Sunday’s match-up with the Cleveland Browns at Gillette Stadium may sound like it should be an easy win for the Patriots, but it still may shape up to be a tough one.

New England already received a scare in Houston last weekend after escaping with a 34-31 win over the Texans, but this week they’ll be facing a Browns team that, like Houston, has a dangerous weapon at the receiver position.


Aqib Talib will face another tough receiver this Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.
(USA TODAY Images)

Cleveland receiver Josh Gordon has been having a monster season for the Browns, despite the fact that they haven’t really had a quarterback to throw to him.  Last week he had 10 receptions for 261 yards and two touchdowns in a last second come-from-behind loss to the Jaguars, which saw Jacksonville score a go-ahead touchdown with :45 left in the game to hand the Browns their 8th loss of the season.

Earlier in the season this would have been a situation where fans could have felt confident in matching up Aqib Talib against him to take him out of the game, but Talib’s not quite himself after re-aggravating a hip injury in Carolina and had his hands full against Andre Johnson last week in Houston.  Johnson finished with 8 catches for 121 yards during the Patriots win over the Texans, and accounted for 6 of Houston’s 11 passing first downs.

It’s going to be another tough weekend and hopefully New England’s offense can put together a strong showing in front of the home crowd.  Like last week the Patriots will be going up against another tough defense, with the Browns currently ranked 4th in yards per game having allowed an average of 306.8, as well as ranking 5th in pass defense.  They’re also tied for 13th in sacks, having taken down opposing quarterbacks 33 times this season.

Hopefully this is a week New England continues having success on the offensive side of the football and picks up some momentum heading into next week’s match-up against the Dolphins in Miami.  However, if they’re not careful this is definitely one of those games that could end up being a little more difficult than people think, and considering how critical these last four games will be in terms of playoff seeding, the Patriots are going to need to make sure they don’t let another team like Cleveland take them down to the wire and potentially steal one.

Former Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan talked about that in this week’s edition of Grogan’s Grade, and Grogan noted the fact there’s enough talent on Cleveland’s roster to make them dangerous.

“This is a team that has won some games this year that you wouldn’t have expected them to win, and lost some games that you wouldn’t have expected them to lose,” said Grogan. “They’re playing with quarterbacks that they just grab and bring in off the street, they’ve had so many injuries at that position. I know they’ve been struggling with the quarterback position. But they’ve got some good players at certain positions and, again, it’s the NFL. If you’re not ready to go out and do battle against anybody and give them your best effort, there’s a chance it could jump up and bite you.”

Hopefully they can avoid that from happening.

CRITICAL DAY FOR ALFONZO DENNARD AHEAD:

As if New England’s defense could afford any further hits, there may be another one coming depending on how things go for Alfonzo Dennard, who is back in Nebraska today to face a sentencing hearing for violating his probation.

According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, his attorneys have asked for a continuance but it’s unknown if he’ll get one.  He is currently subject to a maximum of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, which are the initial maximum penalties for being found guilty of assaulting a police officer back in April 2012 in Lincoln Nebraska.  He’ll reportedly be in court this afternoon at 2:30pm ET for a DUI sentencing stemming from an arrest back in July, which lead to his original probation being revoked.

The worst-case scenario could see him thrown in jail after today’s sentencing and all he can hope for now is that the judge goes easy on him after Dennard has completed more than 65 hours of community service after working with the Foxboro Police Department, the Boys & Girls Club, and some youth speaking engagements to raise the awareness of the dangers of drugs and alcohol.  Dennard reportedly had two years to complete a required 100 hours, but clearly he’s well ahead of schedule and has been proactive.  Hopefully the judge sees it that way, otherwise with Aqib Talib still ailing and the unit remaining banged up as a whole, the long-term prognosis for New England’s secondary will have gone from bad to worse.

PENALTY EDGE: PATRIOTS

Mike Reiss has his weekly entry comparing penalties between the Patriots and Browns, and this week’s match-up is a little more interesting in that regard because the discrepancy is so great.

