Will we see a blizzard this Sunday in Buffalo, or will it just be a little cold for everyone on the field?
Weather is expected to play a factor in this week's game, but if the Cleveland Browns follow the obvious keys to the game and situations they can take advantage of, it is hard to imagine them losing to the 2-10 Buffalo Bills.
Here are some notes heading into the game, followed by my positional breakdown and prediction for the game:
- Tight end Evan Moore has been ruled out with the hip injury he suffered last week. Taking his spot in the lineup will be blocking tight end Robert Royal. I'd like to have Moore's receiving ability available, but on the same note, with the 30 MPH winds expected, we'd probably be using Royal more often to block anyway. We might see backup Alex Smith active for the first time this season.
- For the second week in a row, Eric Mangini said he expects Joshua Cribbs to be more involved in the offense this week. More than anything, we need Cribbs as an effective blocker to help spring Peyton Hillis. At the start of the third quarter last week, the Browns did a run play and everyone hit their blocks perfectly. Mohamed Massaquoi didn't block the slot receiver though, who came up to get a hit on Hillis. If Massaquoi even gets a chip on the defensive back, I think Hillis would have had 20+ yards on the play.
- Also out are linebackers Scott Fujita and Titus Brown. We're used to being without Fujita by now, but missing Brown is another void on special teams. Brown has been making some of the bigger hits on special teams this season, though that's what led to his concussion last week.
- I'm looking for some bigger hits by T.J. Ward this week. Joe Haden has raised his game with some nice individual plays, and it'd be nice to see Ward make the same type of plays (like he did in the preseason).
- With the wind blowing at 30 MPH, I don't expect the Browns to go into a shell when it comes to throwing the football, but obviously those conditions make it more suitable to run the football. If we're running the ball a lot, it wouldn't surprise me to see the team try to work in Mike Bell for an entire series during the game, or even a situation where both he and Hillis line up in the backfield with Hillis in motion as a potential receiver.
- The Browns didn't sign anyone after Titus Brown's injury, so is there a chance we could see Jayme Mitchell active on special teams? I know he's a lot bigger, but who knows, maybe he's lost a little bit of weight if we're trying to convert him into a linebacker. The Browns will need to be on top of their game at defending kicks against Buffalo. The wind might make it tough to get distance on the ball on kickoffs, and Buffalo is pretty good at returns.
Colt McCoy will probably suit up as the team's third (but inactive) quarterback, meaning he'll only play if both quarterbacks suffer injuries. Jake Delhomme's confidence right now seems a lot better than it was last year with Carolina. That doesn't mean he isn't mistake prone, but it seems like he has been able to move past the mistake.
- As I highlight in the positional breakdowns below, the Bills have some clear significant weaknesses. If Cleveland targets both of those weaknesses early and often, there's no reason they can't do what the Vikings did a week ago. No turnovers was a key to Cleveland's success last week too, but Peyton Hillis had two near fumbles. Teams are trying to rip it out when he fights for extra yardage, so the rest of the offensive players on our team need to be alert in case the ball squirts loose.
- In the official DBN fantasy league, rufio and golanbatrac grabbed the top two seeds and are on the bye this week. The first round of the playoffs sees Sleepy vs. Buckeye Brad, and TheDriveStillHurts vs. Dawg Nuts. Good luck to all the teams as they try to win it all.
|QB||After the season is over, when I look back to the 2010-2011 season, the thing that will stand out with Buffalo to me is the wise decision to demote and then cut former starter Trent Edwards early in the season.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has sort of slowed down as of late in terms of touchdowns thrown per game, but he's a smart quarterback who doesn't turn the ball over a lot. A big concern I have is his mobility. If Chad Henne was able to run for a first down or two, Fitzpatrick will do the same. Jake Delhomme has a good game for his standards last week, but hopefully he'll have to worry more about handing the ball off on Sunday given Buffalo's run defense.
|RB||When you look at Fred Jackson's career numbers, it's amazing that the Bills never seem to name him their starting running back at the beginning of the season. In his past four seasons, his YPC numbers have looked like this: 5.2 in 2007, 4.4 in 2008, 4.5 in 2009, and 4.4 in 2010.
The reason I give Cleveland the edge here is because I don't think the Bills are committed to the run or do particularly well against defenses that aren't terrible versus the run. In 8 of his 12 games this season, Jackson has had 12 carries or less. If the Bills commit to pounding the football in harsh weather conditions, Mike Bell is bound to get some carries too.
||The Browns are still vulnerable on the right side of their offensive line and have struggled to run the ball there since Floyd Womack moved back to right guard. Still, the weakness on the right side doesn't compare to what the Bills are facing, and the Browns' offensive line performs better against teams that operate a 3-4 defense.
Center: The Bills lost their top two centers in Week 13 to injury. That means starting RG Eric Wood will make his first career start at center, leaving a void at right guard.
Right Guard: Cordaro Howard, an backup undrafted rookie tackle, will make his first start at the right guard position. He will platoon with Ed Wang, a rookie fifth round pick with no starting experience.
Those are the two weakest positions for Buffalo in terms of depth. Their right tackle has limited experience too though, and starting left tackle Demetrius Bell is battling a knee injury. Left guard Andy Levitre seems to be in the best of shape.
|DL||Kyle Williams, the Bills' nose tackle, could be in line for a trip to the Pro Bowl with the way he has been playing. He was the reason the Bills' defense defended the Steelers well a couple of weeks ago.
Buffalo isn't as strong across the rest of the defensive line, especially after starting defensive end Dwan Edwards was placed on the injured reserve last week. Shaun Rogers tore it up against Miami last week and will be looking to feast on Buffalo's patchwork offensive line.
|LB||Buffalo's unit of linebackers has been gashed on the ground. Last year's first-round pick Aaron Maybin is a backup and appears to be on his way to being deemed a bust. Six teams have run for over 200 yards against Buffalo, and they are worst in the league at defending the rush.
Cleveland's linebackers tackled better last week, but this week they might try to be a little more aggressive when it comes to rushing the passer. We'll see if Marcus Benard, Matt Roth, and David Bowens are in for big games or not. It might ne a nice curveball to have Jason Trusnik come in and go on surprise blitzes. The tight ends don't receive many passes, so that is one less responsibility for the unit.
|DB||I hope the Browns keep Joe Haden in the starting lineup, because Cleveland's secondary has played much better since Eric Wright's injury. With that said, Wright could be a key contributor this week as the No. 3 or No. 4 cornerback since Buffalo does not use a receiving tight end in their packages much.
Buffalo's secondary is not a weakness like their linebacking unit is. They have forced only 8 interceptions this season though, 4 of which came last week against the Minnesota Vikings. If Cleveland runs the ball so much, there should be some holes in the secondary where defenders try to come up and stop the run.
It's usually tough to predict the score of a game when the weather conditions play a factor, but it isn't difficult for me to predict the final outcome given Buffalo's patchwork offensive line and terrible run defense.
CHRIS' RECORD IN PICKING BROWNS GAMES: 7-5
CHRIS' OVERALL NFL PREDICTIONS RECORD: 120-72