Well folks, Johnny Manziel is going to make his first NFL start on Sunday at 1:00 pm ET when the Cincinnati Bengals come rolling into town. And I’m not really sure what to expect.
On the one hand, I could see Manziel exploding and leading the Browns to a decisive victory, leading to complaints from our rather ungrateful fan base about how Manziel wasn’t played against the Colts (which, by the way, was the correct decision by Mike Pettine) and how with him we would be much closer to getting into the playoffs. Or Manziel could drop a big deuce, leading to questions about whether the Browns need to consider getting another QB this offseason. Or Manziel could just be mediocre as the Browns defense either wins the game or doesn’t quite do enough to make up for the meh offense it’s been paired with. Honestly I could see any of these three things happening, but I have no idea which to expect. If I was asked to put money on what his performance would be, I would abstain. I’m just much too unsure about what Manziel will actually be capable of doing.
Apparently though, Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis isn’t anywhere close to as uncertain as I am:
In an interview earlier this week, Lewis declared that he didn’t need to bother worrying about who the Browns QB was this weekend, seeing as even if it was Manziel, “you’ve got to go defend the offense, you don’t defend the player…particularly a midget.”
My first reaction to this: “Ha, that’s freaking hilarious!!”
My second reaction to this: “Ohoho, I really hope Manziel makes Lewis eat those words”
My third reaction to this: “Damn, Marvin Lewis is kind of an a**hole. A somewhat funny, somewhat ballsy one, but still an a**hole.”
But then I read a reaction by ESPN The Magazine writer David Fleming on how Lewis’s comment was extremely calculated, and I kind of grew a new bit of respect for the Bengals HC. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still love to see him and his team get absolutely crushed by Manziel and the Browns this weekend, but I am finding that I have to admit that he is a very smart guy. As Fleming puts it:
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is an old defensive coordinator and he knew exactly what he was doing when he trolled [Manziel] on the radio by making fun of his size. He’s a rookie who hasn’t done anything yet except sell a lot of candy bars. NFL defenders are absolutely dying to be the first one to cleanly de-cleat him. So Lewis wants him to have Little Man Complex and feel like he has to prove how tough he is by staying in bounds or taking on a linebacker. Why? Because he knows the odds behind those collisions favor the defense and he’s banking on [Manziel] not being a big enough man to show a little discretion and back down in order to fight another day.
If that was the goal behind his statement, then props to Lewis. That was very well played sir. Hopefully it doesn’t payoff.
And now on to the playoffs:
That loss to the Colts obviously hurt the Browns. Badly. A one point loss is painful to watch, definitely when your team is winning up until the last 30 seconds or so. And definitely when they had numerous opportunities to put the game out of reach. The loss itself knocked the Browns chances of making the playoffs down to about 4.5%, according to stellar statistician Nate Silver and his website FiveThirtyEight. So what exactly needs to happen for the Browns to be in, and who do we all need to root for over the next three weeks?
Well first off, the Browns need to win out. That means victories against the Bengals, Panthers, and Ravens, all of whom are playing for their playoff lives as well. And that would actually put is in a fairly good position to grab the last wildcard spot. Too illustrate this, let me show you the situations of other teams still in the hunt:
Bills (7-6): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: Green Bay, at Oakland, at New England. I would say it is quite realistic to expect them to drop at least two of those. I don’t see them beating Green Bay this weekend, and New England will likely be still playing for home field advantage come Week 17, so I would expect them to probably drop that one as well. On top of that, Oakland has been playing surprisingly well lately, so that game could potentially be close as well. At best, I see them maybe pulling out two wins, but a 9-7 record isn’t going to be good enough to make the playoffs this year, so I think we can pretty much rule them out.
Chargers (8-5): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: Denver, at San Francisco, at Kansas City. The Chargers arguably have the toughest schedule of all the teams remaining in the hunt. However, if they can manage to secure just two wins, they are almost guaranteed the 5th seed in the playoffs, barring the Ravens winning out and the Bengals winning at least two more games, in which case we would likely see every AFC North teams except the Browns in the playoffs. Anyway, I think the Chargers should be able to handle what has looked like a completely defeated 49ers squad. However, the two divisional games will both be tough. The Broncos are the Broncos, and Arrowhead stadium is Arrowhead stadium, not to mention the Chiefs are still playing for the playoffs as well. I’m guessing the Chargers lose this weekend to the Broncos, but top a Chiefs team that has yet to throw a touchdown to a wide receiver. Philip Rivers should be able to outplay Alex Smith handily, and if the Chargers score more than 21 points, this game is probably out of reach for the Chiefs. Expect to see the Chargers playing in January.
Chiefs (7-6): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: Oakland, at Pittsburgh, San Diego. For the Chiefs, the road is rocky. They were unable to beat Oakland earlier this season, although they should easily handle them at home. And then it would really come down to which Pittsburgh team shows up. I’d put my money on the Pittsburgh team of late though, and if that is the case, the Chiefs will most definitely not be able to go into Heinz Field and emerge with a victory. However, if they did, it would come down to their season finale against the Chargers, the winner of which end a rivals season while propelling themselves into the playoffs. If the Chiefs do win their next two, that Week 17 matchup is going to be real real fun to watch.
Texans (7-6): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: at Indianapolis, Baltimore, Jacksonville. They should win their season finale, but the other two will be real fights. A win against the Colts in a stadium where they have never won before seems a tad bit out of reach, despite how well the Texans have been playing of late. As for the Ravens game, both teams will be playing for their playoff lives, and I see the Ravens coming out on top, if only by a touch. Two losses will knock the Texans way out of the picture, so I’m not too worried about them or any potential tiebreaker they would have over the Browns either.
Dolphins (7-6): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: at New England, Minnesota, New York Jets. Their only real obstacle, at least on paper, is the Patriots. If they somehow manage a win in Foxborough, then they suddenly have the easiest path to January football. The Vikings and Jets are both handleable, especially at home. However, with the way the Dolphins have looked the past two weeks, they aren’t going to come close to topping the Pats, which will probably end up putting them on the outside looking in come the end of the season.
Steelers (8-5): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: at Atlanta, Kansas City, Cincinnati. Unless they go full Pittsburgh against a sub-mediocre NFC South team, they are in the lead to win the AFC North. They should beat the Chiefs at home, and in a high pressure situation, I don’t expect to Andy Dalton to outplay Ben Roethlisberger. Welcome to the #4 seed in the playoffs, Pittsburgh.
Bengals (8-4-1): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: at Cleveland, Denver, at Pittsburgh. I mean, they are obviously going to lose to the Browns this weekend. And the Denver game is in primetime on Monday night, so there is another loss. And, as I mentioned above, I think the Steelers will win that matchup. The Bengals are going from first place going into Week 15 to last place at the end of the season. Sorry Marv.
Ravens (8-5): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: Jacksonville, at Houston, Cleveland. Again, obviously going to drop that Cleveland game. Other than that, they beat Jacksonville, and probably Houston. Just a note here, if Houston does win this weekend against the Colts, we as Browns fans are rooting for the Ravens against Houston, as painful as that may be. A 10-6 Browns beats the Ravens on tiebreakers, but loses to Texans on tiebreakers.
Overall though, as long as the Browns win out and the Dolphins, Bills, and Texans each drop one, which is very realistic, the Browns are playing in January. And that is pretty damn awesome. So let’s get excited folks. The season isn’t over quite yet.
Prediction: Browns ? – Bengals 20 (as noted above, have no idea what to expect)