Prediction, Preview, and Odds
#263 Cleveland Browns vs.
#264 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Friday, August 23, 2019 at 7:30pm EDT
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
Written by Chris Kubala

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It’s an interconference battle in the all-important week 3 of the NFL preseason down in the Sunshine State. The Cleveland Browns make the trip down the east coast as they travel to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Friday night. Cleveland comes in off a 21-18 road win over the Colts in week 2 preseason action Saturday. Tampa Bay rallied for a 16-14 home win over Miami in their week 2 preseason tilt last Friday. The Browns own a 6-4 advantage in the all-time regular-season series but the Buccaneers have taken four of the last five matchups, including a 26-23 overtime win at home in the last meeting on October 21, 2018.

Cleveland Browns Look to Remain Unbeaten in Preseason

Cleveland, after rolling over Washington in their preseason opener, picked up a win on the road over Indianapolis to run their mark to 2-0. The Browns led 14-7 at the half and went up 21-7 in the third quarter before seeing the Colts rally to within a field goal early in the fourth quarter. Cleveland did enough to prevent Indianapolis from tying the game or taking the lead to get the win. The Browns were outgained 382-271, lost the first down battle 23-19 and saw the Colts own a 33:08 to 26:52 edge in time of possession. Neither team turned the ball over in the contest: Garrett Gilbert, who was the frontrunner for the MVP of the AAF before it folded, hit 13 of 19 passes for 151 yards and two scores to lead the way.

Gilbert has seen the most work under center for the Browns and he’s delivered, hitting 27 of 41 passes for 286 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s battling with Drew Stanton (three of eight, 63 yards) for the #2 QB spot behind Baker Mayfield (five of six, 77 yards, TD), who likely will get some action here to tune up for the regular season. David Blough (11 of 19, 133 yards, two TD) likely is going to end up as a practice squad guy unless Stanton gets dumped from the roster. D’Ernest Johnson has been the leading ground gainer so far with 15 carries for 76 yards: he and Dontrell Hilliard (nine carries, 19 yards) are fighting to get a spot on the depth chart behind Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, who will miss the first half of the season as he serves his suspension. Rashard Higgins (team-high nine catches, 132 yards, TD), Jaelen Strong (five catches, 41 yards, TD) and DJ Montgomery (five receptions, 124 yards, TD) are battling for spots behind the proven duo of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. This could be the decisive game for the kicking competition as Greg Joseph (two of three on extra points, one of two on field goals, long of 43) and Austin Seibert (four of four on extra points, zero of one on field goals) have both struggled in the first two games.

If your team scores the first Touchdown of the game, YOU WIN! Pre-Game, Moneyline Bets Only. 1st $50 Staked. (New Jersey residents only).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sorting Out Depth Chart

Tampa Bay was stuck in neutral for much of the first three quarters before getting things going in the final stanza. Even then, the Buccaneers blew a fourth-quarter lead and needed a drive capped by a last-second field goal to earn the win. Tampa Bay trailed 6-3 at the half, led 13-6 with 3:35 to play and trailed 14-13 after giving up the go-ahead score with 34 seconds to go. The Buccaneers drove 45 yards in five plays, capped by Matt Gay’s 48-yard field goal with six seconds to play, to earn the win. Tampa Bay held a 309-280 edge in total yards and a 32:03 to 27:57 advantage in time of possession: both teams turned the ball over once and had 18 first downs. Ryan Griffin, battling for the #2 spot behind Jameis Winston, hit 14 of 21 passes for 201 yards and a score to lead the Buccaneers.

