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Browns vs. Seahawks: NFL Week 15 Preview and Prediction

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

This week, the Cleveland Browns (3-10) take on the Seattle Seahawks (8-5) in Week 15 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.

Position-by-Position Evaluation

Pos Advantage Reason
QB Is Russell Wilson a top-tier quarterback? That shouldn't matter when the players around him are as good as they are -- he's helped lead the team to two Super Bowls, so that speaks for itself. He is on fire over his last four games, throwing 16 touchdown passes and 0 interceptions. His completion percentage during that stretch has been absurd, as he's completed 75.4% of his passes. Blaine Gabbert couldn't feast on the Browns' secondary last week, but with the way Wilson is playing right now, he should have a heyday.

This week will be a great test for Johnny Manziel. Sink or swim, this is what the rest of the season is about: letting Manziel grow, whether that be via success or taking his lumps and learning from them. The biggest challenge for him this week will be the crowd noise -- can he maintain communication at the line of scrimmage without having delay of game penalties?
RB The Seahawks are still without Marshawn Lynch, but they lost Thomas Rawls last week to a season-ending injury. Rawls was dominant this year, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Now, the team will have to find a new star between the group of Bryce Brown, Christine Michael, and Derrick Coleman. Combined, they have 3 carries for 22 yards for the Seahawks in 2015, and Coleman is basically a fullback. Brown and Michael could share the load this week, but neither back has been able to catch on with the various teams they've been with over the past 2-3 years.

The Browns only have the edge here because Seattle is starting fresh at the running back position (they have the edge by default). Cleveland's success at the position is dependent on the run blocking, but it was encouraging to see (against the 49ers) that if the offensive line can create a hole at that initial level, that Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson have the ability to make things happen at the second level. I don't feel they'll reach the second level often this week, but they have both been in the system the entire year.
The Seahawks lost Jimmy Graham to a season-ending injury a couple of weeks ago, right when he was starting to catch on. Now, they defer to Luke Willson at tight end, who made some big plays in the postseason last year but overall is not a regular part of the passing game. Seattle's bread-and-butter now is their wide receivers, led by Doug Baldwin, who has 61 catches for 860 yards and 11 touchdowns on the year. Tyler Lockett has started to come on strong as the team's next big playmaker, with Jermaine Kearse seeing less opportunities.

Cleveland lost Brian Hartline for the season, just as he was building chemistry with Johnny Manziel. The team does get Taylor Gabriel back this week from a concussion, and he surely wants to make amends for the game against Cincinnati in prime time in which he had drop after drop on national TV. Travis Benjamin will try to get behind the defense still, but who will fill Hartline's spot as the slot/possession receiver? Could Terrelle Pryor see some targets this week? Will Dwayne Bowe finally contribute, with this week's talk being just a bit of a "show?" We can't expect our receivers to win many battles, but Gary Barnidge could continue his Pro Bowl year as the Seahawks have been vulnerable to tight ends.
OL The Seahawks' offensive line features Russell Okung at left tackle, Justin Britt at left guard, former Brown Patrick Lewis at center, J.R. Sweezy at right guard, and Garry Gilliam at right tackle. The offensive line, overall, has been disastrous for the Seahawks in pass protection. The guard play is unacceptable, and the other three positions have seen average play at best. The Seahawks allow a sack once every ten pass plays, but they are far better in run blocking.

In last week's film review, I pointed out how the Browns' linemen played their best game together all season. Something clicked finally, and while they might not be able to physically dominate this week as much as they did against the 49ers, they might finally be on the right track.
DL The Seahawks' defensive line includes defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril in the first unit, with former Brown Ahtyba Rubin and Brandon Mebane playing defensive tackle in the team's 4-3 defense. Rubin wasn't fitting in the Browns' 3-4 defense any more, but he's found his groove again as a stable force in Seattle's 4-3 defense. Bennett and Avril are significant pass-rushing threats, combining for 16 sacks this year.

Cleveland's defensive line had their best game of the season last week against the 49ers. This week, they go up against another fairly vulnerable line, but can Cleveland's group play with some consistency? This is the same unit that struggled against backup-level players against the Chargers and Ravens.
LB Seattle's starting outside linebackers are Bruce Irvin and K.J. Wright, with Bobby Wagner manning the middle. Wright and Wagner are the team leaders in tackles, while Irvin focuses his efforts more on rushing the passer. Wright is having the best season of his career.

Last week, Paul Kruger didn't register any of the Browns' nine sacks, but I pointed out in my film review that I thought it was his most impressive and impactful game of the season. Nate Orchard is also coming off the first two sacks of his career -- will that be the confidence he needs to get going for the rest of the year?
DB Seattle's secondary features Richard Sherman and DeShawn Shead as the starting cornerbacks, with Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas as the safeties. Earlier this year, we saw how imperative Chancellor was to the communication in the secondary. He is going to be a game-time decision this week with a pelvis injury; he did not practice all week. If he is out, Cleveland might be able to take advantage with Travis Benjamin on some deep routes, or with Gary Barnidge down the seam.

With Joe Haden officially out for the year, Tramon Williams and Charles Gaines are the favorites to start the rest of the week. Last week finally broke the trend of the Browns' cornerbacks being beat deep, but you can guarantee that they will be tested by Russell Wilson deep this week. It'll be up to Tashaun Gipson to read Wilson and try to cheat for some double teams. With Justin Gilbert out of the concussion protocol, will he be given another chance too?
ST Seattle's kicker is veteran Steven Hauschka. He is 22-of-23 on the year including 4 makes from beyond 50 yards, so he doesn't miss often. Travis Coons has had kicks blocked in three straight games, which is a big disadvantage for Cleveland. He also has a groin injury this week, and if something happens to him, backup quarterback Austin Davis will kick.

Jon Ryan handles the punting duties for Seattle. He's not a bad punter, but the Seahawks are 31st in the NFL at defending punts, which means his net average is among the worst in the league.

The Seahawks' kick and punt returner is Tyler Lockett. The Browns can't sleep on him; he's taken a kick and punt return back for a touchdown this year. Travis Benjamin might have a shot at a big return given Seattle's punt coverage issues.


I don't have much hope of the Browns standing a chance against the Seahawks, but I will be very encouraged by head coach Mike Pettine and company if they play a respectable game, and the changes they installed against the 49ers last week have them pointing in the right direction finally (too little, too late?). The Seahawks' running back situation being completely "new" in personnel could add a one-dimensional aspect that opens the door for a Cleveland upset, but not on the road with how well Russell Wilson has been playing.

Seattle Seahawks 31, Cleveland Browns 14

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