All the New York Jets wanted in 2023 was one healthy and productive quarterback. Looking back, they might wish they had answered when Joe Flacco knocked in September.
Flacco instead played catch with his brother an hour away from the Jets’ facility and waited three more months for the Cleveland Browns to call.
And did he ever answer.
Flacco has the Browns (10-5) on the doorstep of an improbable playoff bid and gets a visit from his old team, the Jets (6-9), on Thursday night with a chance to hand-deliver a reminder of what might have been for the beleaguered New York franchise.
Beat the Jets, and the Browns can clinch a spot in the playoffs.
“We talked about it a little bit this past week. Every week you look at the game and you’re like, ‘Man, it’s a big win. Another big one,’” Flacco said.
Journeyman Trevor Siemian is the Jets’ fourth starting quarterback of the year and his experience is very valuable, especially behind an inconsistent offensive line. However, that will be put to the ultimate test on the road, on a short week and against Cleveland’s top-ranked defense with the Browns trying to clinch a playoff spot.
Prediction: Browns 23, Jets 13
The Browns are consensus 7.5-point favorites. That includes at BetMGM, where the line moved from opening at 7.0 with Cleveland backed by 73 percent of the bets and 67 percent of the money.
The Browns’ moneyline has also been popular, with it shifting from -300 to -350 while drawing 78 percent of the money. However, the Jets have been backed by 52 percent of the total bets at +280.
The Over/Under has been split with the point total settling at 34.5 by Thursday. The Over has drawn 57 percent of the bets and 51 percent of the money at the book.
Browns TE David Njoku Anytime TD (+185 at DraftKings): Njoku has found quick chemistry with Flacco, catching 22 passes for 239 yards and four touchdowns over the past three games. He’s also averaging 10.3 targets over that span. Njoku has been a popular player in the prop market at both books, but you’ll get a slightly better payout at DraftKings than the same prop at +160 at BetMGM.
The fourth quarterback to start for the Browns this season, Flacco took over in Week 13. Since then, he leads the NFL with 1,307 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Jets have 10 total TD passes in 2023.
When New York and 30 other teams passed, Flacco said he fell right into the ideal spot with the Browns.
“You think you are coming into a good situation,” Flacco said of signing with the Browns. “There’s a possibility for this. I think you assume from the outside this is a pretty good situation. When you get here it’s an even better situation than you’ve imagined.”
The Jets expected to be in this position but with another heavily seasoned quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, at the controls. Without Rodgers, a championship-caliber defense wasn’t enough to consistently generate wins using Zach Wilson, Tim Boyle and Siemian at quarterback.
Running back Breece Hall is proving to be a lifeline for the Jets’ offense with 39 receptions in the past six games. Hall had 191 yards from scrimmage (95 rushing, 96 receiving) in last week’s win against the Commanders.
The Browns’ defense has allowed fewer than 300 yards in five of its past six games. Cleveland is first against the pass (160.1 yards per game), total defense (260.3 yards per game), yards per play (4.46 yards) and interception rate (3.46 percent).
“I think the fans are going to bring the energy, I think we’re going to bring the energy,” Browns guard Joel Bitonio said.
Defensive end Myles Garrett has 13 of the Browns’ 44 sacks in 2023.
Wilson will not play because of a concussion. Siemian is expected to get his second consecutive start after throwing for 217 yards and a touchdown during Sunday’s 30-28 victory over Washington.
The Jets will also be without offensive tackle Duane Brown (back) and tight end Jeremy Ruckert, while running back Israel Abanikanda (ankle), wide receiver Allen Lazard (illness) and kicker Greg Zuerlein (right quadriceps) are questionable.
The Browns have lost multiple quarterbacks to season-ending injuries. Deshaun Watson (shoulder) and rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson (hip) are on injured reserve along with running back Nick Chubb (knee) and both of the Browns’ starting offensive tackles.
Also out for Cleveland are defensive end Ogbo Okoronkwo (pectoral) and linebacker Anthony Walker (knee). Punter Corey Bojorquez (left quad) is doubtful, while wide receivers Amari Cooper (heel) and Marquise Goodwin (knee) and free safety Juan Thornhill (calf) are questionable.
THEY SAID IT
Jets head coach Robert Saleh, who interviewed to be Cleveland’s head coach in 2020 and coached Flacco in New York, isn’t surprised by Flacco steering the Browns into the playoff picture.
“I’ve said it before, he’s like a Ford pickup truck. You might not like it in the summer but in the winter months that son of a gun starts humming,” Saleh said.
–Field Level Media