The Cleveland Browns stumbled in a big way last week, losing to the winless Jaguars.
That gives Raiders fans hope that their 0-6 team also can come up with its first victory Sunday at Cleveland.
Yet actually getting a win in Cleveland won’t be easy and, outside of the Bay Area, few see the Raiders as having much of a chance.
The 3-3 Browns are 6½-point favorites and all 13 of ESPN’s NFL analysts – from Mike Ditka to Ron Jaworski and Chris Mortensen – are picking the Browns to rebound.
The Raiders have lost 15 straight games in the Eastern time zone and two straight since Tony Sparano took over for fired head coach Dennis Allen. After playing the Chargers tough in a close loss two weeks ago, the Raiders fell to Arizona 24-13 last week. So far, the Raiders have looked a little better offensively since the switch of head coaches, but have still struggled on defense and have been the worst unit in the NFL on third down – a point of emphasis in practice this week.
Though the Browns and quarterback Brian Hoyer struggled last week in the loss to the Jaguars, Hoyer & Co. may fare much better against the Raiders. In fact, this game could be a fairly wide-open offensive duel, because both defenses are vulnerable. Oakland is 22nd overall defensively and 29th against the rush; Cleveland is 29th overall defensively and 32nd against the rush. The fact both teams may be able to move the ball on the ground could open things up for both Hoyer and Oakland QB Derek Carr.
Cleveland running back Isaiah Crowell is the best of a three-man corps of effective running backs. He’s averaging 5 yards per carry and has scored four TDs; Ben Tate and Terrance West, too, have been solid. And Andrew Hawkins (29 catches, 382 yards) has been Hoyer’s steadiest receiver, with wideout Travis Benjamin (just nine catches but three for TDs) being a deep threat.
Yet the Browns will have to find a way to stuff the Oakland running game. They’re allowing a league-worst 155.5 yards per game on the ground, so Darren McFadden could finally have his breakout game Sunday. He rushed for just 48 yards against Arizona, and hasn’t had a 100-yard game yet in 2014. But he had 80 the week before against San Diego, and Sparano’s priority on offense is to get the running game moving. This week, offensive coordinator Greg Olson, when asked about Cleveland’s problems defending the run, acknowledged it’s something they’re aware of.
“Obviously you look at those thigns every time you go in a game as you study your opponents and are looking for an edge or an advantage,” he said. “That’s one we look at.”