Game of the Week

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by jeff beyel
 

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    A big time clash with serious playoff implications.  The Patriots can win the AFC East if they can get to 12 wins as that would mean they win the tie breaker with Miami.  Cleveland can do the exact same thing as they also would win the tie breaker with the Dolphins.  This, of course, is assuming Miami loses both of its remaining 2 contests.  New England has dominated the division and scored 17 straight 4th quarter points to rally and beat Cleveland in their first encounter.

New England:  Hard to put a finger on just where this team is at.  QB Derek Carr is having another outstanding year and RB Zeke Elliott has slowly picked up steam and is now 3rd in the league in rushing right behind Denver’s Nick Chubb.  A big worry has to be the status of starting tackles Kelvin Beechum and Rick Wagner.  Beechum is listed as doubtful while Wagner is out.  That means Daniel Brunskill and James Hurst will likely have to slot into those spots.  Brunskill will move out of his guard spot and that means Ben Braden may have to go at guard!  That line is going to have its hands full for sure but the status of Beechum is not finalized yet.  If the tackles cannot go, the Pats are going to hard pressed to protect Carr and will probably have issues running the ball as well.  Not only that, consider that they will be without the services of top receivers Adam Thielen and Brandin Cooks and TE Tyler Higbee is listed as questionable! Cleveland does have some serious injury worries of their own in the secondary particularly at safety but that pales compared to the problems New England is confronted with.

   Assuming the Patriots have to go with a makeshift line, the defense will have to play great in order to win this one.  Overall, New England is an excellent defensive team holding opposing QBs to a 55.2 % completion rate to go along with 25 sacks and 12 interceptions.  If they can hold off the Browns running game and force whoever it is that will be at QB they can win. 

Cleveland:  The Browns have not been able to settle on any one QB much of the year. Matt Stafford has been their best option and should go the rest of the way this season.  The Browns have won 5 straight and are red hot although they barely got by Jacksonville last week.  If Stafford goes, he should put enough pressure on the Patriots to allow RB Joe Mixon to be more effective.  He carried it just 12 times vs New England in the earlier season loss but has averaged 21.4 carries per game since.  Cleveland knows they probably will not need many points to win this one so a conservative approach seems likely in an effort to simply not turn the ball over.

   The problems in the secondary are real but, oddly, still manageable.  The safety situation is dire and it appears Sharrod Neasman and Charles Washington will play unless Karl Joseph recovers (he is listed as questionable).  Nonetheless, The Patriots do not have many options at TE so the safety situation might not play as big a role as it could.  The defensive front 7 should easily dominate the depleted Patriot line and could end up having a huge day.  The Dline has 23 sacks as a unit and could really get after Carr in this one.

Final Analysis:  Normally, the balance of the Patriots would win out in this one but the injuries might prove too big a mountain to climb.  If then offense cannot get going at all, then Cleveland can play field position football and eventually wear down the Pats.  Just hard to envision how New England can score in this one.  Cleveland 24-13.