NFL Football: Cleveland Browns vs. Atlanta Falcons Preview, Prediction & Odds -- 8/29/21

by Chuck Sommers

Game time: 8 p.m. ET, August 29, 2021
Venue: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA
Where to watch: NBC

Opening Odds at USA Sportsbooks


DraftKings: Browns -6, Falcons +6
BetMGM: Browns -5.5, Falcons +5.5
FanDuel: Browns -5.5, Falcons +5.5

Preseason record
Browns: 2-0 (last game, won 17-13 vs. Giants)
Falcons: 0-2 (last game, lost 37-17 at Dolphins)

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Browns - Falcons preview and analysis


The preseason has been a tale of two ‘watch what happens’ when the games actually matter.

The Cleveland Browns are 2-0, reserves have played well, and look like they’ll be fresh and ready to go for another playoff run. The Atlanta Falcons are 0-2, look like a team that traded away a franchise icon, and have no real direction other than down.

The Browns and Falcons will cap off their final preseason games in a Sunday Night Football matchup at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

This is likely another matchup where we won’t see the first-team starters a lot, if at all. So there’s minimal chance we’ll see Baker Mayfield and company leading the Browns offense.

But we will likely see Kyle Lauletta, the one who has presumably taken the backup quarterback job from Case Keenum. Lauletta went 14-for-23 for 152 yards against his former New York Giants teammates. John Kelly chipped in with 58 yards on nine carries and one touchdown to lead the Browns to a 17-13 home win.

This may be the game we see Atlanta’s first-team offense with quarterback Matt Ryan and now-No.1 receiver Calvin Ridley. Hopefully that also means we’ll see top draft pick Kyle Pitts and his versatile nature.

The Falcons are coming off a 37-17 loss to the Miami Dolphins, their second 20-point loss of the preseason. Along with Ryan getting some run, it’s likely the Atlanta debut of Josh Rosen will be had. The Falcons signed Rosen, the former first-round pick, on Tuesday after he was waived by the San Francisco 49ers. Rosen could likely become the backup quarterback should Atlanta not feel ready with Feleipe Franks. The Falcons placed AJ McCarron on injured reserve after suffering a knee injury against Miami.

This could be a worthwhile audition for Rosen. Should he play well and solidify his place as the Falcons’ backup in the final week of the preseason, perhaps the Falcons can feel some relief if this is, in fact, Ryan’s last season.

You just never know with these things.

Offensive analysis


The Browns are going to be an exciting pass-happy team with Mayfield, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham. But this running game is going to be fun with another year together. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are one of the best 1-2 combos in the league, with Chubb averaging 5.6 yards per carry last year that earned him a contract extension, and Hunt picking up right where he left off at 4.2 per carry.

Atlanta’s offense is going through an entire makeover without Julio Jones, now having to rely on Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage on the outside. Ridley showed last year he’s anything but a slot threat, reeling 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns. The real treat will be Kyle Pitts, the tight end from Florida who will be one of Ryan’s favorite targets immediately.

Defensive analysis


Cleveland’s defense starts and ends with Myles Garrett. The star pass rusher is entering Year 5 in what is already been a great NFL career, posting three consecutive double-digit sack seasons. With Garrett likely turning on a new gear, and with Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams patrolling the secondary, it could be a dangerous year for the Cleveland defense.

Atlanta’s defense is young but budding with talent. They’re hoping from a bigger leap from 2020 first-round pick A.J. Terrell, who had only one interception in his rookie season. Grady Jarrett and Deion Jones remain cogs in the front seven, but Dante Fowler returns for a second full season as a pass-rushing linebacker. If he can return to form from 2019 when he was with the Los Angeles Rams, the Falcons’ defense will be formidable.

Prediction


Going with the Browns in a game that may not mean much at kickoff, but will to Kyle Lauletta. Browns win 30-14.

Betting trends


The under is 22-8 (+13.2) following a road Atlanta loss in its last 30 games.

The Browns are 11-2 (+8.8) when outgaining opponents between 100-150 yards.

Key injuries


Browns: DB Denzel Ward (undisclosed, questionable), WR Odell Beckham Jr. (knee, questionable), DB Greedy Williams (groin, questionable)

Falcons: QB AJ McCarron (knee, IR)

Players to watch


Browns: Now with Davion Jones suspended for the first two games of the season, there’s an open competition for a fourth receiver spot. KhaDarel Hodge had two catches for 21 yards and a touchdown on Saturday, so he’ll get a chance to shine. Cleveland is set at receiver with Beckham, Landry and Donovan Peoples-Jones.

Falcons: Mike Davis likely has the running back spot sewed up, but Caleb Huntley had six carries for 57 yards and a touchdown for Atlanta. Another strong outing may find him a special teams spot on the 53-man roster.

Statistical leaders from last week


Browns:
Passing: Kyle Lauletta -- 14-of-23, 152 yards
Rushing: John Kelly -- 9 carries, 58 yards
Receiving: Davion Davis -- 3 catches, 45 yards
Defense: Elijah Lee -- 9 tackles

Falcons:
Passing: Feleipe Franks -- 4-of-9, 46 yards, 1 INT
Rushing: Caleb Huntley -- 6 carries, 57 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Tajae Sharpe and Frank Darby -- 2 catches, 27 yards
Defense: Emmanuel Ellerbee -- 8 tackles

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Chuck Sommers

About the Author:

Chuck Sommers has camped outside of sportsbooks since he can remember, learning the tricks and nuances of the trade. He still has nightmares of betting $5,000 on the Raiders in the Tuck Rule game but has since turned that to 25 years of veteran handicapping greatness. You can find him mostly in the shadows at the Red Rock or Aliante casinos wondering if the over is cashing on any given Sunday.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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