April 20, 2024

Cleveland’s playoff hopes took a huge hit Sunday, losing to Colts 25-24, despite a tremendous defensive effort, 2 touchdowns, 4 turnovers, and holding Andrew Luck to 7 first half points. The Browns had to score more than 24 points to win and couldn’t. They missed out on opportunities to score despite starting with great field position. Despite the loss, Cleveland still has a chance to reach the postseason.

Division Leaders: New England (10-3), Denver (10-3), Indianapolis (9-4), Cincinnati (8-4-1)

Wild Card: Pittsburgh (8-5), San Diego (8-5)

In the Hunt: Baltimore (8-5), Houston (7-6), Miami (7-6), Kansas City (7-6), Buffalo (7-6), and Cleveland (7-6).

Green Bay @ Buffalo: Green Bay has been dominating teams lately, winning five straight. In their last six home games, Green Bay has outscored opponents 182-30 in the first half. All the Packers have to do is run up the score and let their defense go to work. They play conservatively in the second half, but make plays when they have to. On Monday, versus Atlanta a 31-7 lead turned into a 43-37 victory. The opposition can’t win if they can’t score more than Green Bay. Although their defense is suspect, they create turnovers which Aaron Rodgers usually capitalizes on. However, Buffalo does hold home field advantage and they’ll need it. The Bills must get Fred Jackson heavily involved in order to control the clock. This should help Kyle Orton manage the game better because he can’t win the game by himself. Keeping the ball out of Rodgers’ hands is the key to winning in addition to winning the turnover battle. Despite losing to the Broncos, Buffalo stifled Peyton Manning, holding him to under 200 yards and forcing two interceptions with no touchdown passes. The Bills defense line can get after a quarterback with a league leading 48 sacks on the season, so expect them to put Aaron Rodgers on his back as much as possible. Rodgers hasn’t thrown an interception in five weeks and he might on Sunday, but he will still march his team to victory.

Houston @ Indianapolis: Houston’s playoff hopes are still alive, as they shut out the Jaguars in the second half of a 27-13 victory. The Texans recorded three rushing touchdowns while their passing game was limited to 135 yards. Despite defeating a rookie quarterback, Houston now travels to Indianapolis to take on the division leading Colts, led by rising star Andrew Luck. It’s going to be tough to stop that high octane offense (31 points per game). If Houston plans on competing, they must get after Luck and get him out of rhythm like Cleveland did. J.J. Watt is likely to register a sack fumble as Luck has fumbled 12 times this season, losing six of them. The Texans will look forward to scoring defensive touchdowns, but don’t expect much on the Colts home territory. Houston’s defense surrenders the fifth most passing yards per game (264) and Luck will take advantage of that. T.Y. Hilton should put up another 100 yard game and reach the end zone. The Indianapolis Colts should solidify their division lead with a victory on Sunday.

Oakland @ Kansas City: Oakland is coming off an impressive win at home versus San Francisco while Kansas City lost a close one in Arizona. The Raiders achieved their first win of the season at the hands of the Chiefs in the last meeting three weeks ago. Running back, L Murray gashed the Chiefs for 112 yards on just four carries, so although I wouldn’t expect huge numbers on the road, Murray should put up a decent stat line with a bigger workload. The Chiefs, who allow the second most rushing yards in the league, will look to contain the Raiders run game. This will force rookie quarterback, Derek Carr, to beat them. Kansas City can rely on the home crowd to make noise and impact the game. Alex Smith is an excellent game manager and it doesn’t hurt to have a running back like Jamaal Charles either. The Chiefs should win this game and continue their playoff hunt.

Denver @ San Diego: Although Denver took down Buffalo 24-17, Peyton Manning played poorly, throwing two interceptions and being held to under 200 yards. The Bills snapped Manning’s 51-game streak with at least one touchdown pass. The future Hall of Famer will bounce back against a divisional foe. In the last meeting with the San Diego Chargers, the Broncos came out on top, 35-21. Look for Manning to strike right out of the gate to get Denver’s offense back on track. San Diego will counter with an eighth ranked pass defense despite lacking in the sack department (19). Philip Rivers will look to defend his home turf and hopefully produce more than just seven points on offense. San Diego couldn’t get much going against New England, netting less than 250 total yards of offense. Rivers should record decent numbers, as he usually does against Denver, but don’t expect to witness a flashy ground attack. The second ranked Broncos suffocate opposing running backs, holding them to just 72.8 yards per game. Denver’s defense along with the elite Peyton Manning will be too much for San Diego to handle.

