Tough Battle in Cleveland
It's not at all surprising that the Seattle Seahawks sit atop the mediocre NFC West. That the Cleveland Browns have the same record and are in contention in the powerful AFC North is a more shocking development.
The teams meet in Cleveland on Sunday as both look to finish the first half of the season with a winning record.
Oddsmakers from Bodog.com have made Cleveland -1 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday's game, the over/under has been set at 46.5 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 53% of bets for this game have been placed on Cleveland -1 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
Seattle (4-3) has won two straight NFC West titles, and is in good position to capture a third. The Seahawks are the only team in the division with a winning record, and five of their next six opponents have losing marks.
Cleveland (4-3) is the exception during that stretch of schedule. The Browns have already matched their win total from last season, and have been rejuvenated by quarterback Derek Anderson, whose 17 touchdown passes rank second in the NFL behind the 30 by New England's Tom Brady.
Coach Romeo Crennel, whose job may have been in jeopardy at the start of the season, is trying not to get too satisfied.
"We know that we need to improve," he said. "We're not saying - by any stretch of the imagination - that we've arrived. We've got a lot of work to do."
With a victory, Cleveland will gain ground in the AFC North on either first-place Pittsburgh or Baltimore, which meet Monday night.
Seattle is looking to maintain its recent success after the bye week. The Seahawks have won each of the last two years after the break after losing their first six post-bye week games under coach Mike Holmgren.
Holmgren has given the team a full week off each of the last two seasons, although he wasn't happy that quarterback Matt Hasselbeck got a couple of extra days off to rest a strained oblique along with several other ailing teammates.
"It wasn't my call. It was our training staff," Holmgren said. "I wanted them to practice (Monday), and I think we are being a little careful, you know. But I will go with what they tell me."
The Seahawks haven't exactly been dominant, and running back Shaun Alexander has taken much of the criticism from fans and media. The former NFL rushing leader has gained a total of just 107 yards on 44 carries over his last three games.
He hasn't been helped by the poor play of Seattle's offensive line, which has also allowed Hasselbeck to get sacked eight times in his last three games.
"I think we're in position to finish the year strong," Hasselbeck insisted. "We could conceivably end up with the best record in football. It's possible, at this point."
Cleveland's season has taken off since the Browns traded starting quarterback Charlie Frye to Seattle after a 34-7 loss to Pittsburgh in the opener on Sept. 9. They have won all three of their home games since that loss, with Anderson throwing for 10 touchdowns in those contests.
The new starter has plenty of receiving options at his disposal. Braylon Edwards has nine touchdown catches while Kellen Winslow and Joe Jurevicius have three each.
"It makes it tough because you have to pick your poison with who you want to defend or if you have to double somebody, who are you going to double?" Crennel said. "If you double one guy, the other guys are going to be one-on-one and if the quarterback can get it to the guys who are one-on-one, then they pose a problem. They can't double everybody."
Edwards needs four touchdown receptions to tie Gary Collins' team record of 13 set in 1963. He's enjoying the best season of his three-year career, with 669 receiving yards to rank third in the AFC.
"We complement each other real nice," Edwards said of his rapport with Anderson, "and we love playing with each other."
Anderson had three touchdown passes and no interceptions last week in a 27-20 win at St. Louis. Edwards scored two of the TDs, and finished with a career-high eight receptions for 117 yards.
Frye - listed as Seattle's third-string quarterback - and former Browns safety Brian Russell have been helping the Seahawks with their preparations for this game, but Seattle doesn't believe it will be a huge advantage.
"I'm going to listen to whatever they have to say, but they can change quickly," Hasselbeck said. "(The Browns) know that both of those guys are here, so I'm going to probably focus more on what we do."
The teams are meeting for the first time since Alexander rushed for 127 yards in a 34-7 home win for Seattle on Nov. 30, 2003.
By: Staff Writers - Email Us
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