The 2021 NFL preseason schedule comes to a close on Sunday night when the Cleveland Browns visit the Atlanta Falcons for a primetime matchup. Considering the Falcons are rebuilding and aren’t expected to contend for anything but a top draft pick, this is their only primetime game of the season, other than the obligatory Thursday night encounter. There hasn’t been much to like about Atlanta so far with a pair of 20-point losses. The good news is that the preseason doesn’t count, but they better play a whole lot better to give fans a reason to stick around.
The Week 3 NFL preseason game between the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons will take place at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, August 29, and will be televised on ESPN.
Cleveland Browns at Atlanta Falcons
Cleveland Browns -5 | Atlanta Falcons +5 [BET NOW]
Over/Under 36.5 [BET NOW]
(Odds provided by BookMaker.eu as of 8:00 am ET)
We don’t often see spreads go over the field goal threshold in the preseason, so it was alarming when the Browns hit the board as 5-point chalk. There are exceptions, of course, mostly when a coach announces personnel decisions ahead of time. That always forces movement on the line. Nothing like that has happened telling us what oddsmakers and the betting public think of both clubs. There is hope for the Falcons, however. They sat starters in last week’s loss to Miami and few regulars played in the preseason opener. Cleveland has taken a similar path resting a majority of its regulars, but the results have been different. The Browns are 2-0 SU though they failed to cover the 5.5-point spread in their 17-13 win over the Giants last week.
We have yet to see Baker Mayfield and a number of other starters on the field this preseason. That hasn’t prevented the Browns from going undefeated. With one last chance to face live action before the regular season, Kevin Stefanski has intimated that his starters could take the field, but don’t blink because they are likely headed to the bench quickly, if they even play at all.
How a coach approaches the preseason depends a lot on the makeup of his team. The Browns are set on offense with a solid line anchoring a group of playmakers. There’s no reason to risk that. What the Browns need to do is work on their defense. The group had some failures last year and improvements on third down and in the secondary will make them a much stronger group. They held their first two opponents to just over 300 total yards and last week the Giants converted just 38 percent of their third downs.
The backup QB job got more interesting. Case Keenum was given a lot of money to take the No. 2 job and mentor Mayfield. He also has a history with Stefanski from their time in Minnesota. While Keenum has been solid completing 72.4 percent of his throws, Kyle Lauletta upped the ante last week going 14 of 23 for 152 yards. He’s thrown for 364 yards and two touchdowns with a 100.8 rating in two games. That’s a competition to keep an eye on.
There are built in excuses for Atlanta’s dismal performance this preseason. First of all the games don’t count, so it doesn’t matter what you do, right? Secondly, the team hasn’t put its first stringers on the field. All we can gleen from those games is that the backups really suck. Well, Smith might be forced to use Matt Ryan for a little bit on Sunday since A.J. McCarron was lost for the season to a knee injury last week.
The Falcons had to act fast when their QB2 was shelved bringing in former first-round pick Josh Rosen to compete with Feleipe Franks for the gig. Rosen’s been bounced around like a super ball since entering the NFL as the No. 10 pick of Arizona a few years ago. There’s no questioning his ability and this might be his best opportunity. He was forced out when the Cards drafted Kyler Murray. His stay in Miami ended when Tua Tagovialoa was picked and the 49ers discarded him after selecting Trey Lance.
Rosen has to perform and he’s running out of chances. He’s likely to play on Sunday despite not having much time to digest the playbook. Heck, if he does get in the game he’ll probably diagram plays in the turf. Two things are working in Rosen’s favor as he joins his fifth team since 2018. Ryan isn’t getting any younger and Franks has been awful this preseason completing just 6 of 18 passes with an interception and a rating of 21.1.
Browns vs Falcons Prediction
Our picks: Cleveland Browns -5 / UNDER 36.5
Even with their reserves playing most of the game the Browns look like a better team. The battle for the backup QB gig is heating up and both players have something to prove before the decision is made. And I’m not sure what to make of the Falcons. Even if Ryan gets a few series with the starters I can’t see them doing much against a Browns defense that looks improved.
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