Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Browns vs. Panthers – Week 12

The Browns return home Sunday for the next leg in Reunion Tour 2010 as Jake Delhomme is back in the lineup to face his old team, the Carolina Panthers.

The Opposition

Carolina: 1-9
Offensive rank: 32nd overall/32nd passing/26th rushing
Defensive rank: 13th overall/6th passing/23rd rushing
All-time record: Carolina leads 3-0 (2-0 in Cleveland). The Panthers are the only team the Browns have never beaten.
The line: Browns -10 (!)

What to Watch For

The Browns are back home after their second-consecutive late-game loss last week, this time to Jacksonville. The positive energy around the team from the back-to-back wins against New Orleans and New England has faded some, but having the Panthers come to town should be the perfect remedy for the Browns.

With Colt McCoy taking his turn at having a high-ankle sprain (there’s a little known bylaw in the NFL constitution that requires at least one quarterback on the Browns to have a high-ankle sprain at all times apparently), Jake Delhomme returns as the starter for the first time since opening day.

Hopefully Delhomme won’t have too much rust after barely playing since Week 1. As odd as it sounds, probably the best thing Delhomme can do during the game is play like McCoy – take what the defense gives him, take the safe throw and hand the ball off a lot. The fear is that Delhomme will be out for revenge against his old team and, combined with not playing for so long, will try to do too much and make some mistakes.

Offensively the Browns should be able to move the ball and get back on track. Carolina’s defense is ranked 13th in the league, but they may not be as good as that ranking looks on paper. They are a league-worse -135 in point differential (the Browns are -14 by comparison), so while the Panthers may not give up a lot of yards they do give up a lot of points. That would seem to show that the Panthers don’t give up a lot of yards because opposing offenses are working on a short field.

The Browns should be able to run the ball as Carolina is 23rd against the rush, giving up 4 yards per rush on average. With Josh Cribbs most likely not playing again this week, Peyton Hillis is the only running back on the Browns that Carolina has to worry about. Hillis should be able to get the running game going again. It would help if Floyd Womack is back in the lineup this week; hopefully his return coincides with John St. Clair returning to the bench.

The defense finally catches a break, as Carolina is last in the league overall on offense, last in passing and 26th in rushing. This is the first week since the opener against Tampa that the Browns have faced a offense this week and, after a stretch against some of the league’s top quarterbacks, it will be refreshing to see the defense against Jimmy Clausen or Brian St. Pierre.

The Browns have 10 interceptions and 10 sacks in the four games and Clausen has been sacked 12 times in his last four games. Expect the defense to have a big day.

The Best Browns vs. Panthers Game I’ve Ever Seen

For the first time all season, this gets a goose egg. We knew the Browns haven’t played the Panthers much over the past decade, but until we researched it we didn’t realize they have never beaten the Panthers. So we will have to make do with video of this inbred Panthers’ fan.

The Prediction

It was a bit of a shock to see the Browns as a double-digit favorite this week, the biggest of the weekend.

But the Browns are clearly a better team the Carolina and, just as importantly, they are playing better. As disappointing as the losses to the Jets and Jaguars were, the Browns were in both games and fought to the end. The same can’t be said of the Panthers this season as their losses have come by an average of 16 points a game.

It’s hard to see the Browns losing this game unless they have a day like Jacksonville last week and turn the ball over multiple times.

And while we’re not sure about the 10 points in the spread, we’ll go with the Browns to cover in their last home game until Baltimore comes to town the day after Christmas.

Record picking the Browns this year: 2-7-1

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