The Cleveland Browns (1-3) will try to build off their first win of the season in their last home game before their bye week when they host the Atlanta Falcons (3-1) on Sunday. The Browns have tough road games at Pittsburgh and New Orleans on deck following this meeting with Atlanta (-3 @ Diamond Sportsbook) and hope to ride the strong running of Peyton Hillis for the third straight week.
Hillis has given Cleveland’s offense a boost the last couple games with 246 yards on 49 carries, and he is the first Browns running back to score a touchdown in four straight games since Greg Pruitt in 1976. Even more impressive is that he has accomplished that feat against two of the top 10 rushing defenses from a year ago. With uncertainty at quarterback since starter Jake Delhomme went down with an ankle injury in the season-opening loss at Tampa Bay, Hillis has been a pleasant surprise for an offense that still ranks in the bottom 10 in points per game.
Delhomme is expected to return against Atlanta this week after serving as the third quarterback last week in the team’s 23-20 win over Cincinnati. Backup Seneca Wallace has done a decent job so far filling in for him but has not given Cleveland the same ability to stretch the field. Wallace has thrown three touchdowns in three games to go along with two interceptions but has not passed for more than 229 yards while rushing seven times for a total of nine yards.
The Falcons do not have any worries at quarterback but would like to see some consistency from third-year player Matt Ryan, who completed 26 of 43 passes for 273 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in a 16-14 home win over San Francisco last week. Ryan has been solid yet unspectacular with six touchdowns and three interceptions in four games and will get another road test at Cleveland after splitting earlier games away from home at Pittsburgh and New Orleans.
Atlanta’s running game never really got going against the 49ers and will faces a comparable defensive unit in the Browns, who are allowing 108.8 yards per game on the ground. Surprisingly, Cleveland is one of only two teams in the NFL to not surrender a rushing touchdown this season (Dallas is the other, coming off a bye week with one less game played). The Falcons had rushed for over 200 yards in their previous two games against the Saints and Cardinals behind Michael Turner and Jason Snelling and might be able to grind it out against a Browns team that will clearly favor the run regardless of who starts at quarterback.
Cleveland has won the last two meetings with Atlanta both straight-up and against the spread, but they have only played each other twice this decade. The UNDER cashed in both of those games.