The New England Patriots face the Cleveland Browns on Sunday in Foxboro, MA. The Browns are coming into the game fortunate to have starting quarterback Jason Campbell cleared to play after missing time and being replaced by turnover prone Brandon Weeden (who is also suffering from concussion symptoms and not able to go on Sunday).
The Patriots won last week on the road in Houston against the Texans, but it was a difficult game for the visitors as the Patriots eventually won the game in the fourth quarter. The Patriots had to comeback from another halftime deficit before tying and then winning the game on a pair of 53 yard field goals from kicker Stephen Gostkowski.
The Patriots defense has a difficult assignment on Sunday trying to contain Cleveland wide receiver Josh Gordon. Gordon has been fantastic since returning from a two game suspension at the beginning of the season. No matter who is the quarterback so far this year in Cleveland, Gordon has excelled. In fact, over the past two weeks he was record-setting: Gordon hauled in 24 receptions on 31 targets for 498 yards and 3 touchdowns against Pittsburgh and Jacksonville.
For the Cleveland Browns their entire offensive gameplan the past two weeks has seemingly been to throw the ball to Josh Gordon. With 24 completions and almost 500 yards over the past two games, Gordon has been simply amazing. With the New England secondary banged up, there is much speculation by the national media that Gordon could make it three straight games going over 200 yards receiving.
New England has developed a reputation under head coach Bill Belichick for being able to take away an opposing offenses’ best option and force them to try and win with their secondary weapons. Other times, however, he has been content to let the top receiver catch multiple short passes while limiting the big play.
Earlier in the season, this would have been a fantastic matchup with a healthy New England cornerback Aqib Talib against wide receiver Josh Gordon. Unfortunately, the Patriots will not be leaving Talib alone on an island against arguably the most explosive receiver in the NFL right now. What the Patriots likely will do is keep Talib on Gordon, but with safety help over the top.
Cornerback Aqib Talib has been limited in practice this week along with cornerbacks Kyle Arrington and Marquice Cole. Safety Steve Gregory has also been limited due to injury. Alfonzo Dennard has missed a few games due to injury and may be facing team discipline due to his missing practices to attend hearings in Nebraska leading to him adding on jail time after the season is over.
Head coach Bill Belichick has never been shy about penalizing players with playing time restrictions due to off-field incidents. Remember, Belichick’s falling out with former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Richard Seymour was due to Belichick not starting Seymour after Seymour missed practice to be with his family after his father passed away.
The Browns offense under coordinator Norv Turner is constantly moving Gordon around the field to get a favorable match-up. As great as Gordon has been,he has been slowed down considerably this season by the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, the Green Bay Packers, and–of course–himself. Gordon’s biggest enemy has been himself as he has had off-field issues leading to suspension.
Josh Gordon will find himself lined up opposite both Talib and (if he plays) the big and strong Alfonzo Dennard. Moving him inside to the slot may have him opposite Kyle Arrington (again, if Arrington is able to go). It would not be a surprise to see the Patriots leave rookie Logan Ryan across from Gordon to get him some valuable experience. No matter who lines up across from Gordon, expect the trio of safeties to have number twelve in their view in front of them whenever possible.
This week Gordon does not find himself facing Jacksonville and their rookie-filled secondary. Instead, he faces a battle-tested defense that knows they have to key on the explosive receiver in order to shut down the Browns big play passing game. Forcing the Browns to throw to tight end Jordan Cameron and wide receivers Davone Bess and Greg Little means that Bill Belichick has already won the battle with offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
PREDICTION: Here is what I predicted before the season started:
Week 14 vs. Cleveland Browns:
Cleveland is a young team that is improving on both sides of the ball and has some interesting young playmakers like wide receivers Josh Gordon and Greg Little and running back Trent Richardson. That said, Cleveland may want to blame the schedule makers who put them behind Houston. With the season winding down and back-to-back tough games, expect quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots to take out their frustrations on the young Browns and give them a lesson in dominant offenses in the NFL. With ten wins, the Patriots lock up the AFC East in week fourteen and turn their attention to home field advantage in the playoffs.
Prediction: Patriots 41 – Cleveland 9 Record: 10-3.
At 9-3 entering the game, that prediction of mine is right on. I am certainly not predicting a blowout right now and certainly think it may be closer than 41-9 based upon twelve games to reconsider with roster turnover and injuries to factor in.
Today the prediction is New England 31 – Cleveland 24