Some people might look at Sunday's matchup at Gillette Stadium between the 5-2 Patriots and 3-4 Cleveland Browns as an easy win for the home team. Others point to the fact that Cleveland carries with it an 8-3 record in road games over the past two seasons and the fact that the Patriots are coming off such an emotional win and believe it is the ultimate trap game.
The one thing that people tend to leave out in both scenarios is the fact that Cleveland also happens to have a rather impressive roster of talent in different areas on both sides of the ball.
"If you just look at Cleveland on film, you have a lot of respect for the Cleveland Browns as a football team, offensively, defensively and in the kicking game and that is all there is to it," Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said "I don't really know how anybody else looks at the game. I know how our team looks at Cleveland and looks at this game and that is really what our concern is, not what somebody else thinks about it. Cleveland is a good football team. They were a playoff team last year. They are very explosive on offense. They are good on defense. They are very explosive in the kicking game. They have a couple of veteran kickers. They have big time returners. This is a good football team."
So despite the fact that the Browns enter the game with injuries on the offensive line, a question mark at quarterback and a banged up William Green in the backfield, Belichick stills believes the offensive unit is a dangerous one.
"These guys are really fast," Belichick said. "Just look at what they did last year—[Dennis] Northcutt's got eight touchdowns, [Andre'] Davis got seven touchdowns, [Quincy] Morgan's got seven touchdowns. Kevin Johnson's got a million catches, he's got a ton of production, [William] Green, [Jamel] White. Where do you want to start?
"Any one of them can score from any point on the field. Put the ball on the one yard line—I don't care if it's a punt to the one, a kickoff to the one—hand a ball off to one of those running backs or throw a pass from the one yard line, any of those guys can score. They can go the whole length of the field, and they've done it. They've done it. When you talk about an explosive offense, that's what you're looking at. You're not looking at guys that you say 'He'll gain about five yards and then we'll tackle him. It won't be a problem.' With this group, every single guy who has the ball is really a threat to go the whole length of the field on any play. You've got to respect that."
Defensively the Browns have drawn criticism for allowing two huge rushing days, one an NFL single-game record, to Jamal Lewis and last week to LaDainian Tomlinson. But a unit that got a bit of an overhaul in the offseason has given up more than 21 points just twice and has kept the team in most games.
"[Andra] Davis has kind of taken over in the middle," Belichick said. "He is a big physical guy and does a nice job in the running game. [Kevin] Bentley and [Ben] Taylor are very athletic young players that have a lot of speed and range. There was a lot of question about that unit I am sure at the beginning of the year but they have played good football. They are playing behind a good front and they are playing with an experienced secondary with [Daylon] McCutcheon, [Anthony] Henry, [Earl] Little and [Robert] Griffith. Those guys have been together in the back end for a little while and up front with [Orpheus] Roye, [Gerard] Warren and the end Courtney Brown and [Kenard] Lang are a pretty experienced group. So they are kind of sandwiched in there. I am sure that it is a good chemistry for them all the way through. They have done a good job. Davis has done a good job in the middle and the outside linebackers are athletic, fast, they run, and they show up in the kicking game. It seems like they compliment each other well."
So just as New England was supposedly battling the heat and scheduling curse in Miami a week ago, the Patriots will be battling a solid road team and a potential emotional letdown this week at home. But in the end the game will be won or lost in the one-on-one battles that take place on the field between two teams of skilled professional athletes. When the whistle blows all the streaks, curses and statistical breakdowns are thrown out the window and it comes down to players making plays.
The Browns enter the game ranked 28th in total offense and sixth in total defense, while the Patriots rank 22nd offensively and 21 defensively. … The Patriots rank second in the AFC with a plus-7 turnover ratio. The Browns are minus-2. … Cleveland holds an 11-6 advantage in the all time series, although the Patriots won the last meeting between the two teams 27-16 on Dec. 9, 2001. … The Patriots are 3-0 in October this season. A win Sunday would give the team its first undefeated October since 1978. New England went 0-3 in October last season. … The Patriots have given up just three touchdown passes this season, tying the Jets and Giants for the fewest in the NFL. … The Patriots also rank second in the AFC and third in the NFL with 11 interceptions. … Courtney Brown is tied for third in the AFC with six sacks. … Butch Davis has the highest success rate in replay challenges among all active head coaches. … The Browns are the only team to improve their win-loss record in every season since 2000. … Kevin Johnson has had at least one reception in every game he's played since 1999. … The Browns rank second in the AFC and second in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage at 23.5-percent, allowing opponents just four touchdowns in 17 possessions.