Before the season started, most Los Angeles and Cleveland Browns fans probably would have checked off Sunday’s game as a win for the Chargers.
And just studying quarterback Philip Rivers’ sizzling start after the first five games, most would figure Los Angeles would have huge advantage over Cleveland. Rivers already has thrown 13 touchdown passes (second in the NFL to Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes) and is completing more than 70 percent of his passes.
But these aren’t the Browns of recent years. Something happened along the way on the shores of Lake Erie, and that something, or someone, is Baker Mayfield, the top overall pick in this year’s NFL draft.
In Week 3, Mayfield became the primary quarterback for a team that had won one game in two seasons. Cleveland already has doubled that total, and heading into Sunday’s matchup with the 3-2 Chargers, the Browns (2-2-1) are undefeated at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Home-field advantage played a role in the Browns’ 12-9 win on Sunday over the Baltimore Ravens.
“We feed off the crowd’s energy, and our defense does as well,” Mayfield told reporters this week. “This needs to be a place that people fear coming to play. It needs to be so loud, they can’t communicate, and it needs to be a harsh place for an offense to come in.”
Since taking over the starting job after leading the Browns to a Week 3 win over the New York Jets, Mayfield has completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 838 yards and three touchdowns against three interceptions.
The Browns’ defense leads the NFL in takeaways with 15. Myles Garrett anchors the group with five sacks, and rookie Denzel Ward has three interceptions.
Rivers acknowledged the Chargers have a tough task ahead.
“We’re 3-2 and we have a tough Cleveland team this week who only gave up 12 points I guess in 70 minutes of football,” he said. “That’s going to be a tough challenge at their place.”
In his 15 years in the NFL, Rivers has seen just about everything, so it’s unlikely he will be too rattled by the Dawg Pound. The Chargers’ seventh-ranked offense averages 405 yards and 27.4 points per game.
The Chargers, coming off an impressive 26-10 win over the Oakland Raiders, enter a crucial two-game stretch before their bye week as they try to keep up with the undefeated Chiefs in the AFC West.
Los Angeles will be playing with heavy hearts after the death of longtime owner Alex Spanos. The 95-year-old Spanos, who bought the team in 1984, battled dementia for years before dying on Tuesday.
The Browns will be without starting wideout Rashard Higgins. Running back Dontrell Hilliard was elevated from the practice squad to help give special teams a boost.
The Chargers still do not have the services of defensive end Joey Bosa, although he is expected to take part in light practices this week. Right tackle Joe Barksdale, who suffered a knee injury in the season opener, also is expected to return to practice on a limited basis.
The Chargers defeated the Browns last season, 19-10.
–Field Level Media