The New Orleans Saints host the Cleveland Browns this afternoon in the second game of the 2018 season for both teams. The Browns surprised some by tying their division rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in the season opener by a 21-21 score. It was their first non-loss since December 24, 2016, ending a streak of 17 consecutive losses. (Well, sort of). New Orleans had perhaps the more surprising result of the opening weekend, getting upset at home by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by a 48-40 score. This will be the 18th meeting between the two franchises, with the Browns holding a 13-4 advantage all-time, and an 8-2 record in games played in New Orleans.
In their last meeting, a week two game during the 2014 season played in Cleveland, the Saints lost, 26-24, on a last second field goal that would wind up being a microcosm of their disappointing year. Cleveland and New Orleans first met during the Saints inaugural season of 1967. On October 1, 1967, the Browns defeated the Saints by a score of 42-7 in Tulane stadium. The game would mark the largest margin of victory by either team in the series, along with the most points scored by the winning team, and the least amount of points scored by the loser. The two teams were actually in the same division together for one year in 1968, the NFL's Capitol Division. That year, the Browns defeated the Saints in the season opener, a 24-10 win in New Orleans, and won the rematch later that year in Cleveland, 35-14. Cleveland won the first eight meetings between the two franchises, with the Saints not emerging victorious until a 16-14 win in Cleveland on October 28 of the 1984 season. That was the first of three straight victories by New Orleans in the series, including their first home win against Cleveland, on opening day of the strike-shortened 1987 season by a score of 28-21. The Browns do hold a slight edge in games played in the Superdome (4-2), site of today's game, but New Orleans hasn't beaten Cleveland from the confines of home since a 25-20 win on October 14 of the 1990 season. One of the most embarrassing moments in Saints franchise history took place on October 31, 1999. The Browns, who had been inactive as a franchise since 1995, re-entered the NFL as an expansion team in the ‘99 season. After beginning their first year back 0-7, they came into the Superdome on Halloween and defeated the Saints 21-16 on a 56-yd. Hail Mary touchdown pass from quarterback Tim Couch to wide receiver Kevin Johnson on the final play of the game. The last meeting in the Superdome between these two took place on October 24, 2010. The Browns won that match up, 30-17, on the strength of 4 New Orleans turnovers, including two interceptions of Drew Brees that they returned for touchdowns.
The first regular season game of the Drew Brees/Sean Payton era was in Cleveland against the Browns on September 10, 2006. The Saints won that game, 19-14, a game that helped springboard them to a playoff berth less than one year after the team, and the entire Gulf Coast region, was thrown into disarray by the disaster of Hurricane Katrina. Despite the Browns' dominance over New Orleans in this series, the games are normally very closely played contests. Ten of the last thirteen games played between the two have been decided by seven points or less, and the average score of the six games played in the Superdome is Cleveland 23.3 compared to New Orleans 19.5.
Gregg Williams, currently the Browns defensive coordinator, served in that same capacity with the Saints and Sean Payton from 2009-12. The two coaches split during the "Bountygate" scandal, causing both Payton and Williams to be suspended for the entire year, and a reported rift to begin between the two (something both men have always denied). When Williams was defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams in 2016, Payton was accused by some of running up the score in a 49-21 New Orleans win, where the Saints coach was incredibly demonstrative along the sideline. Regardless of the relationship between the two, it is undeniable that each coach knows the other's system and tendencies. The Saints continue to be without the services of Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram, who is serving a four game league suspension, but have one of the league's most productive passing games. The Browns, who have won just 4 of their last 45 games, will be without the services of wideout Josh Gordon, along with promising defenders Emmanuel Ogbah and Christian Kirksey in this one. New Orleans was viewed coming into the year as having one of the league's most balanced rosters. The pride of a defense that showed great improvement last season is stung after such a poor showing against Tampa Bay, something that the team's leaders vowed would not happen again. If the Saints are truly a championship contender, then this is almost a must-win situation for them at home.