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Mon., Mar. 30, 2015 12:00 AM to 11:59 PM EDT
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Tue., Mar. 31, 2015 11:55 AM to 2:00 PM EDT
Browns at Patriots Pregame Six-Pack
6. Houston's cousin – The Cleveland defense has a lot in common with New England's opponent a week ago, the Texans. The Browns are No. 4 in the NFL in terms of yards allowed overall – No. 5 against both the pass and the run taken separately. But the Browns have some suspect numbers elsewhere in terms of defense. The team is tied for 27th in the league with a minus-9 turnover differential, while only four teams have fewer than Cleveland's 14 takeaways. The Browns are also 29th in the red zone defense and slightly below average tied for 19th in points allowed. Put it all together and the Patriots should be once again expected to put up a decent number of points against a good but not great defense. Cleveland has 15 different guys with at least one sack, 12 different guys with multiple sacks. But no player has more than four. Joe Haden leads the team with four interceptions and is having a Pro Bowl season. But the corner likely won't be tasked with taking away either of New England's two more productive weapons of late – Gronkowski and Vereen. The Browns aren't a pushover on defense and neither were the Texans. Brady led the Patriots to 34 points in Houston, even with a slow start on the road. A faster start at home against a similar defense might just lead to as many points or even more. New England's offense is playing pretty great right now, so a matchup with a decent but not near great defense is a very positive scenario.
There hasn't been much buildup or hype around this matchup with the Browns. The clear expectation is that the Patriots are the better team and favored to win in pretty easy fashion at Gillette Stadium. I agree wholeheartedly with that line of thinking. I expect that New England will get off to a faster start, including spreading things out and throwing it all over the field on what should be a clear and relatively mild day. Brady and Gronkowski have been hot and building steam. Cleveland now has a starter at quarterback in Campbell, but that might not mean much. It's unlikely New England will completely shut down Gordon, but it's also unlikely Belichick will let one really dangerous weapon beat his defense. I can easily see a 10- or 14-point first-quarter lead and the Patriots cruising from there. Look for Gronkowski to find the end zone again. Maybe Josh Boyce will even get into the action with a deep ball later in the contest. Brady will certainly find some success against a team that doesn't force many turnovers. Defensively New England should be able to shut down McGahee and Co. Mix in a little coverage and maybe a little pressure from Chandler Jones/Rob Ninkovich and both sides of the ball have a chance to have some early December fun in this one. I wouldn't be surprised to see a blowout against a Browns team that's allowed 32 or more points to lesser offenses than the Patriots in two of the last three weeks. So I'll go with a 38-13 victory for the home team as New England looks to build momentum heading toward January. Hopefully the recent 34-31 scares are a thing of the past now.