Kessler (128 of 195, 1380 yards, six TD, two INT, 0-8 as a starter) as the de facto #1 on the depth chart. Cleveland also picked up Brock Osweiler (301 of 510, 2957 yards, 15 TD, 16 INT for Houston) in a salary dump deal that netted the Browns a pair of picks and drafted DeShone Kizer from Notre Dame in the second round. Any of those guys could get the nod under center as nothing is close to determined at this point. The Browns have solid options on the ground with Isaiah Crowell (198 carries, 952 yards, 7 TD) and Duke Johnson (73 carries, 358 yards, TD) leading the way. Cleveland added Kenny Britt, who went over 1000 yards receiving playing for the anemic Rams offense last season, at receiver. He and Corey Coleman (33 catches, 413 yards, 3 TD) will have to step up to replace the departed Terrelle Pryor Jr. and Gary Barnidge. If Carl Nassib and Emmanuel Ogbah can generate some heat along with Garrett from the defensive line, the Browns will improve defensively. Danny Shelton is a terrific run stopper from the defensive tackle position.
- Saints are 9-1 ATS in their last 10 road games
- Saints are 6-1 ATS in their last 7 games on grass
- Browns are 5-20-1 ATS in their last 26 games overall
- Browns are 1-5-1 ATS in their last 7 games on grass
- Browns are 1-8 ATS in their last 9 home games
Cleveland will be improved in 2017 but that’s not a high bar to overcome when you’re coming off a one win season. The Browns have plenty of youth to work with but they have to establish a starting quarterback at this point in time. New Orleans is retooling as they go on the defensive side of the ball and if they can get any improvement from the secondary, which can improve the pass rush, things will be better for them. Brees has said he wants to play until he’s 45: he won’t be in long in this one but the Saints have better depth at this point. New Orleans gets the nod in the opener here.
Pick: New Orleans Saints Pick ‘Em
One thing that you usually see in preseason games is that you’ll get plenty of action from guys that will be fighting for practice squad spots in a couple of weeks. Teams are going to be reticent to give a ton away as far as their game plan and loathe playing their starters for an extended period in an effort to avoid injuries. Both teams have plenty of pieces that are new on both sides of the ball. In Cleveland’s case, this means there are a lot of young guys that are getting their first taste of NFL game action. New Orleans is working on replacing weak links on the defensive side of the ball so this will be a good way to get their feet wet as Cleveland doesn’t scare people through the air.
The under is 4-0-1 in the Saints last 5 Thursday games. Cleveland has seen the under go 5-0 in their last 5 home games, 6-1 in their last seven games on Thursday, 5-1 in their last six games on grass and 6-2 in their last eight games overall. With it being the first preseason game of the year for both teams, you have to think that this will be a rather low scoring affair. Factor in Cleveland’s weak offense and this one likely falls under the total to start the preseason.