In one of the more anticipated Monday night games of the early season, the 2-2 Cleveland Browns play the 3-0 San Francisco 49ers, the last unbeaten team remaining in the NFC. Currently, San Francisco is a four-point favorite, with the total over/under set at a reasonable 47 points.
Here are the main things to look out for with each team, the main keys to a win, and a final prediction.
Cleveland Hopes To Continue Surge
There was no team more hyped in the offseason than the Browns. With the addition of Odell Beckham Jr., the rise of Baker Mayfield, and first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens, Cleveland was picked by many to win the AFC North. But up until last week, the Browns had disappointed, and only wrangled up one win against a Jets team missing its starting quarterback.
The Browns had their signature win of the season last weekend, a 40-25 upset on the road against the Ravens. It was the Nick Chubb show, where the second-year running back ran for 165 yards and three touchdowns. Chubb will aim to be the difference-maker again, this time against a Niners team that has been very stout against the run.
Mayfield has had a shaky up-and-down season thus far, throwing just one touchdown in each game and tossing six interceptions. Part of his struggles have been a result of bad protection, but Mayfield will have to improve his down-the-field passing for the Browns to steal this game and continue their quest to win the AFC North.
49ers Aim To Squash Doubters
Despite San Francisco being 3-0, there are still plenty of people who doubt how legitimate the 49ers truly are. But the results speak for themselves. San Francisco started off with back-to-back road wins, winning by a combined scored of 72-34, then edged past the Steelers at home in Week 3 before its bye.
The offense has been a mixed bag through three games. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has five touchdowns and four interceptions, but San Francisco ranks just 17th in the league in passing yards. The run game has been solid, however, with Matt Breida, Jeff Wilson, and Raheem Mostert all getting work in the backfield.
The Niners pride themselves in defense, and through three games, that fact is apparent. They have already matched last season’s takeaway total of seven and are on pace for 48 sacks as a team. Winning in the trenches is, and should be, the model for San Francisco all season.
One Big Key
Cleveland will win if: It avoids stupid penalties. The Browns have 56 penalties in four games, nearly twice as many as opponents during that span. They have also accumulated 161 more penalty yards than opponents. It’s easier said than done, but a disciplined Cleveland team will make things a lot more challenging for San Francisco than a team committing penalty after penalty and extending drives.
San Francisco will win if: The pass rush gets to Mayfield. Through four weeks, the young quarterback has been hit at an alarming rate, being on pace to get sacked 48 times. Last week, we saw what happens when Mayfield has protection, as he took just one sack and led an offense that dropped 40 points on the road. As a team that averages three sacks a game, the ability for the 49ers to sack Mayfield will be the difference.
This game will come down to the Niners’ defensive line against the Browns’ offensive line. That’s a big advantage for San Francisco, whose star pass rushers like Nick Bosa and Dee Ford have had an extra week to recover from early-season ailments. Give me the 49ers -4, winning by a score of 27-21 and continuing their perfect start to the season.