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Buccaneers vs. Browns: Plenty of Football This Week - The Sunday Five

Malcolm Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Good morning, Cleveland Browns fans, and welcome to gameday! Be sure to check out our game preview and prediction for the Browns' Week 9 matchup today against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In this week's edition of "The Sunday Five," I take a look what is being said about the Browns' playoff odds, the improved third-down defense, and more.

Bullet_mediumEvery week, the website "Five Thirty Eight" posts an interesting article related to every team's updated playoff odds and how specific games that week impact your favorite team's chances. Click here for their Week 9 preview.

To summarize, they say that the Browns have a 10.7% chance of making the playoffs heading into Sunday's game. If the Browns lose to the Bucs, the loss will decline the Browns' playoff odds by 5.7%. If the Browns win, they will improve their odds by 2.3%.

Week 9 Playoff Odds

Perhaps a more interesting part of the infographic is how other games impact Cleveland's chances. For example, if Jacksonville pulls off the upset on Cincinnati, it improves the Browns' chances by 1.3%. If the Bengals win, it only hurts our chances by 0.3%. Obviously, these percentages would be more drastic if we were in the final weeks of the season, but it's never too early to start paying attention, right?

Bullet_mediumThe Browns still have some improvements to make defensively, but they've quietly made a big improvement in a category they were terrible in a year ago: their third-down defense. Under Ray Horton in 2013, the Browns ranked 31st in the NFL in third-down defense, allowing a first down 44.67% of the time. Only the Falcons were worse.

This year, under Jim O'Neil (or Mike Pettine), the Browns rank 12th in the NFL in third-down defense, allowing a first down 39.22% of the time. It might not sound like a big difference, but it is. On the other side of the ball, the Browns need to take big steps forward on third down, where they rank 31st in the NFL, converting a horrid 31.11% of the time. Over the past two weeks, the offense has only converted 6-of-29 (20.69%) third downs. That's because the running game has done next-to-nothing on early downs, setting up way too many third-and-longs.

Bullet_mediumCleveland has a quick turnaround this week where they will take on the Cincinnati Bengals this Thursday. Home teams are 5-3 on Thursday night games this season, and both Cincinnati and Cleveland will each be coming off of facing fairly easy opponents at home. Cleveland won't have to travel long either. All of those factors should put the Browns on a relatively even playing field...except for the fact that the Browns have still played terribly on the road.

Although the Browns pulled off a miracle against the Titans a few weeks ago, they couldn't even get past Jacksonville. Last year, the Browns were in a similar position to with Cincinnati being their "big game," and they had a historically bad second quarter that cost them the game. This year, Cleveland might be a little fortunate on the injury front. LB Vontaze Burfict will miss the game after undergoing knee surgery. RB Gionvani Benard is missing the first game of his career this week due to shoulder and hip injuries. Although he hasn't been ruled out for Thursday, it's not a lot of time to recover. QB Andy Dalton should have WR A.J. Green back this week, but will he be healthy enough to make an impact by Thursday?

Bullet_mediumAt 7 AM ET on Sunday morning, legendary Browns QB Bernie Kosar will be featured on ESPN's Outside the Lines. Here is a preview from what the interview will entail: "Nearly three decades before LeBron James left Miami and returned to Cleveland to try to win a championship, former Browns QB Bernie Kosar did the same thing. Kosar talks to Mark Schwarz of Outside The Lines and reflects on the challenges of "coming home."

Bullet_mediumIt's time to predict the inactives for today's game. Here are my guesses for the Browns' gameday inactives against the Buccaneers (there are seven inactives required): RB Glenn Winston, WR Rodney Smith, TE Jordan Cameron, OL Vinston Painter, DE Phil Taylor, CB Robert Nelson, and CB Pierre Desir.

I have yet to predict the Browns' inactive list completely right this year, but I think this is the week it finally happens. The newcomer to the active list would be TE Ryan Taylor, who was just signed this week to add depth at the position for the injured Cameron.