The National Football League has 12 weeks of football in the books and they have been quite exciting with tons of upsets and some surprise teams. The Cleveland Browns have been one of those teams. At this point in the season, very few anticipated them to achieve success with a 7-4 record.

As of recent standings, the four division leaders are New England (9-2), Denver (8-3), Cincinnati (7-3-1), and Indianapolis (7-4). The two wild card spots are secured by Kansas City and San Diego, both with 7-4 records. This is an extremely close race, with six teams still in the hunt. Waiting on the outside looking in, are Pittsburgh (7-4), Baltimore (7-4), Cleveland (7-4), Miami (6-5), Buffalo (6-5), and Houston (5-6).

Here is a brief overview of week 13 matchups with playoff implications:

Tennessee @ Houston: This is a must win for Houston, sitting at 5-6; they could make a run for the postseason. They have two games with Jacksonville remaining, and one with Indianapolis. The Colts game could decide the divisional crown, depending on how they perform over the next few weeks. Houston lost Ryan Mallet to a torn pectoral muscle, so Ryan Fitzpatrick will be their starter. The Titans, who have 11 interceptions on the year, will force Fitzpatrick to make errors (11:8 touchdown to interception ratio). On the other hand, J.J. Watt will probably force a fumble or two for the Texans. Both defenses rank in the bottom of the league, but the Texans run defense is noticeably better. Houston should run all the way to the victory, whether it’s Adrian Foster or Alfred Blue at the helm.

Denver @ Kansas City: This Sunday night showdown should be a doozy. The Broncos, ranked second in passing (316.3 yards per game) take on the Chiefs, allowing a league best 198.9 pass yards per game. Kansas City’s ground attack averages 137.1 yards per game with Denver only allowing an average 75.5 yards on the ground. In their last meeting, week two, Denver won 24-17, despite leading 21-10 at the half. Jamaal Charles got injured that game, limiting him to just two carries. Anticipate a close game, but with the Chiefs securing a win. Alex Smith doesn’t wow you statistically, but he is 18-9 as Kansas City’s starter. With Smith commanding the offense and Charles running healthy, the Chiefs could put up points. Their defense will keep it close by getting to Peyton Manning, having registered 31 sacks already on the season.

Miami @ New York Jets: Are you ready for some Monday Night Football? Miami should blow New York out the water. New York suffered an embarrassing 38-3 loss to Buffalo last Monday. Michael Vick should start, if healthy, as he gives the Jets the best chance to win. They should try to give Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson a heavy workload as Miami recently allowed C.J. Anderson to rack up 167 yards. If New York can properly manage the game and play well on defense, they could put up a fight, but expect the Dolphins to win by double digits. Ryan Tannehill knows how to spread the ball around, throwing to eight different receivers last game, and rookie Jarvis Landry shows promise. The Dolphins are a well balanced team with Lamar Miller at running back and an underrated defense.

Cincinnati @ Tampa Bay: Cincinnati is still in first place in the division and managed to put together a two game winning streak. Tampa Bay only has two wins, but only sits two games back in their division race. The Bengals should win, but the inconsistency of Andy Dalton makes things unpredictable. Giovanni Bernard and Jeremy Hill will see plenty of work with Tampa surrendering 115.8 yards per game on the ground. Expect a heavy run game from the Buccaneers, too with the Bengals defense giving up 129.6 yards to running backs. Tampa won’t be scared to air it out either, as Josh McCown has thrown for 280 plus yards in the past three games. Mike Evans will probably have a good game; he is emerging as rookie of the year, 505 yards and six touchdowns in the last four games. Unfortunately, it will not be enough to tame the Bengals.

New Orleans @ Pittsburgh: A desperate Saints team battles a well rested Pittsburgh Steelers team. New Orleans is coming off three straight home losses and although they share their division lead at 4-7, they need a win. Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor are expected to return, just in time to face a Drew Brees led pass happy offense. The Steelers should force Brees into mistakes (8 touchdowns to 5 interceptions on the road). The Saints will look to get more production out of Mark Ingram (27 yards vs. Baltimore). Brees did scorch the Ravens for 420 yards and three scores. Pittsburgh allows 241.6 yards through the air, so Brees won’t be gun shy if they can’t move the ball on the ground. The Steelers will get production from their star players. Le’veon Bell will attack a Saints defense that allowed 180 yards to Justin Forsett. With a banged up New Orleans secondary, expect big numbers from Antonio Brown. This game will be a shoot out, resulting in a Saints victory. This is a must win for both teams, but the Saints are more desperate.

San Diego @ Baltimore: Baltimore won a tough one in New Orleans thanks to their defense making critical plays. They had a first quarter goal line stand that set the tone for the whole game. Safety Will Hill not only had a pick six, but he got the better of Jimmy Graham, despite two scores. Expect Hill to shut down San Diego’s Antonio Gates. The Ravens could stifle Ryan Mathews and force Philip Rivers to beat them. The quarterback has thrown only one touchdown pass in each of his last two games, so he could be primed for a big game. Baltimore has a stellar run defense (88.3 ypg), but struggles against the pass (264.6 ypg). Rivers will have a good game, but will fall short to the home team. The Chargers slip out of the wild card and the Ravens slip in.

Cleveland @ Buffalo: Buffalo is coming off a terrific home win against a subpar team. Their defense was superb, allowing just three points while registering an interception and seven sacks. The Bills also managed to block a punt and return it for a touchdown. Don’t expect them to do the same against a tough Cleveland team. Brian Hoyer will bounce back from a three turnover performance. Despite the picks, Hoyer still threw for 300 yards and made clutch plays down the stretch. However, the task will not be easy and Buffalo’s defense ranks in the top ten in total yards per game (4th), passing yards per game (5th), and rushing yards per game (8th). The Browns will have their work cut out for them, but Josh Gordon should exceed 100 yards and reach the end zone. For the Browns run game, backs Isaiah Crowell and Terrence West produce a great combination of explosiveness and power. The change of pace should throw off the Bills defenders. Buffalo will do the same thing on offense, attacking Cleveland’s weakness with a three back system. Against the Jets, they spilt carries between Anthony Dixon, Fred Jackson, and Bryce Brown. Kyle Orton takes care of the ball, just three interceptions on the year, so the Browns must force errors. Star cornerback Joe Haden will check either Sammy Watkins or Orton’s favorite target, Robert Woods. Orton must be consistent for Buffalo to win, completing 70% of passes in four victories and 60% in three defeats. The Browns should try to dial up the blitz to rattle the quarterback. On the offensive side, Cleveland must protect the pocket and maintain the pocket. The Bills lead the NFL with 46 sacks. If Cleveland wants to win Hoyer must stay on his feet. This game will be nail biting as the outcome affects playoff hopes for both teams. The Cleveland Browns will leave Buffalo victorious and with their playoff hopes still alive.

-Max Gold

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