How could the Alabama-Georgia showdown for the SEC championship in Atlanta on Saturday affect the Browns-Texans meeting in the NFL on Sunday?
Cleveland running back Nick Chubb said his offensive coordinator, Freddie Kitchens, told him if the Bulldogs could upend the Crimson Tide, he’d let the running back call plays against Houston. Chubb is a rookie from Georgia; Kitchens served as Alabama’s starting quarterback in 1996 and 1997.
Obviously, Kitchens has a lot of confidence in his alma mater’s ability to get the job done on Saturday, and that, apparently, is an attribute that he’s instilled in his pro players on Sundays.
The Browns fired coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley on Oct. 29 and installed defensive coordinator Gregg Williams as interim head coach and Kitchens, who’d been the running-backs coach, as offensive coordinator, providing his first opportunity as an NFL play-caller.
After Cleveland lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in its first game under the new leadership, the Browns posted victories over the Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals. Cleveland hadn’t had back-to-back wins since the 2014 season. The victory in Cincinnati also stopped a 25-game road losing streak — one short of the NFL record — and ended a seven-game losing streak to the Bengals.
In his three games with Kitchens as offensive coordinator, Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield has thrown for nine touchdowns with one interception. In the previous eight games, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft had eight TD passes and six interceptions.
“He’s open-minded,” said Chris Hubbard, the Browns’ right offensive tackle and a former UAB standout, about Kitchens. “That’s what you see about him: He’s open-minded.”
So much so that the Browns spent one series against the Falcons lined up in the wishbone. Alabama’s Mr. Football at Etowah High School in 1992, Kitchens played for the Crimson Tide long after coach Paul “Bear” Bryant ripped up the SEC with the wishbone.
“It was something, wasn’t it?” Mayfield said. “We threw a different look. We moved the ball well. It was just a thing to switch up the tempo, and I think it was great for our offense.”
The consecutive victories have the Browns on the fringes of the postseason picture at 4-6-1. Over the previous 14 seasons, 12 teams with losing records 11 games into a campaign have come back to make the playoffs, although only two of them were worse than 5-6.
But after winning one game in the 2016 and 2017 seasons combined, the Browns are happy to have something to play for, even if it’s a long shot. Five teams are between Cleveland and the Baltimore Ravens, the current place-holder of the final playoff spot in the AFC standings.
“You’re starting to see a team that everybody in this building knew was here,” Cleveland center J.C. Tretter said. “We do understand that if we do take it one game at a time and everything goes our way, there’s an opportunity to keep playing football games into January and into February.”
Week 13 of the NFL’s 2018 regular season kicks off at 7:20 p.m. CST Thursday when the New Orleans Saints visit the Dallas Cowboys. FOX, NFL Network and Amazon Prime Video will televise the game.
The other nationally televised games feature the Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers at 7:20 p.m. Sunday on NBC and the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles at 7:15 p.m. Monday on ESPN.
On Sunday, FOX affiliates in Alabama will broadcast the Carolina Panthers-Tampa Bay Buccaneers game at noon and the Minnesota Vikings-New England Patriots game at 3:25.
The state’s CBS affiliates will broadcast the Baltimore Ravens-Atlanta Falcons game at noon Sunday, with the exception of WHNT in Huntsville, which will carry the New York Jets-Tennessee Titans game at 3:05 p.m. instead.
The Alabama Game of the Week features the Ravens and Falcons on Sunday. The teams have 12 players from state high schools and colleges on their active rosters.
The complete Week 13 schedule (with all times central and with point spreads from vegasinsider.com):
· New Orleans Saints (-7.5) at Dallas Cowboys, 7:20 p.m. (FOX, NFL Network, Amazon Prime Video)
· Arizona Cardinals at Green Bay Packers (-14), noon
· Baltimore Ravens at Atlanta Falcons (-1), noon
· Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins (-4.5), noon
· Carolina Panthers (-3.5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, noon
· Chicago Bears (-4.5) at New York Giants, noon
· Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans (-6), noon
· Denver Broncos (-5) at Cincinnati Bengals, noon
· Indianapolis Colts (-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars, noon
· Los Angeles Rams (-10) at Detroit Lions, noon
· Kansas City Chiefs (-15) at Oakland Raiders, 3:05 p.m.
· New York Jets at Tennessee Titans (-7.5), 3:05 p.m.
· Minnesota Vikings at New England Patriots (-5), 3:25 p.m.
· San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks (-10), 3:25 p.m.
· Los Angeles Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers (-3.5), 7:20 p.m. (NBC)
· Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles (-6.5), 7:15 p.m. (ESPN)
Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.