Reiss points out that the team is currently tied for the second fewest penalties in the league at this point in the season, with 51 total accepted penalties.  The Browns, meanwhile, have 82, which is tied for ninth most.  That’s a considerable difference, especially considering the league average is 4.16 per game.

Whether or not that plays a major factor this weekend remains to be seen, but there’s obviously a major disciplinary difference between the two sides, and it’s not surprising the Patriots are the better of the two.

JEROD MAYO’S OWN MAYO?  IT’S FINALLY HERE:

With a name like Mayo, you had to wonder how long it would be until Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo would finally have his own line of…well…mayo.

It appears someone finally helped him make it a reality, with Fox 25 reporting that the veteran has announced his own line of mayonnaise, with “Jerod’s All-Pro Mayo” now in a line of the “gourmet” variety.

According to the report, the linebacker will be at the Shaw’s Supermarket on Belmont Street in Brockton to introduce the product from noon to 2pm on Saturday.  Anyone who buys a bottle of the mayonnaise can also get an autograph from him as well.

Mayo was placed on injured reserve earlier this year after suffering a torn pectoral muscle that sidelined him for the rest of the season.

ON TO THIS MORNING’S LINKS:

BOSTON GLOBE:

Patriots unfazed by Browns’ uncertainty at QB – Michael Whitmer – Whitmer writes that while the Browns try and figure out who’s healthy enough to start at quarterback this week, New England will prepare for all four.

Patriots seek faster start - Michael Whitmer – Whitmer files his notebook this morning, which leads off with Brady talking about the fact he’s hopeful his team can get off to faster starts.

Three Patriots miss practice; D.J. Williams waived – Michael Whitmer – Whitmer notes the release of D.J. Williams and yesterday’s practice participation in this entry.

BOSTON HERALD:

Josh Gordon catches fire for Browns – Mark Daniels – Daniels looks at the Cleveland receiver, who last week caught 10 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns.

CB Alfonzo Dennard to find out legal fate today – Jeff Howe – Howe files his notebook this morning, which leads off with the fact Dennard faces a critical legal appearance today in Nebraska.

Patriots back committee – Jeff Howe – Howe writes that The merits of Bill Belichick’s decision to sit Stevan Ridley can be debated, but history has proven teams don’t need an elite running back for postseason success.

Patriots DBs eye improvement, not excuses – Karen Guregian – Guregian has an article on the defensive backs, who went from being a problem for opposing QB’s at the beginning of the year to struggling to hold them in check.

ESPN BOSTON:

Penalty watch: Patriots vs. Browns – Mike Reiss – Reiss has an article this morning comparing penalties between the Browns and Patriots, with New England currently tied for the second-fewest penalties through 12 games.

THE REPUBLICAN:

New England Patriots injury report: Brandon Spikes’ absence from practice not due to injury – Nick Underhill – Underhill has yesterday’s practice report, which saw the absence of Spikes but he’s apparently at least not injured.

WEEI:

Why Bill Belichick loves seeing Norv Turner on the opposing sideline – Christopher Price – Price writes that over the course of his Patriots’ coaching career Bill Belichick has enjoyed a 9-2 edge over Turner coached offenses.

Ten questions facing Patriots heading into stretch run – Christopher Price – Price has ten questions for the team for the rest of the year, including whether or not Aqib Talib’s hip will hold out through the remainder of the season.

Brady: Pats need 60 minutes ‘at some point’ - This entry leads off with comments from Brady from yesterday where he said the team needs to put together a 60-minute effort and stop playing from behind, and includes the full transcript from his press conference.

WORCESTER TELEGRAM:

James Develin makes most of first carries for Patriots - Rich Garven – Garven looks at the performance of Develin, who Brady said made a terrific” second, third, fourth effort” to pound his way into the end zone.

NFL.COM

Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski give Patriots top offense – Chris Wesseling – Wesseling writes that after missing more throws than any QB through the end of October, Brady and the Patriots lead the NFL in points and yards per game over the last five weeks.