NFL 2019 (Week 5): Cleveland Browns at San Francisco 49ers
By Jesse Pierson
Special to Pro Football Guru
Baker Mayfield was born in 1995, and the Cleveland Browns have had just two winning seasons in his lifetime (2002 and 2007), yet they are appearing on primetime for the third time in five weeks thanks in no small part to the excitement surrounding this young team. Mayfield, pass rusher Myles Garrett, head coach Freddie Kitchens, and a better roster than most Browns fans can even remember have caused many to believe that the dog days are over for Cleveland. The San Francisco 49ers are seeking similar redemption. The glory days of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Ronnie Lott are long gone. Even the mini-revival led by Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick seems like ages ago. But here they are: Jimmy Garoppolo is excecuting Kyle Shanahan’s offense to the tune of 421.0 yards per game, and the Niners are undefeated through three games and an early bye week. They should be well rested for the visiting Browns.
Browns: Kitchens’ group rebounded well from a 30-point drubbing in their opener, going 2-1 since, with the only loss a close contest against the defending NFC Champion Los Angeles Rams. Last week’s victory over division rival Baltimore showed what this team can accomplish: a balanced offense, a smothering defense, and a leg up in the AFC North. Mayfield did throw his sixth pick of the year against the Ravens, but his defensive teammates snagged two off of Lamar Jackson and added a Mark Ingram fumble for good measure. If Mayfield limits his turnovers, then there is no telling how high this team can go. Cleveland’s offensive line is still a weak link, so it will be vital to stay ahead of the chains and avoid obvious passing situations. Dee Ford and Nick Bosa would love nothing more than to welcome Mayfield to the Bay Area all game long.
49ers: While the preseason hype may have surrounded Garoppolo and Shanahan on offense, this defense is proving to be no slouch. On a per-game basis, San Francisco ranks third in total yards allowed (283.3), fifth in rushing yards (75.0), sixth in passing yards (208.3), and eighth in points (18.0). Five different defenders have grabbed an interception, and six have recorded at least one sack. Longtime Seahawk Richard Sherman has stabilized the secondary, linebackers Kwon Alexander and Fred Warner compare favorably to any pair in the league, and versatile lineman DeForest Buckner is channeling an encore performance of his 12-sack season in 2018. Ford is listed as questionable for this game, but the team believes they have enough depth on the edges to survive without one of their star pass rushers for a week or two. They already beat Cincinnati in Week 2 without Bosa.
Prediction: Cleveland jumps out to an early lead while the host 49ers shake off their bye week rust, Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon each record a Mayfield interception, and running back Matt Breida chalks up his first touchdowns of the young season in a comeback win.
San Francisco 49ers 33, Cleveland Browns 27
Jesse Pierson (@jessetpierson) is a former teacher and high school football coach who has written about the Colts for over a decade. He loves football, dogs, food, and comedy, and you can follow his work on his Facebook page, Jesse Pierson, Mediocre Writer.