Week Five Preview: Cleveland at Buffalo

On Sunday, two dysfunctional franchises square off hoping to add to the other one’s misfortunes. And to think, I used the word dysfunctional and I wasn’t talking about Al Davis or his Oakland Raiders. Times are indeed tough for the Bills and Browns.

The Bills didn’t have much luck with this last week, so they’ll be trying it once more in Week 5. For the second consecutive time, Buffalo will face a winless opponent, this time it’s the Cleveland Browns who are coming to town. And as if last week’s debacle against Miami wasn’t bad enough, now once again the Bills are facing the prospects of being a winless team’s first victory of the season.

I wouldn’t necessarily call this a game, however I’m more inclined to call this survival. Or maybe even job saving. Make no mistake about it, morale is lower than the curb in Buffalo. From the Monday night meltdown in Foxborough, the no-show against New Orleans and the recent spanking in South Beach, almost nothing has gone the Bills’ way. And in Cleveland’s case, absolutely nothing has gone the Browns’ way. What we have here is a battle between two bad football teams that mirror each other in shortcomings. Both teams can run and be run on. Both teams are having trouble finding success through the air. Both fan bases aren’t enamored with their head coaches.

It almost feels as though the 10 win season the Browns had in 2007 never existed. The Browns followed up with a lousy 2008, going 4-12. Cleveland currently is riding a 10-game losing streak that dates back to last year when the Browns lost their final six contests. In a harsh ironic twist, the last win the Browns registered was against the Bills, in Buffalo.

2009 hasn’t been much better for Cleveland. They’re 0-4 out of the gate. They’ve got quarterback issues, defensive issues and offensive issues. They gave the reigns to Brady Quinn to start the season, but he struggled mightily and so they’ve turned back to Derek Anderson who was a driving force for Cleveland in 2007. In his first start of ’09, Anderson passed for 269 yards, his highest passing output in almost a full calendar year; in 2008, Anderson passed for 310 yards against the New York Giants on Monday night in Week 6 on Oct. 13th. But as Anderson continues to shake off the rust, he won’t have wide receiver Braylon Edwards to throw to anymore. On Wednesday, Cleveland dealt their talented, but much maligned wide out to the Bills AFC East rival New York Jets. The Browns receiving duties now fall on a pair of rookies, Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Hartline, along with second-year wide out Chansi Stuckey, whom the Jets included as a part of the trade package to acquire Edwards.

The Browns continue to find themselves staring up in the AFC North Division at Pittsburgh and Baltimore and they’ve seen their fellow Ohio rival Cincinnati take major strides early this season at 3-1 and second in the division. But what it comes down to for the Browns is that they can’t keep up and they can’t stop. Cleveland has scored just 49 points in four games this season, the second lowest point total in the AFC. In contrast, the Browns have surrendered the most points on defense, giving up an AFC worst 118 points; only the Detroit Lions have given up more points in the NFL with 134. One strength for the Browns might be the Bills biggest weakness: the running game. With Jamal Lewis out last week due to a hamstring injury, Jerome Harrison rushed for a career-high 121 yards against Cincinnati. Harrison shouldn’t be any stranger to the Bills. He scored his only career rushing touchdown against the Bills last season that went for 72 yards.

If we talking Bills struggles, there’s no place like on offense to start. Trent Edwards went from promising the first two weeks to pathetic the past two weeks. The addition of Terrell Owens was supposed to help boost Edwards’ confidence to throw the ball down the field, but Edwards has badly regressed. He’s playing scared to death and settling for short passes and check downs. As a result, Owens and Lee Evans have been able to make little to no impact through four games and Buffalo has managed to score just 17 points the past two games. No Bills wide receiver has registered more than 60 yards receiving in a game. The Bills offensive line is a virtual musical chairs game, blending rookies with journeymen and retreads while coping with injuries. Both New Orleans and Miami have abused the Bills offensive line the past two weeks, giving up a combined 10 sacks. On defense, it’s been brutal for the Bills especially stopping the run. Both New Orleans and Miami have rushed for three touchdowns and both went well over the 200 yard rushing barrier against a porous Bills defense.

Now if last week was a ‘supposed to win’ game for the Bills, what’s this week then? For a guy whose approval ratings are worse than Harry Truman and Richard Nixon, Bills head coach Dick Jauron shouldn’t roll dice and see what happens if the Bills don’t win on Sunday. With a 22-30 mark as Bills coach, should the Bills drop two games in a row to two winless teams, he might have his office cleaned out for him around 4 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.

Prediction: Bills 23, Browns 17. I really wanted to go 8-0 here because I think even without the snow and freezing temperatures that consumed the game between these two in 2007, both teams will have some trouble heating it up on offense. That being said, I think the Bills exact revenge from last year’s 29-27 heartbreaker on Monday night. Look for Buffalo to get their running backs, Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson, heavily involved. I have no clue what to expect from Trent Edwards, but at home I’ll drink the kool-aid and say he makes a few more plays than Derek Anderson.

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