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Los Angeles Rams @ Cleveland Browns: Back the Browns to push LA all the way

Odell Beckham
Odell Beckham's arrival in Cleveland gives Baker Mayfield a potent weapon
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The Browns came back to earth with a bang against Tennessee after an optimism-filled offseason, but that doesn't mean they'll be a pushover for the Rams...

"Odell Beckham made a circus catch and had a 89-yard TD, Nick Chubb broke off for a score in the second quarter, but, given the offensive firepower they have, coach Freddie Kitchens might've expected even more against a weakened Jets team."

Los Angeles Rams @ Cleveland Browns
Monday, 01:20
Live on Sky Sports Action

Cleveland off course

The Browns hype-train met reality in Week 1 in the form of a middling Tennessee Titans team. Tight end Delanie Walker spoke for many when he trotted out the old coach Dennis Green line after the 43-13 road win, venting his frustration at the buzz that had built up around a franchise that's won 11 games in the last four seasons.

Last week the Ohioans were served up a cosy bounceback game against a broken New York Jets team, who found second-year third-stringer Luke Falk controlling their offence with Sam Darnold and Trevor Siemian waylaid before and during the game. Free-agent linebacker CJ Mosley was also out, meaning the Browns offence met the New Yorkers without a pivotal defensive piece.

Odell Beckham made a circus catch and had an 89-yard touchdown, Nick Chubb broke off for a score in the second quarter, but, given the offensive firepower they have, coach Freddie Kitchens might've expected even more against a weakened Jets team.

And maybe Cleveland would expect more from their head coach too. He got the job in the offseason because of the way he had Baker Mayfield playing in the second half of last season after Hue Jackson and Todd Haley imploded. Previously unheralded, Kitchens formed a connection with the then-rookie as Mayfield showed why the Browns spent the first overall pick on him in 2018.

But now Kitchens is the head coach and the freedom that comes with being on an interim staff is gone. There'll be a lot more scrutiny now and it remains to be seen if he can display the kind of authority that marks the best coaches. Concerningly, there are already murmurs of tension between him and OC Todd Monken, who made Tampa Bay's offence one of the league's more exciting units last season.

The offensive line isn't helping either. To get their hands on Beckham, the Browns had to give up right tackle Kevin Zeitler to the Giants. That's made Mayfield an easier target for defences this season. He's been sacked eight times through the first two games and that'll probably continue this week.

Gurley

At least Mayfield and Cleveland's offensive line won't have to face a full-strength Aaron Donald. The lineman looked in ferocious form as he ripped through the Saints line last week to hassle Drew Brees before the New Orleans QB left the game. Donald was forced to follow Brees down the tunnel not long afterwards however with a back complaint.

That issue has lingered through this week and the defensive tackle could miss Sunday night's game. Even if he plays, he's unlikely to be pushing things to the limit. That's likely to matter more than it would've last season as the Rams haven't convinced through two weeks either.

They beat the Panthers in Week 1, but considering what we've learned about Cam Newton's health since that game, you'd wonder whether that's much to boast about. QB Jared Goff got his big contract signed, but the suspicion remains that it's really all coach Sean McVay's work pre-snap that lifts his play above that of others.

But the biggest issue remains Todd Gurley. The nature of the running back's health issue remains murky, though it's clear that the Rams right now do not trust his body with the heavy workload. Malcolm Brown's seen goalline work and Gurley's not been a force in the passing game.

It could be that the Rams are being cautious after his injury last season, but you'd feel a lot more confident about their chances of repeating their NFC Championship run if their main offensive weapon was showing up more in the box score.

The Picks

Neither of these teams inspire much confidence at the moment. Both have the potential to play above what they've shown in two weeks though, and likely will improve as the season goes on.

Before Brees went down last week, New Orleans were testing the Rams. They were denied a defensive touchdown by a premature whistle - What is it about New Orleans and referees? In all likelihood the Rams would've won the game anyway once Brees went out, but not having to chase down their NFC title rivals made things a lot easier in Week 2.

For the Browns, their hopes hinge on the coach's ability to get the best from the pieces he's been given. The offensive line needs to help more on that front as well, as the skill position talent can't perform if the backfield's being overrun on every snap.

Looking at the line of +3.5 though, it's difficult not to side with the home team here. The tide may have gone out on their preseason expectations, but there's a chance the market ahs overcorrected now, and getting more than field goal headstart on their own field against a Rams team that isn't quite clicking yet is too much to turn down [1.89].

On the total of 47.5, I'm inclined to see this as a more defensive game than might be expected. Neither offensive line has looked great this season, and that should mean defences can dominate and keep the game in the balance until late. I'd play under at [1.91].

For a touchdown scorer, Cooper Kupp stands out for the Rams. He was downed at the one-yard line last week and hasn't shown any ill effects for the knee injury that ended his 2018. He's not made it to the endzone yet this season but is being targetted heavily. It's only a matter of time before he registers a score. I'd look at him in the anytime scorer market at 13/8, and he's available in the First TD scorer market at 10/1 if you're looking for a bigger price.

Or you could combine the Cleveland +3.5, Under 47.5 Total Points and Cooper Kupp Anytime TD on the Sportsbook for a 16/1 Same Game Multi.

Mark Kirwan,

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