Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, August 17, 2013 at 10:24 AM
The Cleveland Browns are wondering... can't these Preseason games count?
The AFC North crew rolled up the evening's most lopsided win in last night's quartet of NFL Preseason Week 2 games with that 24-6 home triumph against 1 ½-point underdog Detroit and never mind that the NFL Network studio trio of Scott Hanson, Steve Mariucci and Hall of Famer Warren Sapp were practically drooling over pass/catch combo of Browns' QB Brandon Weeden to TE Jordan Cameron (they combined for a pair of aerial scores covering 10 and 5 yards) as the "real story" is just how sharp overall this Cleveland club looks these days.
Last week it was a crisp 27-19 win against St. Louis, and Weeden (8-of-12 passing for 117 yards and those two TDs) and Cameron (three catches for 42 yards and the two scores) were brilliant, but so was the team's offensive line starring LT Joe Thomas. That defense was pretty good too even though it helped matters that the Lions played here without superstar WR Calvin Johnson who sat this one out with a bruised knee.
No doubt much of the summertime talk in/around the AFC North has centered on defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore and the Ravens' heavy personnel losses (yes, they're also 2-0 this preseason) and the Cincinnati Bengals who are starring on HBO's Hard Knocks these days - but might these woe-be-gone Browns be a force to be reckoned with this year?
Right now you could can take home $7500 on a $100 wager to win it all - now raise your hand if you're tempted to take a plunge!
Onto NFL Preseason Week 2 action on Saturday...
DALLAS (1-1) at ARIZONA (1-0) - 4:30 p.m. ET, NFL Network
The Cowboys embark on their third preseason game this summer and - all of a sudden - there's some major storylines making the rounds including the one about WR Dez Bryant possibly being utilized at times as a punt returner.
Dallas head coach Jason Garrett won't rule out that possibility, even though he claims Dwayne Harris remains the team's No. 1 punt returner. Note that Bryant "could get a little bit of work" here on special teams while trying to bring a bit more explosiveness to a 'Boys team that last year didn't get enough bang for its buck on kick/punt returns.
Meanwhile, the host Cardinals - fresh off last weekend's 17-0 win at Lambeau Field against the punch-less Green Bay Packers - claim the team's running back situation is getting better with RB Rashard Mendenhall ready to play here and rookie RB Andre Ellington set to bounce back from a concussion. Keep in mind last year's Redbirds ranked dead-last in the NFL in rushing while averaging a paltry 75.2 rushing yards a game.
JACKSONVILLE (0-1) at NEW YORK JETS (0-1) - 7:30 p.m. ET, NFL Network
Word came down from "on high" Thursday morning that QB Mark Sanchez would start this game after J-E-T-S head coach Rex Ryan proclaimed rookie QB Geno Smith was "brutal" in his Wednesday practice with four INTs.
Hey, coach, still think it was a wise decision to practice Smith the past few days with his bum right ankle?
No doubt the Jets' so-called brain trust had been angling for ways to start Smith come the season-opening game against Tampa Bay on September 8th but now - a potential injury to Sanchez notwithstanding - that appears all but shot and so the key elements to this exhibition game remain the following:
Will Sanchez continue to build on last week's 10-of-13, 125-yard, 1-TD showing in that 26-17 loss at Detroit - all of which followed a rotten game-starting pick-six thrown by the four-year starter - and will the Jets get anything from a receiving corps that's starting to look like it will be without malinger WR Santonio Holmes through the early portion of the regular season?
On the flip side, Jacksonville - which last season ranked 29th on offense and 30th in defense - claims RB Maurice Jones-Drew will make an appearance here after not having played an NFL game since last October (Lisfranc injury) and insiders say Jones-Drew will play two offensive series at most here.
DENVER (1-0) at SEATTLE (1-0) - 10 p.m. ET, NFL Network
The once-upon-a-time rivals in the old AFC West collide in the Emerald City and it'll be interesting to see how often Broncos' QB Peyton Manning "tests" this vaunted Seahawks' secondary in just a quarter or quarter-and-change of action - CBs Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner will get chirpy if they pick off one of than game's all-time greats, but maybe Manning also should keep his head on that proverbial swivel against a defense that led the league in sacks last year and will be going up against a battered and short-handed Denver O-line.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL NEWS & NOTES
In case you lost track, there were 30 - that's right, count 'em - coaching changes made in the FBS head coaching world following last season and we'll be paying close attention to what happens in their opening week/weekend games from Thursday August 29th through Monday, September 2nd but let's take a quick-hitter look at two first-year head coaches who figure to have their hands full in their opening game as chalk-eaters:
KLIFF KINGSBURY, Texas Tech - The Red Raiders swing into action with their home-town hero from Lubbock and TT's laying a near-TD price in a Friday night tilt on ESPN (August 30th). No doubt Kingsbury is a hot commodity after serving as the "brains" behind Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel last year en route to his Heisman Trophy season but now here comes an instant test against an albeit rebuilding SMU team that has played in four consecutive bowl games.
