Five wins in a row.
Sounds good, right? Cleveland Browns can win its fifth consecutive game as the Browns open the season 1 p.m. Sunday at Tampa Bay. More importantly, this is a winnable game. National prognosticators are overwhelmingly taking the Browns, who are three point underdogs.
Tampa Bay is bad. The front office seems to be lacking direction. Their fans don't want to go Sunday's game. Apathy has set in with the Buccaneers, eight years after winning the Super Bowl. The visitors and folks at The OBR find that hard to believe.
In addition, Browns fans have been taken out of their opening day routine. Since the team returned in 1999, the Browns opened at home every year, but not this year. Of course, all but one of those games the fans filed out of Cleveland Browns Stadium disappointed.
Can the Browns now send the few Bucs fans at Raymond James Stadium home disappointed? Watch for these key areas to contribute to what looks like an opening week win for Cleveland.
Delhomme's Dominance: Browns' latest starting quarterback, Jake Delhomme, is 9-2 against the Buccaneers. Delhomme is coming off a preseason no one expected, as he finished 38-for-48 passing for 345 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He has looked controlled, sharp and confident directing the Browns offense that averaged 21 points a game.
Delhomme may have time to go through his progressions. Like the Browns, the Buccaneers defense has not had a pass rush and in the preseason opposing quarterbacks dominated Tampa. The lone weapon on the Buccaneers defense is rookie defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who could have a favorable match against the interior of Browns offensive line. While center Alex Mack and left guard Eric Steinbach return, the right guard spot may be a weak link. Shawn Lauvao (ankle) is doubtful so whoever is playing right guard needs to play well to prevent McCoy from generating pressure.
"Explosive," Browns offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said of McCoy. "He's got some very good pass rush moves, high energy. Everything a first round type of guy should look like in my opinion. He hasn't played a game yet, but I think he's a pretty good player. I can see why he was taken that high."
One For The Thumb: Tampa Bay is coming off a 3-13 season in which rookie Josh Freeman garnered 13 starts. Freeman suffered a fractured right thumb in the second preseason game, but is said to be OK for Sunday's game.
"He was out there full go, full speed, full bore – ready to go," Bucs coach Raheem Morris told the Tamp Tribune on Thursday. "The plan was to get him to practice three times this week, (including) once with the pads and once with the helmet - full tempo and full speed - and that's what we got.''
Freeman started nine games last season, his rookie season, and was 3-6. He finished 158-for-290 passing for 1,855 yards with 10 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. His weapon on offense is tight end Kellen Winslow, who finished with 884 yards and five touchdowns on 77 catches last season, his first, in Tampa Bay.
The Browns defense must get pressure on the young and injured quarterback. It was something not seen in the preseason. The Browns had one sack in their first three preseason games.
"We'll get after the passer," Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. "We know what we're doing and our players know what they are doing and that's more important. We're looking forward to rushing the passing."
Just Win, Baby: That's what the Browns did for the final four games of 2009. They did so on the ground. As well as Delhomme has played, and even though the rules of the NFL are set up to favor the passing game, smash-mouth football can still win games.
"We ran it like 50 times a game (last year)," Daboll said. "The line did a good job. I just kept running it over and over again and they took some pride in it relative to before then. Hopefully, we can keep that going a little bit."
Jerome Harrison has returned as the Browns featured back. He has had some fumble concerns, but his production is still expected to be high. Meanwhile, Peyton Hillis made a splash in August as a bruising running back, blocker and receiver. Finally, James Davis is expected to contribute after an injury-shortened rookie season.
Tampa Bay had the 27th ranked defense last season. The Bucs allowed 4.8 yards per carry. Regardless of how Delhomme plays, the Browns can rely on its running game to maintain possession, wear down the Bucs defense and keep the Browns defense fresh under the hot Florida sun.
It seems like a simple enough formula to have the Browns start 2010 at 1-0.