And so we come to the end. The final NFL match in the International Series as the Minnesota Viking take on the Cleveland Browns.
We have not been blessed with classics this year when the NFL has travelled to London. There have been two games where one team has failed to score a point. And in the other game, the Ravens scored a touchdown well into garbage time.
While it has been a huge shame that these three games haven’t delivered from an entertainment standpoint, the UK fans will continue to attend these games as passionately as they have been because they really do care about the sport.
It is the duty of these teams to perform for the UK fans as these are not only regular season games, but they are also effectively acting as an advertisement scheme for the NFL.
And they are clearly not doing a good enough job.
But, enough of that! I’m here to tell you about the upcoming game between the Browns and Vikings.
I spoke to NFL Media Digital Content Producer, Nick Shook, who also happens to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan, about the upcoming match.
With the Browns having had a horrendous season so far, I asked Shook what their realistic aim for the season should be. He said: “Cleveland’s aim this season is about as minimal as they come: avoid going 0-16.
“The Browns were competitive early in the season, but regressed severely in the weeks that followed. Cleveland should be encouraged by its play in last week’s overtime loss to Tennessee, especially after the defense kept the Titans out of the end zone all afternoon. The goal is simple: win a game.”
Given how much hope accompanied the Browns as the season got underway, their plight has been amplified. Shook believes this has turned completely against the coaching staff and the front office as he said: “Browns loyalists expected the team to win six games this season, especially after strong showings in the preseason. Armed with the promise of Kizer, this made sense (I had them going 4-12), but after blowing two chances at wins (against Indianapolis and New York), they just need to win a game, any game, at this point.
“Fans are calling for the jobs of Jackson and executive Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta, but the best scenario for the team is to win a few games, preserve the jobs of the aforementioned, and enter the offseason with another high pick, which they must get right, along with the rest of their selections in the first two rounds.
“If it sounds crazy to hear Cleveland talking about the draft during Week 8, just know this is far from the first time this has happened.”
On the Vikings side of the ball, feelings are running high. They are on a three-game winning streak, they’ve got an eminently winnable game against the Browns this week and there is an Aaron Rodgers-shaped hole in Green Bay’s starting quarterback position.
Shook agrees with this as he said: “Minnesota has a fantastic opportunity that practically fell in its lap with the Aaron Rodgers injury, but can only look to this week against Cleveland. The Vikings absolutely cannot afford losing to a moribund team like the Browns.
“Minnesota should dominate defensively and do enough on offense to win, avoid the trap game and continue forward with contending for the NFC North crown.”
For the last few weeks, there has been a Teddy Bridgewater-shaped shadow looming as he approaches full fitness after nearly 14 months on the sidelines with a knee injury. Now that he is approaching full fitness and both Case Keenum and Sam Bradford have looked good this year, the question has started to be asked: who should be starting at quarterback if the Vikings make the playoffs?
Shook answered this question: “Your guess is as good as mine for the starting quarterback in the playoffs, if the Vikings can get there.
“Sam Bradford’s health struggles are troubling, but Case Keenum has done an admirable job in relief. Teddy Bridgewater looms as a potential replacement, but quite frankly, if the Vikings find themselves pushing him onto the field, there will be bigger concerns than who their playoff starter would be.”
Shook also outlined the three players that he will be watching in this game:
Emmanuel Ogbah – Cleveland Browns
“Ogbah has played pretty well opposite Myles Garrett, and he’s had the good fortune of avoiding attention from the opposition as a result. He won’t get that luxury this week, meaning he’ll have to step up his play if the Browns hope to pressure Keenum or Bradford (whoever plays). If Ogbah can’t lead the rush to the quarterback, it will be a long day for Cleveland.”
Vikings – Harrison Smith
“The Browns have been crushed by turnovers, especially interceptions thrown in the red zone. Kevin Byard had a career day last week against Kizer and Kessler, and Smith can have a similar outing if Minnesota pressures Kizer, which it has shown it has no issue with doing so far. The Vikings safety should be ready to be his best version of a ballhawk against a Browns offense prone for making mistakes.”
Vikings – Kyle Rudolph
“The Ohio native has just two touchdown receptions this season (on 26 catches), but figures to have a big day against a Browns defense that hasn’t done well covering opposing tight ends. Dealing Walker caught seven passes for 63 yards last week against the Browns, who have an improved defense, but are still susceptible to allowing the big play to the tight end. Of all of the Vikings’ pass-catchers, I see Rudolph doing the most damage.”
Let us hope that this game finally lives up to the billing and gives us UK NFL fans to talk about.
I remain sceptical.
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