After the Cleveland Browns made the biggest trade of the 2013 NFL season, shipping Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for basically seven cents and pocket lint, most of the football-watching world counted them out. They’d obviously given up, entered rebuilding mode, conceded defeat, and — wait, they’re 2-2 and holding strong? Going into tonight’s ESPN Thursday Night Football game against the Buffalo Bills, why yes they are. As the Browns host the Bills tonight, all eyes will be on the Browns defense and how it can perform against the Bills running game. If you don’t have cable or can’t be near a TV, you should definitely watch ESPN Thursday Night Football online free live using one of several different methods to see if they can come out with a winning record.
It would be tempting tonight to watch the Browns’ offense, as quarterback Brian Hoyer has gone 2-0 since replacing injured starting QB Brandon Weeden. Although he doesn’t excel at any one thing, Hoyer has a good arm and good athleticism, which is a great combination for an offense that has Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron, Chris Ogbonnaya and Davone Bess to fill-in some gaps. Even the NFL’s own pundits say “Hoyer might lack a certain ‘wow’ factor, but he produces results.”
But the story in tonight’s 8:25 Eastern / 5:25pm Pacific Thursday Night Football game really will be Cleveland’s defense. Since the emergence of a dominant defense is the foundation of Cleveland’s sudden success, it’ll be fascinating to see what the NFL’s third-ranked defense will do against a Buffalo Bills team with the league’s second-ranked offense. Bills running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are averaging 5.3 and 3.5 yards per carry, respectively, and both have more than 225 yards rushing. No, those aren’t audacious numbers, but they’re five times higher than the season totals for the Browns’ backfield. Catching the game live will be best on TV, though you can watch ESPN Thursday Night Football online free live stream at the links above or on the NFL Network’s site.
The Buffalo Bills have won the past two times these teams have met, with the most recent victory coming in the form of a 24-14 beatdown in September of last year. The two games before that were a tad closer — a 13-6 victory for the Bills and a 3-6 loss — and tonight’s matchup should follow closely in that mold. Anytime a powerful defense does up against a strong offense, games generally stay tight. With that said, that only holds true when the Browns are on defense, as the Bills’ horribly ranked 27th-best defense will be going up against the Browns’ equally futile 24th-ranked offense.
The irony of the Bills having such a poorly rated defense lies in their outstanding rookie middle linebacker Kiko Alonso has turned heads this season. According to the Associated Press, Alonso “has quickly established himself as one the NFL’s most promising defensive rookies. After four games, Alonso is tied for the NFL lead with four interceptions, to go with one sack, a forced fumble and recovered fumble. His 32 tackles are tops in Buffalo (2-2) and among league rookies.” Still, one man does not a top-ranked defense make, as the Browns have shown with a third-ranked defense based on an outstanding corps of linebackers and “its best cornerback tandem [in Haden and Skrine] since Minnifield and Dixon manned the perimeter in the 1980s.”
As for injuries, three key Buffalo players have been listed as questionable for tonight’s ESPN Thursday Night Football game: C.J. Spiller, defensive back Leodis McKelvin and DB Jairus Byrd, the latter two likely ending up being game-time decisions. The usual suspects are also out: receiver Marquise Goodwin, cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Ron Brooks, and kicker Dustin Hopkins. Cleveland, meanwhile, has only two known question marks: linebacker Jabaal Sheard and starting right guard Shawn Lauvao.
In part because of their healthy lineup, in part because they’re the home team, and maybe in part because their defense is just so stifling, the Cleveland Browns are favored by 4.5 points at home. Without question, having the Browns favored to do anything other than land the top spot in the 2014 NFL Draft wasn’t even considered two weeks ago. But here we are, with the Browns taking on the Bills in a battle of 2-2 teams, and Cleveland’s actually favored with a “substitute” starting QB. You’ll definitely want to watch ESPN Thursday Night Football online free live, catch the game on TV or watch the NFL Network online feed linked above to see if they can deliver. Cleveland’s really in a no-lose situation (either live “down” to expectations or exceed them), so watching it all play out tonight should be fascinating.