If the 33-year-old Kingsbury - who threw a whopping 95 touchdowns for Texas Tech in his career (see 1998-2002) - can work magic with soph QB Michael Brewer than the Red Raiders might be a scoring machine again this year but this opener in Pony Land could be real dicey. Does veteran head coach June Jones "teach" Kingsbury a lesson here?
BRET BIELEMA, Arkansas - Lots of folks inside the college football world raised their eyebrows last December when this seven-year coach at Wisconsin said "bye-bye" to the Big 10 and stepped into the SEC while trying to lend stability to a program now on its third head coach in as many years (see Bobby Petrino and John L. Smith) and now the challenge comes at Bielema right away as this August 31st opener against visiting UL-Lafayette doesn't figure to be a breeze... even though the all-knowing Las Vegas oddsmakers have placed the host Hogs as 11-point betting favorites.
After all, there's much to sort out regarding this here-and-now Arkansas team -- maybe Bielema (68-24 at Wisconsin) was a rock-solid boss in Madison, but does his club have the speed and defensive secondary to slow down a Lafayette team that averaged better than 25 points a game in Sun Belt action last year and gets QB Terrance Broadway back to run the show one year he accounted for 3,611 offensive yards?
No mistaking it: This was a good/solid hire by Arkansas but Game No. 1 could be problematic. Pig sooey!
Now, here's a complete look at how college football head coaches in their first year at their new school fared in their openers in 2012. Note that first-year head coaches registered a 13-14 ATS (against the spread) mark overall in their debuts a year ago (a .481 winning rate overall) but did you notice that first-year head coaches in the favorite's role went a respectable 8-8 versus the vig - it used to be that betting against first-time head coaches in the chalk role was a "gimme" but last year's crowd held their own:
|Akron||Terry Bowden||L||UCF (- 24.5) 56, Akron 14|
|Arizona||Rich Rodriguez||L||Arizona (- 10) 24, Toledo 17 (ot)|
|Arizona State||Todd Graham||W||Arizona State (- 26.5) 63, Northern Arizona 6|
|Arkansas||John L. Smith||L||Arkansas (- 41.5) 49, Jacksonville State 24|
|Arkansas State||Gus Malzahn||W||Oregon (- 37.5) 57, Arkansas State 34|
|Colorado State||Jim McElwain||W||Colorado State (+ 6.5) 22, Colorado 17|
|Florida Atlantic||Carl Pelini||L||Florida Atlantic (- 17) 7, Wagner 3|
|Fresno State||Tim DeRuyter||W||Fresno State (- 21) 37, Weber State 10|
|Hawaii||Norm Chow||W||USC (- 43) 49, Hawaii 10|
|Illinois||Tim Beckman||W||Illinois (- 10) 24, Western Michigan 7|
|Kansas||Charlie Weis||L||Kansas (- 23) 31, South Dakota State 17|
|Memphis||Justin Fuente||L||Tennessee-Martin (+ 9.5) 20, Memphis 17|
|New Mexico||Bob Davie||W||New Mexico (- 25) 66, Southern 21|
|North Carolina||Larry Fedora||W||North Carolina (- 32.5) 62, Elon 0|
|Ohio State||Urban Meyer||W||Ohio State (- 26.5) 56, Miami-Ohio 10|
|Ole Miss||Hugh Freeze||W||Ole Miss (- 20.5) 49, Central Arkansas 27|
|Penn State||Bill O'Brien||L||Ohio (+ 6) 24, Penn State 14|
|Pittsburgh||Paul Chryst||L||Youngstown St. (+18.5) 31, Pittsburgh 17|
|Rutgers||Kyle Flood||L||Rutgers (- 19.5) 24, Tulane 12|
|Southern Miss||Ellis Johnson||L||Nebraska (- 20.5) 49, Southern Miss 20|
|Texas A&M||Kevin Sumlin||L||Florida (- 1.5) 20, Texas A&M 17|
|Toledo||Matt Campbell||W||Arizona (- 10) 24, Toledo 17 (ot)|
|Tulane||Curtis Johnson||W||Rutgers (- 19.5) 24, Tulane 12|
|UAB||Garrick McGee||L||Troy (- 6) 39, UAB 29|
|UCLA||Jim L. Mora||W||UCLA (- 16.5) 49, Rice 24|
|UMass||Charley Molinar||L||Connecticut (- 21) 37, UMass 0|
|Wash State||Mike Leach||L||BYU (- 13.5) 30, Wash State 6|
NOTE: We'll get you Sunday's NFL Preseason Week 2 tilt - that's the evening game between the Indianapolis Colts at the New York Giants - plus much more in the next edition of "Jim Sez".