Lions doing their best to talk up winless Browns
By NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer
DETROIT (AP) — To hear Ameer Abdullah tell it, the winless Cleveland Browns might as well be Super Bowl contenders.
“They’re a really good team, statistically. Go look them up defensively,” said Abdullah, whose Detroit Lions face the Browns this weekend. “They’ve had a lot of first-round picks. They’ve got a lot of young talent. … You never know. If they win eight straight, they’ll probably make the playoffs.”
Right now, Cleveland is trying to win one game, and although Abdullah apparently isn’t counting out the Browns, it’s Detroit that brings the more realistic playoff chances into Sunday’s matchup. In fact, this is one of several games during the second half of the season that the Lions could be significantly favored in. Detroit’s postseason hopes may hinge on whether the Lions can avoid upsets against teams like Cleveland.
The Lions (4-4) have only one remaining opponent — Minnesota on Thanksgiving Day — that currently has a winning record. Of Detroit’s final eight games, four are against teams in last place at the moment.
Cleveland (0-8) is obviously one of those cellar dwellers, but Abdullah was right about one thing. The Detroit running back pointed to the Browns’ defensive stats, and Cleveland is indeed ranked ninth in total defense and fourth against the run.
That matches up with a Detroit weakness: The Lions are 29th in rushing.
Rookie defensive end Myles Garrett, the top overall pick in the draft, is back after missing Cleveland’s most recent game Oct. 29 because of a concussion.
“He’s one of our best football players,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “Our defense has done a good job of holding down the fort when he’s not there, but obviously he makes us a better football team defensively when he’s out there playing.”
The Lions are the only NFL team to go 0-16. That happened in 2008, and Cleveland avoided that embarrassment last season when the Browns won their next-to-last game. Now the Browns are again halfway to a winless season, so this game is an opportunity for Detroit to boost its postseason hopes — but the Lions are wary.
“I mean if you put the tape on, these guys jump off the screen to you, especially on the defensive side of the ball,” Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “They stop the run about as good as anybody in the NFL. They’ve got young, really talented guys in the secondary.”
Here are a few more things to watch when Detroit hosts Cleveland:
BODY BLOW: Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer took a blindside hit during the bye week when the Browns attempted to acquire QB AJ McCarron from Cincinnati. The deal collapsed as both teams failed to file the proper paperwork to the NFL’s offices before the trading deadline.
Kizer, who has been pulled in and out of the lineup by Jackson, attempted to downplay the awkward situation this week, saying he’ll try to prove he can be Cleveland’s future quarterback.
“I have 10,000 reasons to be motivated to go out and play better,” he said. “Two being the two times I’ve been benched. I have been getting better each week, and I look forward to coming out here after a nice bye week and preparing myself to go out there and have my best game yet.”
SHUTDOWN CORNERBACK: Detroit’s Darius Slay has flourished recently in one-on-one coverage against some of the NFL’s best receivers. He shut down Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson on Monday night , albeit without Aaron Rodgers throwing to him, and didn’t let Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown have a big game the previous week .
“He’s got an extraordinary level of competitiveness,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “He loves the game. I don’t think he’s ever had a bad day. He’s always looking for the next challenge.”
HARD TIMES: With the Browns winless through eight games for the second year in a row, nerves are on edge in Cleveland.
Jackson’s job is in jeopardy and Cleveland’s front office, led by vice president of football operations Sashi Brown, appears in trouble as well. The inability to execute the deal with Cincinnati — a day after one-time target Jimmy Garoppolo was traded from New England to San Francisco, the NFL’s other winless club — seemed to underscore a rift between a coaching staff needing talent to win, and executives trying to stick to a long-term vision.
Unless there’s improvement over the next eight weeks, owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam may make changes.
RETURN: Browns S Jabrill Peppers is back after missing two games with toe problems, and this weekend’s game is near where he spent his college days. Peppers was a star at Michigan.
“I am just happy I can finally get back out there,” Peppers said. “It does make it a little better that it is back home in Michigan, but I am just happy to be back out there.”
IMPROVING: Detroit has allowed only three sacks over the past two games after giving up 17 over the previous three.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL .
Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister