Older AFCE

New England Patriots @ Cleveland Browns:  A Highly Biased Game Preview

New England Patriots @ Cleveland Browns:  A Highly Biased Game Preview
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For only the 24th time since the NFL-AFL merger, the New England Patriots take on the Cleveland Browns.  The Browns hold a 13-10 advantage in this matchup including a New Year’s Day playoff game in 1995 where an upstart Patriots club, led by Bill Parcells, was beaten by a Bill Belichick led Cleveland Browns team.  A lot has changed for these franchises since that time.  For the Patriots, they have gone on to play in seven Super Bowls and secure four victories in those games while the Browns have…..well…..have not had the kind of success that they would have hoped for.
Cleveland enters this game having gone 0-4 in the first quarter of the season.  The Browns have been competitive in their last three games which included having the lead at some point in all three.  However in typical Browns fashion they somehow found the key to failure.
For the Patriots, they enter this game at 3-1 after being shutout at home for the first time since 1993.  Though this would normally send shockwaves of panic through the fan base, the return of Tom Brady has all of the New England faithful reenergized and excited for the weeks ahead.  So in another futile attempt to be non-bias and analytical, both teams are broken down in key areas to see how they will match up against each other and which one may have the key to a victory.
Quarterback – Patriots:  As of kickoff time on Sunday, both clubs will be starting their third quarterback this season.  Where the Browns’ rookie QB Cody Kessler will be making his third start of the season, the Patriots welcome back Tom Brady.  Though there will be some rust to shake off, Brady still gets the nod in this comparison.
Running Backs – Push:  At the beginning of the season if anyone had said that the Week 5 matchup between the Patriots and Browns would feature the top 2 rushers in the AFC, they would have been called crazy.  One of the few bright spots for the Browns this season has been the play of Isaiah Crowell who leads the AFC in rushing yards.  The Patriots have also ridden their running game early this season and boast one of the top rushing attacks in the AFC.  With the return of Tom Brady, we may actually see James White on the field.
Wide Receivers – Push:  With both teams starting multiple quarterbacks this year, it is not surprise that the Patriots and Browns are near the bottom of the league in the number of receptions.  While Cleveland may have struck Free Agent gold with Terrelle Pryor, New England has a versatile playmaking group led by Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.
Tight Ends – Patriots:  Much to the chagrin of Fantasy Football owners everywhere, Rob Gronkowski’s health issues have been a concern all year.  However the Patriots have a very good insurance policy in the likes of Martellus Bennett who, by the way, leads all AFC Tight Ends in receiving yards.
Offensive Line – Push:  While the Browns and Patriots boast the number 1 and 2 running games in the AFC respectively, New England had done a slightly better job with protecting their quarterback but not enough to give them a significant edge in this comparison.
Defensive Front Seven – Patriots:  Statistically speaking, the Patriots have a slight advantage in both rush defense and in rushing the passer.  The return of Rob Ninkovich should provide a boost for the Patriots.
Secondary – Push:  Overall the Browns have allowed more yards, allowed for better opponents’ QB passer rating, and have allowed twice as many passing touchdowns than their Patriots’ counterparts.  However Joe Haden is a premier defensive back in the NFL who can certainly make plays in critical situations.
Special Teams – Patriots:  Though Stephen Gostkowski has gotten off to a shaky start in 2016, he and Ryan Allen are one of the better kicking duos in AFC.
Coaching – Patriots:  Hugh Jackson is very well respected coach and it’s a shame that his latest coaching opportunity has come with the Browns.  Though he has done some good things over the years with quarterbacks, he is in a real tough situation with Cleveland which has become the NFL’s version of the Elephants Graveyard for quarterbacks.  For the Patriots, Bill Belichick is coming off his first home shutout since becoming the head coach of the Patriots.  Anticipate a well prepared team on Sunday that is looking to get the taste of Week 4 out of their mouth.

If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:

Key’s to a Patriots Victory:
1) It’s not all about Tom Brady:  After a four week suspension, no one on the Patriots should feel that all is perfectly find with the return of Brady.  There is going to be some legitimate struggle as Brady shakes off the off season rust and reestablishes his timing with the receivers.  The rest of the team needs to focus on being successful at their positions and not hope for some miracle now that their starting quarterback has returned.
2) Establish a Running Game:  One of the biggest benefits that the Patriots enjoyed for the first four weeks of the season was establishing and leaning on their running game.  New England needs to keep with this philosophy while Brady gets back into playing shape.
3) Make the Browns Earn It:  As bad as the Browns have been since the last century, they seem to have found a good running back and an explosive receiver in 2016.  The Patriots Defense needs to account for these two player on every play and make Cleveland find other play makers that they are not as comfortable with.
Though the Patriots are 5-1 against the Browns since 2001, Cleveland has made these games very interesting as of late.  This includes a 1 point Patriots victory in 2013 and a shocking 34-14 loss in Cleveland in 2010.  New England rarely loses back to back games during the Belichick/Brady era but this game may be surprisingly close considering the situation with Tom Brady’s return.
Look for a tight game with the Patriots capitalizing on some late turnovers.
The Knuckles Prediction:  Patriots 24 – Browns 20

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