COMMENTARY | There's no point in beating around the bush. This one probably isn't going to be pretty.
A healthy Cleveland Browns side was always going to struggle on the road against what may be the best, or at least the hottest, team in the AFC in the New England Patriots. Cleveland has lost three straight games coming off a Bye week, the Browns have seen their playoff hopes vanish, and the team does not, as of the writing of this sentence, have a starting quarterback.
Cleveland Browns at New England Patriots preview: Who starts?
There's something to be said for gamesmanship and for keeping the opposition on its toes. I don't at all think that is what the Cleveland coaching staff is trying to accomplish three days before kickoff. Is it really all that unbelievable a notion that the Browns do not yet know who to start at quarterback considering the choices are Jason Campbell coming off of a concussion, a trick-shot specialist who has never before thrown a meaningful NFL pass in Alex Tanney, or a QB who hasn't played since 2011 in Caleb Hanie?
The offense of the Browns twice struck gold at the position this fall. First it was Brian Hoyer, who looked like a legitimate starter in eight quarters of play before he tore his ACL. Campbell also had two solid performances, but he is going to need an offseason in order to get fully healthy. That leaves Tanney and Hanie, two guys who were, if I'm being honest about it, not good enough to land on a NFL roster until the Browns came calling.
New England has what is statistically a top-ten pass defense. Ignore that the Patriots are responsible for the second-worst run defense in the league, because Cleveland isn't even averaging 83 yards per game on the ground. Wide receiver Josh Gordon has been historically good for the Browns over the past couple of weeks, but I expect him to be blanketed by coverage on each play in which he is on the field.
Somebody else, perhaps Jordan Cameron or even Greg Little, is going to have to step up if Cleveland is going to put points on the scoreboard and avoid a blowout.
Cleveland Browns at New England Patriots preview: Overrated
The current Cleveland three-game losing streak has put a massive spotlight on the fact that many, myself included, overrated the team's defense. That unit crumbled in the debacle that saw the Browns lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars at home, surrendering touchdown drives on Jacksonville's first and final drives of the game. Now it has to find a way to stop Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.
Gronk has averaged a touchdown per game over the past month. There isn't a single player on the Cleveland defense who can deal with the 6-6, 265-pound tight end. All indications are that morale in the locker room of the Browns is as low as it has been all season. Gronkowski could be in for a career day.
Cleveland Browns at New England Patriots preview: Prediction
The Browns have won a single road game in 2013, and that was against the lowly Minnesota Vikings back when Hoyer was healthy and playing well. New England hasn't lost at home this season. Cleveland has one weapon on offense, and head coach Rob Chudzinski may be flipping a coin early Sunday afternoon as a way to pick a starting quarterback.
There are two teams that are in two very different places this holiday season. New England is hitting its stride following that frustrating Monday Night Football loss at the Carolina Panthers, while the Browns certainly appear to be worse off than they were in December 2012. The spread, as of Thursday, is twelve points in favor of the hosts.
I like New England to cover.
Patriots win 27-13
Zac has been following Cleveland sports since a little before his birth, and thus his heart breaks a little more with every year. He has been covering the Cleveland Browns, New York Giants and the NFL for Yahoo Sports since 2010.
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