Cleveland Browns vs. Indianapolis Colts: Prediction, preview, pick to win

By The Sports Xchange   |   Sept. 21, 2017 at 2:27 PM
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CLEVELAND BROWNS (0-2) AT INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (0-2)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Lucas Oil Stadium. TV: CBS, Beth Mowins, Jay Feely.

SERIES HISTORY: 29th regular-season meeting. Series tied, 14-14. The Browns and Colts have a knack for playing close games. Eight of the last nine contests have been decided by seven points or fewer. The only game during that stretch that wasn't as close was a 27-19 Browns victory in 2011.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Somebody will come away with their first victory of 2017. Both teams rank in the bottom 10 in scoring average and are hoping for a breakout performance in Week 3. The Browns are averaging 14 points per game (No. 24 in the NFL) through Week 2, while the Colts are averaging only 11 points per contest (No. 27).

The Colts remain without franchise QB Andrew Luck, and they would be best served to build a game plan around veteran RB Frank Gore. The 34-year-old has 13,153 career rushing yards and needs 107 to move past Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson (13,259 yards) for seventh in league history. The seven players ahead of Gore on the rushing list, which is led by Emmitt Smith (18,355 yards), all are enshrined in Canton.

Cleveland also will be best-suited to craft a careful ground attack and take the pressure off rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer. Browns running back Isaiah Crowell has rushed for only 70 yards in his first two contests, but coaches must stay patient and continue to feed him the ball. Crowell compiled 1,271 yards from scrimmage a season ago.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

--Browns QB DeShone Kizer vs. Colts SS Matthias Farley. Kizer has to be aware of Farley, his former teammate on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, on every snap. Farley leads the Colts with 22 tackles. He has no interceptions, but he always seems to be around the ball. Kizer threw three interceptions last week, and Farley could be looking for a pick.

--Colts TE Jack Doyle vs. Browns LBs Christian Kirksey and James Burgess Jr. Pittsburgh Steelers TE Jesse James caught two touchdown passes against the Browns in the opener, and Ravens tight end Ben Watson caught eight passes last week. Doyle leads the Colts with 10 catches. Any defender assigned to Doyle can expect to be targeted all day.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: WR Rashard Higgins. The Browns' athletic 22-year-old receiver out of Colorado State hauled in seven passes for 95 yards against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2. Two passes intended for him were intercepted, which means that he and rookie QB DeShone Kizer need to improve their timing. However, Higgins proved during the game that he is able to get separation, which is something the Browns' other receivers lack. As a fifth-round pick in 2016, Higgins caught only six passes for 77 yards during his rookie season. He already has exceeded those totals in Year 2, and he will have an opportunity to build upon his numbers against a below-average Colts defense.

FAST FACTS: Colts coach Chuck Pagano needs one more win to reach 50 in his career. ... The Browns opened the week as a favorite on the road for the first time since 2015. ... Colts RB Frank Gore needs 11 more carries to become the ninth player in NFL history to notch 3,000 career rushes. Gore also needs one rushing touchdown to tie Pete Johnson (76) for No. 22 on the league's all-time list. ... Browns rookie DE Myles Garrett is no longer in a walking boot because of a high ankle sprain, but it is unlikely that he will make his debut this week. ... Colts WR T.Y. Hilton needs 73 receiving yards to surpass Lenny Moore (6,039) for fourth in the franchise record books.

PREDICTION: Expect a hard-fought game between two teams desperate to avoid an 0-3 start. Home-field advantage counts for something in these types of contests. So does a reliable kicker in Adam Vinatieri.

OUR PICK: Colts, 24-21.

--Tom Musick

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