Both the Browns and Vikings entered 2021 with high expectations. Cleveland finally returned to the playoffs in 2020 and added to an already-balanced roster. Minnesota, meanwhile, seemingly bolstered its traditionally stout defense to pair with an up-and-coming offense headlined by stars like Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson. Only one of the two teams has cruised through the first three weeks, with the Browns starting 2-1 and barely falling to the reigning AFC champion Chiefs. But the Vikings have quietly been just as explosive, losing close ones to the Bengals and Cardinals before routing the Seahawks.
On Sunday, we'll get a better idea of exactly where these teams belong when they go head to head. Are the Browns truly the class of the AFC North? Their performance thus far says so, but can they come out on top in another shootout? As for the Vikings, are they overlooked because of their crunch-time misfortunes the first two weeks? Or is their offense just a flashy feature of an uneven team?
We've got you covered below with odds, predictions, key questions, information on how to watch, and more:
How to watch
- How will the Vikings' offensive line hold up? Minnesota has held up pretty well, all things considered, but the Browns' front is a different animal. Myles Garrett, in particular, poses a threat to Kirk Cousins' comfort. If Cleveland disrupts the pocket on a regular basis, the Vikings' big aerial attack could be slowed.
- Which secondary is more equipped for this game? The Browns boast one of the NFL's top pass defenses but will be without cornerback Greg Newsome, who's injured and will give way to Greedy Williams. The Vikings, meanwhile, have gotten uneven production from Patrick Peterson, Bashaud Breeland and Co.
- Can Kevin Stefanski outsmart Mike Zimmer? The former colleagues have different advantages on each other: Zimmer's defensive looks have the potential to stuff Stefanski's signature run game, but Stefanski's deep lineup should allow him to pick on Minnesota's back end.
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Cousins deserves more credit than he's getting for the hot start he's had in 2021, with Jefferson and Adam Thielen and even K.J. Osborn shining downfield. Throw in Cook, who's coming off a week of rest post-injury, and a defense whose strength (up front, and in the middle) should match up decently against the Browns' run-heavy attack, and it's easy to foresee Minnesota giving the Browns a run for their money. Zimmer, remember, has his guys at home for the second straight week and knows Stefanski well.
But while a Vikings upset would not be surprising, the Browns still have an edge in overall talent, and Stefanski has proven repeatedly that he knows how to call a balanced game. If Nick Chubb isn't finding room on the ground, Kareem Hunt probably will as a pass target. Odell Beckham Jr. alone should also cause problems for Minnesota's corners, and then there's Cleveland's own front seven, which is more than capable of forcing a game-changing turnover.
Pick: Browns 31, Vikings 30
Check out CBSSports.com for even more predictions on this game and the rest of Week 4.