Miami @ New England: Another divisional rematch takes place as the Dolphins clash with the Patriots. New England lost their first meeting, 33-20, despite holding a 20-10 halftime lead. Miami limited Tom Brady to just one touchdown pass and  Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley to 57 rushing yards combined. The muzzled run game forced Brady to attempt 56 passes. On the other end, Knowshon Moreno ran all over the Patriots, finishing with 134 yards and a score. Things will be different this time around due to injuries and roster adjustments. Lamar Miller is Miami’s featured back while New England acquired LeGarrette Blount off waivers to be their lead back. Expect Blount to break through Miami’s defensive line and rack up some decent yardage. Even a semi-productive ground game should open the field for Tom Brady to go to work. Miami needs to win in order to keep their playoff dreams alive, but don’t anticipate New England to show any sympathy. The home team should win convincingly:  the Patriots have won 16 straight home games versus AFC East opponents.

Jacksonville @ Baltimore: Jacksonville’s defense is one of the few respectable things about this team. The Jaguars have won just two games this season and both those victories can be attributed to the defense. They have to rattle Joe Flacco and force turnovers if they intend to win or at least compete. The Jaguars must eliminate the deep ball, but it’s unlikely to happen. Flacco is a veteran quarterback and has a great chance to put up big numbers. Even if Flacco doesn’t have eye popping stats, he will do enough to win the game. Expect Steve Smith or another wide receiver to register good numbers. Additionally, Justin Forsett is having one of his best seasons and produces consistently. I wouldn’t be surprised if the back piles up over 100 total yards. The Ravens should win this game by double digits, but you never can be certain in this league.

Pittsburgh @ Atlanta: The Steelers travel to Atlanta with hopes of strengthening their grip on the first wild card spot. Pittsburgh should win this game, but the Falcons could make things interesting. At the Georgia Dome, Matt Ryan plays significantly better owning an 11-3 touchdown-interception ratio compared to his 14-8 ratio on the road (including home game at Wembley). When at playing at home, the quarterback averages 8.68 yards per pass. Look for him to target Julio Jones deep and often against a Steelers defense surrendering 248.5 yards per game through the air. However, Atlanta ranks dead last in this category, allowing 287.8 per game. The Falcons play horrible defense and fail to execute, creating a great matchup for Pittsburgh. Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown should have a field day with Atlanta’s secondary. Also, expect a fourth straight 200 all-purpose yard game from Le’Veon Bell.

Cincinnati @ Cleveland: This is an extremely important matchup because the Bengals could lose the division lead and Cleveland could keep their playoff hopes alive. Cincinnati recently got ball batted 42-21 at home thanks to the Steelers. They have been quite the disappointment as their defense is playing far below expectations and their offense is inconsistent at best. Cleveland, on the other hand, has been a pleasant surprise this season. Cleveland’s offense has been shaky of late, but their defense has been excellent. Their top ten pass defense leads the league with 19 interceptions and 105 passes defended. The second ranked team is Cincinnati with 87. Needless to say, expect a lot of deflected passes from both sides. Defense will win this game for the team that takes advantage of the turnovers. Andy Dalton is prone to throw an interception or two and Cleveland must turn those opportunities into points. Expect the Bengals to rely heavily on Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard. Running the ball will control the clock, and Cleveland can’t defend the run too well. Cincinnati isn’t any better, so anticipate respectable numbers from both Isaiah Crowell and Terrence West. Both backs should see plenty of work as rookie Johnny Manziel gets the starting nod. I wouldn’t expect too much from Manziel as he is still a rookie and shouldn’t be held to high standards. If the young quarterback can protect the ball and not force throws, Cleveland should win this game. The Browns won their previous matchup 24-3, so don’t anticipate Cincinnati going down without a fight.

-Max Gold

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