By: Derek Havens
The New England Patriots return home to face the Cleveland Browns in week fourteen.
The Patriots (9-3) are coming off a road victory against the Houston Texans. On the other side, the Browns (4-8) look to rebound after a home loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Patriots are a NFL best 46-6 in the month of December since 2001. A win over Cleveland on Sunday will be New England’s 11th straight season with at least 10 wins. These two teams last met on Nov. 7, 2010 when the Patriots lost 34-14 to the Browns in Cleveland.
Here’s a look at how both teams can come away with a victory Sunday. —
How the Browns win:
Go All In: The Browns aren’t making the playoffs this season, but the team is young and fighting for new head coach Rob Chudzinski. That being said, Cleveland can afford to gamble in this contest. Go for it on fourth down, when in reason of course, and maybe throw in a wrinkle offensively. When the Browns upset the Pats three seasons ago, they were able to catch the team off-guard and found success. Trick plays, fakes, anything to add a spark. When you’re averaging 19.2 points per game and coming to the end of the season, it’s ok to take chances. Expect Cleveland to do just that.
Prepare to Adjust: The Patriots are going to take away what opponents do best. Bill Belichick loves to make teams play in ways they normally don’t and he will most likely be looking to take away deep passes in this contest.
New England has struggled to start games also, but have been red hot in the second half as of late. In the last five games, the Patriots have 133 points after intermission. They’ve scored on 23 of their 36 possessions (64 percent) with 16 touchdowns and seven field goals. Making adjustments at the half is key for the Browns.
Don’t Let Gronk Beat You: Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is the league’s best tight end when healthy. He is a physical specimen, can block and runs much better than many opposing players expect. Despite his incredible presence in the Pats offense, opposing defenses still struggle to defend and account for Gronkowski throughout games.
In six games this season, Gronkowski has 37 catches, 560 yards and four touchdowns. He’s a tough matchup for any defense, but Cleveland’s linebackers won’t be able to hang with Gronk one-on-one. Do they matchup start cornerback Joe Haden? Not sure if the defensive back can handle Gronk’s physical playing style.
No matter what Cleveland does, it’s going to be a tough task. If the Browns aren’t careful, you’ll see No.87 running down the seam for a score Sunday.
How The Patriots Win:
Take Away Gordon: Browns receiver Josh Gordon is the hottest wide out in the NFL. The past two weeks, Gordon has 24 catches, 498 yards and three touchdowns. At 6’3, 225 pounds, Gordon is a downfield threat and can score from anywhere on the field. He’s averaging 19.4 yards per catch and has over 1,200 yards on the season. His yardage total is even more impressive if you consider he was suspended for two games to start the year.
Aqib Talib, who will most likely be matched up with Gordon, will have his hands full Sunday. The Pats first priority is making Gordon a non-factor and if they take him away, it will be tough for Cleveland to adjust. Talib’s health is something to consider, though. Is he healthy enough to go one-one-one with Gordon? We’ll find out Sunday.
Attack The QB: The Browns are much improved and going in the right direction as a franchise. That being said, the quarterback position is a glaring weakness for them and it’s reflected on the football field. Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell are dealing with concussions, so Caleb Hanie has been signed this week. No matter who is under center this Sunday, as it is not clear who will start for Cleveland at the moment, New England should be putting pressure on them.
Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and the Patriots front seven must swarm to and make the quarterback uncomfortable in the pocket. If the defense can successfully get pressure, and confuse whoever is under center, expect them to make a few poor decisions.
Let Them Beat Themselves: The Browns are fifth in the league in penalty yards and in the bottom ten in turnover margin. Needless to say, they shoot themselves in the foot quite often. As previously mentioned, they are an improved football team from years past, but have still made some critical errors consistently this season. The Patriots are much more poised and disciplined, so expect them to capitalize on the inevitable mistakes. With this game in New England, a fast start for the Pats and an early mistake by the Browns could make this a lopsided contest in a hurry. Expect a fight to start the game, though.
Prediction: Patriots 31, Browns 20.
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