There's a lot at stake for both teams when the Buffalo Bills travel to face the Cleveland Browns on Thursday Night Football.
Fresh off a thrilling victory over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4, the Bills are showing signs of improvement under rookie head coach Doug Marrone.
That said, this team is in danger of falling into a hole in the highly competitive AFC East. With a loss on Thursday, Buffalo would own a 2-3 record. Meanwhile, the New England Patriots have already won four games, and the Miami Dolphins have won three.
When Brandon Weeden went down with a thumb injury, the Browns made a move that surprised many by starting Brian Hoyer over veteran Jason Campbell. Just as shocking was the team's decision to trade running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a 2014 first-round draft pick.
The prevailing thought after Cleveland made these moves was that the franchise was playing for a top draft pick in 2014 so it could select one of next year's top quarterbacks.
Hoyer and the Browns quickly shut the door on such talk, however. Cleveland won its next two games to move into a tie for first place in the AFC North with a 2-2 record, and the little-known signal-caller has played like a seasoned veteran.
Every game brings with it new challenges, though.
Here's a look at what you need to know about this upcoming Thursday Night Football clash.
When: Thursday, Oct. 3, at 8:25 p.m. ET
Where: FirstEnergy Field, Cleveland
Watch: NFL Network
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Betting Lines (via Covers)
- Over/Under: 41 points
- Spread: Cleveland (-4)
Bills Injury Report (via BuffaloBills.com)
|Hopkins, Dustin||K||Right Groin||LP||-||-||-|
|McKelvin , Leodis||DB||Hamstring||LP||-||-||-|
|Williams, Aaron||S||Low Back||LP||-||-||-|
Browns Injury Report (via ClevelandBrowns.com)
|Cundiff, Billy||K||Right Thigh||LP||-||-||-|
|Weeden, Brandon||QB||Right Thumb||FP||-||-||-|
Can Buffalo Run Against Cleveland's Defense?
Bills quarterback EJ Manuel has looked a bit out of his depth the past couple of games, completing just 45.3 percent of his passes for 410 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Things won't get any easier for the rookie this week as he plays in a hostile environment on national television.
As a way to protect Manuel from another bad game, the Bills must be able to run the ball effectively, which hasn't been a problem this season. Buffalo has averaged 152 rushing yards per game this year, ranking No. 2 in the NFL.
Unfortunately, both of Buffalo's top running backs—C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson—will be playing after getting banged up on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, as noted by Mike Rodak of ESPN:
C.J. Spiller has possible sprained ankle, Fred Jackson has sprained MCL: http://t.co/NdzhceyoCR— Mike Rodak (@mikerodak) September 29, 2013
Making matters worse, Cleveland's defense has been excellent this year at shutting down opponents' running games, allowing just 2.9 yards per carry.
Adrian Peterson was held to 3.5 yards per carry in Week 3, while Giovani Bernard and the rest of Cincinnati's running backs managed just 63 yards last weekend.
If the Bills run into similar struggles on offense, then the Browns will move to 3-2 on the season.
Since the Browns shocked the league with the Richardson trade, the team has played exceptionally well.
Cleveland's defense continues to be one of the more underrated units in the league, and its front seven is downright scary.
Which team will win?
Hoyer has been getting the ball out of his hands quickly, and suddenly the Browns have an offense that's moving the ball with regularity. Tight end Jordan Cameron is already one of his top targets, and he's quickly becoming one of the top playmakers in the NFL at his position.
Winning road games is always difficult, but it's even harder when playing on such short rest.
If Spiller and Jackson were healthy for this contest, then the Bills would have a legitimate shot at winning on the road. But with both of them banged up, Buffalo will likely need to rely on Manuel to win the game with his arm.
Based on his performances the past couple of weeks, this isn't good news for the Bills.
Browns win 24-17.
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