Griffin has been rock solid so far in the preseason as he’s hit on 40 of 64 passes for 531 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s battling with Blaine Gabbert (11 of 20, 92 yards) for the backup job to Winston (seven of 10, 64 yards, TD) on the depth chart. It will be interesting to see what pans out in the running back depth chart: Dare Ogunbowale (23 carries, 68 yards, two TD), Ronald Jones II (six carries, 25 yards), Andre Ellington (10 attempts, 24 yards) and Peyton Barber (five carries, 23 yards) are all in the mix, with Barber the likely starter at this point in time. Tight end Tanner Hudson leads the team with 13 receptions for 177 yards and two scores: eight of his catches have gone for first downs. There is increased speculation that he could see first-team reps in this one: if he has success, the Bucs could have a situation with what to do with Cameron Brate, who is making $7 million this season. There is plenty of competition at the WR position behind starters Mike Evans and Chris Godwin: someone is going to have to step up to separate themselves from the field. Matt Gay has hit his lone extra point and all three field goal tries with a long of 55: he’s battling with Cairo Santos (one of one extra point, one of one field goal attempts with a long of 23) for the job.

Bruce Arians is one of those coaches who doesn’t mind playing his starters in Week 3, but is not definitive about how long he will play them.

“Like I said yesterday, how much they play will be determined on how we’re playing, and we’ll make those decisions as the game goes on,” said Arians. “It’s a really good challenge for us. It’s a heck of a good football team coming in and it will be a nice measuring stick.”

Update (8/21/19): WR Mike Evans will miss this game due to a leg injury suffered last week in practice.

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This should be an opportunity for both teams to give their starters some playing time to tune up for the regular season opener. Cleveland was going to play some of their starters against the Colts but shortly before kickoff, decided to sit Mayfield, Beckham Jr. and Myles Garrett, among others. There are high expectations for the Browns this season and they have plenty of talent to work with on the offensive side of the ball. Tampa Bay is trying to figure out some concerning questions on the depth chart and what they are going to do in order to resolve those situations. Cleveland has looked good in the first two weeks and with the way Mayfield looked in his lone drive in the preseason, their offense could be dangerous. Give the Browns the edge in this contest.

Prediction: Cleveland Browns

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The Browns have the capability of being a quick strike offensive attack, similar to what the Bills were in the K-Gun years with Jim Kelly running the offense. Cleveland has been quietly effective even as they work with their backups in the first two games. It will be interesting to see how much time Freddie Kitchens gives to his starters: most of the time we’ll see starters log at least a half of action in the third preseason game. Tampa Bay has more questions than answers on their depth chart, especially at the skill positions. Winston is going to have to establish some camaraderie: will Hudson get a chance to make an impact with the first team?

The under is 3-0-1 in the Browns’ last 4 games on grass and 3-1-1 in their last five overall. Tampa Bay has seen the under go 5-1 in their last six at home, 5-1 in their last six overall and 4-1 in their last five on grass. The teams have stayed under the total in each of their last six meetings: while Cleveland can score quickly, you have to think they’ll be a little vanilla in this one to not tip their hand too much. Look for this one to fall under the total.

Prediction: Under

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The Browns have a better depth situation than the Buccaneers do at this point in time. This should be the long awaited debut of Beckham Jr. with Cleveland: he’s dealt with a hip injury that has kept him off the field at times during training camp and the first two preseason games. He insists that he could have played and there is no doubt that he will be on the field come week 1 against Tennessee. Tampa Bay hasn’t done a ton offensively in the first half of both games: they were down 13-10 to Pittsburgh in the opener and 6-3 to Miami last week. This one ends up in favor of the Browns at the half.

Prediction: Cleveland Browns

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Cleveland has racked up 31 first half points in the first two games of the preseason: they were up 17-7 against Washington in the preseason opener before going up 14-7 against the Colts last week. Tampa Bay has only 13 points in the opening 30 minutes of their first two games of the preseason. While the starters are going to see plenty of action in this one, you have to think that the ability to generate points is there. Still, we know that Kitchens and Bruce Arians will play close to the vest, which tempers expectations a bit. This one is under the number at the half.

Prediction: Under
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Written By Chris Kubala

Christopher Kubala has been crunching stats and following sports for over 30 years. His in depth analysis and passion for sports have led him to writing books about sports, regularly being featured on sports talk radio and as the go-to person for any obscure trivia. He keeps an eye on transactions and statistics like a hawk, especially when it comes to football, both the NFL and college, the NHL, the NBA and college basketball and MLB.