Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
Browns v. New Orleans Saints
Sunday, 1 p.m., in Mercedes-Benz Stadium
Last game: Lost to Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 48-40, Sept. 9, in New Orleans.
Coach: Sean Payton, 112-77, 13th year.
Series record: Browns lead, 13-4.
Last meeting: Browns won, 26-24, Sept. 14, 2014, in Cleveland.
League rankings: Offense is third (31st rushing, first passing), defense is 31st (14th rushing, 30th passing) and turnover differential is minus-2.
Things I think
1. Certainly the Saints are serious contenders in the NFC for the Super Bowl, but they have suffered epic, shocking losses in their last two games that counted. Go back to how their 2017 season ended – blowing a divisional playoff game to the Vikings when then-rookie safety Marcus Williams over-ran a tackle attempt and allowed Stefon Diggs to race to the end zone to complete a 61-yard touchdown from Case Keenum on the final play with no time showing on the clock. And then in their season opener at home, the Saints watched slack-jawed as journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick posted a surreal 417-yard, four-touchdown passing game in a stunning 48-40 loss to lowly Tampa Bay.
2. Slow starts have become customary for the Saints under coach Sean Payton. They have lost five season-openers in a row. In the previous four, they also lost Game 2. In fact, since the 2013 season, the Saints are 2-12 in the month of September.
3. After such an atrocious defensive performance in their opener, it might be unfair to point out any concerns on offense. But there is a feeling the Saints’ potent offensive attack already misses running back Mark Ingram, who is serving the second week of a four-game PED suspension. Alvin Kamara, a third-round draft sensation last year, won NFL offensive rookie of the year honors for averaging 6.1 yards a rush, totaling 1,901 all-purpose yards and scoring 14 touchdowns. But Kamara isn’t an every-down back and Ingram’s presence allowed Payton to exploit Kamara perfectly. Also, the offense still hasn’t found its slot receiver. Free agent pickup Cam Meredith is still recovering from a 2017 knee injury with Chicago and third-round rookie Tre’Quan Smith from Central Florida hasn’t stepped up yet.
4. The Saints raised eyebrows on the first day of the draft when they traded next year’s first-round pick to Green Bay to move up 13 spots in the first round and select developmental pass rush prospect Marcus Davenport of Texas-San Antonio. The Saints had a phenomenal draft in 2017 and felt they were one player away from contending strongly for the Super Bowl. They felt urgency on draft night after failing to land Ndamukong Suh and Muhammad Wilkerson in free agency.
5. The Saints also traded their third-round pick in 2019 in a deal with the Jets for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on Aug. 29. The Saints then reworked Bridgewater’s contract to lower his cap number and added two additional voidable years. While some interpreted the trade as Payton acquiring the successor to 39-year-old franchise quarterback Drew Brees, that might not be the case. Brees gave the Saints a hometown discount this year to extend his contract two years for $50 million. Bridgewater could be with another team by then. He is seen as solid insurance for a Super Bowl run if the iron-man Brees were to go down to an injury this year.
Did you know … ?
1. Brees is second to Tom Brady among active quarterbacks with 149 career wins, yet the Browns have defeated Brees the last two times they played him. Coaches Eric Mangini and Mike Pettine scored upset wins over Brees in 2010 and 2014, respectively. In those games, Brees was intercepted five times.
2. Tight end Benjamin Watson, 37, is in his 15th NFL season. He is serving his second tour of duty with the Saints and has played for three other teams. One of them was the Browns in 2010-12. For perspective on how long it’s been since Watson was the Browns’ starting tight end, his starting quarterback in the season opener in 2010 was Jake Delhomme, in 2011 it was Colt McCoy and in 2012 it was Brandon Weeden. Chronologically, those QBs are No. 14, No. 16 and No. 17 on the list of 29 who have started a game for the Browns since 1999.
Small world: Linebacker Demario Davis started 16 games for the Browns 2016 and was voted a team captain … tight end Benjamin Watson played in 45 games for the Browns, starting 41, in 2010-12 … linebacker Craig Robertson played in 58 games for the Browns, starting 37, in 2012-15 … receiver Ted Ginn Jr. and cornerback Marshon Lattimore are Cleveland natives, played at Glenville High School and Ohio State … receiver Michael Thomas played at Ohio State.