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Browns vs. Chiefs: NFL Week 16 Preview and Prediction

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

This week, the Cleveland Browns (3-11) take on the Kansas City Chiefs (9-5) in Week 16 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.

Position-by-Position Evaluation

Pos Advantage Reason
QB For the second straight year, Alex Smith is managing the Chiefs' offense well with an efficient completion percentage (65%) and minimizing the turnovers (16 touchdowns to 4 interceptions). He recently threw 312 passes without an interception, the second-longest streak in NFL history, only behind Tom Brady's streak of 358 passes. He is also a threat to run, with 60 attempts for 383 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground. He hasn't lost a fumble all year, which is pretty good for a quarterback.

Johnny Manziel has looked comfortable in the offense during his starts this year, but now it's time for him to start taking things to the next level. In order to do that, he needs to not just play well in the eye test against quality opponents, he needs to lead 2-3 touchdown scoring drives per game. Part of that is on his receivers dropping passes, but some of it is on Manziel for his ball placement.
RB Charcandrick West has averaged a respectable 4.0 yards per carry in place of the injured Jamaal Charles, but it's not the same 5.1 yards per carry average that Charles had. West will split time with Spencer Ware, who receives fewer carries but is averaging 6.1 yards per carry. Combined, they have 9 rushing touchdowns. West gets involved in the passing game a little, but Ware has 6 catches for just 5 yards.

Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson will probably be focal points of Cleveland's gameplan early on against the Chiefs, trying to take advantage of the better run blocking the team has featured over the past two weeks. The Browns avoided the negative runs last week and converted some short-yardage situations, but the score just got out of hand at the end of the first half, forcing a more pass-heavy attack in the second half.
The Browns got Dwayne Bowe in free agency, and the Chiefs got Jeremy Maclin. The results for each team? Cleveland is getting 5 catches for 51 yards from Bowe, while Kansas City is getting 79 catches for 985 yards and 6 touchdowns from Maclin. The fact that Maclin is doing that in the Chiefs offense, a team that had no touchdowns to wide receivers last year, is a testament to how good of a season he is having.

Both teams have solid threats at the tight end position. Travis Kelce has 65 catches for 822 yards and 4 touchdowns this year, while Gary Barnidge has 68 catches for 930 yards and 9 touchdowns. When you factor in Travis Benjamin, though, his 61 catches for 893 yards and 5 touchdowns kind of put both teams on an even scale at these positions, as the Chiefs don't have many other weapons and the Browns are fielding a patched receiving corp.
OL The Browns are without starting guards Joel Bitonio and John Greco the rest of the way. We've seen Austin Pasztor be relatively stable on the left side, while Cameron Erving has had too many big gaffes from his side. I know head coach Mike Pettine wants to credit Erving for other plays he makes, but that can't be an excuse -- I'd rather have a lineman who is just stable than one who is great at times but then has three drive-killing plays each game. The drive-killing plays out-weigh everything.

The Chiefs' offensive line consists of LT Eric Fisher, LG Jeff Allen, C Mitch Morse, RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, and RT Jah Reid. The Browns had a pre-draft visit with Duvernay-Tardif lined up in 2014. He was the CFL's No. 1 offensive tackle prospect, but then something fell through with the planned visit. Allen has been the standout of the unit, while Reid is a liability. The interior run blocking has been solid, while the pass protection is suspect and forces Smith to take a lot of sacks.
DL The Chiefs feature a 3-4 defense with Mike DeVito and Allen Bailey as the defensive ends and Jaye Howard and Dontari Poe in the middle. Howard has been a complete player in 2015, with this being his breakout season. He and Poe could be very disruptive to the Browns' new guards. DeVito and Bailey are stout against the run, but not a threat to beat the Browns' tackles on pass rushes.

Danny Shelton proudly carried around a championship belt this week after a pretty good game against the Seahawks last week. Hopefully he can bring some of that same intensity this week to disrupt even more plays in the backfield. The rest of Cleveland's linemen could have some pass-rushing opportunities; overall, they've patched things up to be a so-so unit, but that won't cut it when the secondary is being shredded left and right.
LB The Chiefs will be without Justin Houston and might be without Tamba Hali, which is both of their starting outside linebackers. That could force Dee Ford and Frank Zambo into more action. Ford has done a decent job filling in for Houston from a pass-rushing perspective. At inside linebacker, the Chiefs feature the always-solid Derrick Johnson and Josh Mauga. I envy the Chiefs for how built their 3-4 outside linebacker group is; Cleveland is so far behind them it's ridiculous.

There is nothing much to say about the Browns' outside linebackers heading into this week, except that I wonder if Armonty Bryant will be a healthy scratch due to his arrest on Christmas Eve. If they do that, Barkevious Mingo might see his highest workload of the year.
DB The Chiefs' starting cornerbacks are Marcus Peters and Sean Smith, while their safeties are Ron Parker and Eric Berry. Peters, the team's first-round pick, has 7 interceptions and has had a rookie-of-the-year type of season, which makes Browns fans think a lot about Justin Gilbert's current status. Smith is a very good player, but sometimes susceptible to the big play. Berry mans his position well, while Parker is the weakness of the secondary.

With Justin Gilbert out of the concussion protocol for a week, will he reclaim his starting role? I hope so, just to get a shred more evidence of what he's capable of on the field. Tramon Williams got a three-year deal from the club this past offseason, but his play has regressed significantly as the season has gone on.
ST The Chiefs' kicker is Cairo Santos. Santos is 29-of-36 on the year -- his 29 makes are second-most in the NFL, but his percentage is among the worst. Travis Coons remains perfect on kicks that aren't blocked, but still isn't trying from beyond 50 yards. Santos has missed two extra points this year (as has Coons).

At punter, Dustin Colquitt and Andy Lee are both solid veterans, but Lee's net average stats have slipped significantly due to big returns over the past several weeks. Knile Davis returns kickoffs for the Chiefs, while Frankie Hammond returns punts. The Browns will have Travis Benjamin on punt returns, and it was against the Chiefs that he tore his ACL two years ago. Raheem Mostert averaged 31.8 yards per kick return for the Browns last week in his first game, looking very explosive at the position.


We should see a near-identical game as the one against the Seahawks last week. If the Chiefs are missing both of their pass rushers, Cleveland will put together a quality drive in the first half to make things close. By the second half, Kansas City should start pulling away -- they don't turn the ball over, and Cleveland's secondary hasn't been capable of winning any battles.

Kansas City Chiefs 24, Cleveland Browns 17

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