Right now, life as a Browns fan is pretty good.
The team has been competitive in almost every single game they’ve played, possess two Rookie of the Year contenders in Quarterback Baker Mayfield and Cornerback Denzel Ward and are still mathematically alive in the playoff hunt in Week 15, a position they haven’t been in since 2014.
The Browns are also on a roll as of late, winning three out of the last four and finding a winning combo with Interim Head Coach Gregg Williams and Offensive Coordinator Freddie Kitchens, a vast contrast to the doom and gloom that often pervaded through the locker room under Hue Jackson.
In spite of all of these positive signs, the team should be very cautious ahead of their prime-time game versus the Denver Broncos tomorrow night.
The Broncos are a veteran team that has always been tough to beat in the high-altitude conditions of the Rockies, an assertion backed up by science; a November 2017 study found that Denver possesses the best home-field advantage out of any city in the Big Four North American sports leagues.
This is likely due to both the altitude itself and the veracity of the team’s fans, which have earned a reputation as some of the most ferocious and loyal in the NFL.
In addition, the Broncos defense still remains one of the best in the league despite their anemic offense.
Their stop unit is currently allowing a meager 21.7 PPG, ranking ninth in the NFL, and has amassed 40 sacks, a mark that ranks fourth in the league.
The Broncos have also intercepted opposing QBs 14 times, only one less than the Browns’ vaunted secondary and a stat that should rightly put some fear into the heart of Mayfield.
Even though he has not been as turnover prone as some of his fellow rookies QBs, Mayfield still has the memory of a painful three interception loss versus the Texans in his head, one that could be repeated if Von Miller and company harass Mayfield and force some key turnovers.
The Browns also have a bad habit of playing down to their competition. We saw this during close losses to the Tampa Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders earlier this season, winnable games that were undone by mistakes on both sides of the ball and ineptitude by the referees.
This means that a game versus a testy, veteran team fighting for not only a playoff spot, but possibly the job of head coach Vance Joseph will likely be a close one, making each and every play extremely important.
The Broncos also possess a dynamic threat on offense in rookie running back Phillip Lindsay.
The undrafted Colorado product has had an extremely productive year, rushing for 967 yards and 9 touchdowns while also contributing an additional 210 recieving yards.
While his dimunitive stature may hide this production, the Browns have had a very porous run defense this year, ranking sixth-worst in the league. Coupled with the tradition of the Browns being perhaps the worst tacklers in the NFL, this may mean a huge day for Lindsay is in the cards.
With Lindsay’s probable success will likely come a higher time of possession for the Broncos.
This means that the Browns defense, which has at times appeared gassed during games, will have to stay on the field longer in the high-altitude of Mile High, making it more likely that sloppy mistakes and the absence of Ward will lead to success for the Broncos offense.
The Broncos also have flashed the ability to hang with the league’s best despite their underwhelming record, with wins over the Chargers and Seattle Seahawks and close losses versus the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams, and Houston Texans demonstrating this team’s veracity.
Additionally, the Browns haven’t beaten the Broncos since returning to the NFL in 1999, with their last win being a 30-29 win in Denver in October 1990.
Overall, all of these factors make this contest a classic trap game for the Browns. This isn’t to say they will not pull out the win, but a victory will not come easy, making it imperative that they put in the necessary effort and keep their slim playoff hopes alive for another day.