Sunday is basically do-or-die time for the Browns. Sure, a loss doesn't technically eliminate them from playoff contention. But, a loss would be devastating to their chances.
Today is Thursday, and there's already been a lot going on around the Browns. Between the obvious QB drama, the health scare of Miles Austin, and even the potential that Jordan Cameron will return. Been a busy week in Berea.
Come Sunday, all those stories will take a back seat to the Browns playing the Colts. Well, that is to say, unless Hoyer has another bad game, then that whole QB drama gets thrust back in our faces.
Regardless of your stance in the Hoyer vs. Manziel voting, the Browns will still play the Colts Sunday. And here's my three reasons why they'll win...
1. Colts D
I won't get into the Colts offense much, because quite frankly, their passing game is scary. Instead, I'll focus on the other side of the ball, their defense.
The Colts defense currently ranks as follows: 23rd overall, 25th in pass defense, and 13th in rush defense. So while their offense is a juggernaut, their defense...not so much. Now, this is not to say that they're some bottom feeding team, they're just not overly impressive defensively.
Football Outsiders ranks them a little more favorably overall (19th), but much less favorably against the run at 26th. FO also ranks the Colts as 31st in their variance ranking, "which measures the statistical variance of a team's DVOA ranking." Which makes sense. Their defensive box scores are a roller coaster from week-to-week.
Last week the Browns faced a Buffalo front-seven that is downright nasty. The Colts do not bolster the same type of firepower that the Bills have, so hopefully the Browns will be able to exploit a defense that has potential to be burned. Everyone saw what some-dude-named Jonas Gray did to them, so hopefully Isaiah Crowell can go.
If there's one thing that can totally alter a game, it can be a turnover. Look at last week, for example. Terrance West fumbled when the Browns were only down 4 points. The Bills recovered for a touchdown, and the entire flow of the game had been changed.
The Browns have the benefit of playing against a Colts team that has been rather lackadaisical with protecting the football. They rank 18th in turnover differential at -2. They actually rank t-24th in turnovers, with 22. But, they do a pretty good job of forcing turnovers themselves to make up for it, ranking 11th with 20 takeaways.
Until a few weeks ago the Browns were one of the best teams in the NFL in turnover differential. After forcing 4 turnovers against Cincinnati, the Browns had a turnover differential of +9. That's really good. For perspective, the Packers lead the NFL right now with a turnover differential of +15, which is just silly.
Despite some shaky QB play recently, Cleveland's defense has still found ways to force turnovers and keep them in games. The Browns have dropped their turnover differential down to +6, losing the turnover battle by -1 each of the last three games. But, they are still tied for 7th in the NFL in turnover differential. Additionally, the Browns have only given the ball away 5 times at home this year.
If Cleveland is going to secure the victory, they'll first have to secure the ball and eliminate the turnovers that have plagued them recently. Forcing turnovers against Indy should go a long way in getting the win for the Browns.
3. QB Drama
Mike Pettine named his starter on Wednesday, Brian Hoyer. A lot of you were upset, some applauded the decision. Check out the poll Chris posted earlier, here.
But the bottom line is, Indianapolis is going to have to gameplan for both. Chuck Pagano and his staff now know that Hoyer will be the starter, but with Pettine going to Manziel late against Buffalo, he knows in the back of his mind that Hoyer is on a short leash.
For Indianapolis to gameplan for both QB's will take time away from their practice work to focus on set Manziel plays. This should play into Cleveland's advantage.
I personally loved Pettine going with Hoyer as the starter. It gives you some more consistency because Hoyer has been much better at home compared to on the road. At home Hoyer has a 90.1 passer rating. On the road? Just 70.1. Think what you will about passer rating, but the truth is, he's played much better at home this year.
If Hoyer unfortunately does have another bad game /crosses fingers/, you can easily give em the hook and go to the kid.
The Colts aren't going to have much tape of Manziel, but since they know there's going to be potential for him to play, they're going to have to study it. This might not seem like a big deal, but the uncertainty for the Colts on who is ultimately going to play will actually be an advantage for the Browns.
Sunday is as close to a must-win game as there is in the NFL. Cleveland wasn't expected to compete at all for the division this year, but here we are, right in the middle of a playoff race. Things could probably be better, but this is the situation that the Browns have put themselves. The only thing the Browns can do to help themselves, is win.
Above I've listed my three reasons I feel optimistic for a Browns victory Sunday. It starts with the Colts D. They're not the scariest defense in the league, and one that I feel the Browns can exploit. Many will point to Cleveland's issues (stemming from the QB) on offense recently. And that's a fair point. But Coach Pettine is going to have this team focused and ready to roll heading down the stretch. I don't expect to see the efficient offense that we saw earlier in the year, that's a lot to ask, but I do expect them to be much better, as a unit.
Furthermore, this game to me comes down to turnovers. If the Browns can limit their mistakes, and force mistakes from Andrew Luck and Co., I think they'll be positioning themselves to get the victory.
Add in improved quarterback play from Brian Hoyer, which I fully expect. And the Browns could be in business.
What do you all think? If you're optimistic, like me, why are feeling good for Sunday?