Bill Belichick's first head coaching job in the NFL was with the Cleveland Browns, the same team that currently employs his former disciple, Eric Mangini. Now he heads back to Cleveland as the enemy, hoping to prove to Mangini he's still the master.
After all, in any good mentoring program, be it in a classroom, in a trade skill or as a Sith lord, there is only one master. As long as they're still plying their craft, the apprentice has to wait his turn. Mangini didn't want to wait. He thought he could be the master. He tried to pull a Darth Vader on Belichick and take him out of the picture by going public with Spygate.
Sadly for Mangenius, he failed. Belichick is still the NFL's Sith lord and now his former apprentice is in exile with his former team, the Cleveland Browns. Think Belichick might have some extra motivation this week?
The funny thing is since his days in Cleveland (1991-1995), neither Belichick nor the Browns have changed one bit. Both are still doing the same things that got Belichick fired in the first place. He still makes gutsy personnel moves and parts ways with star players and the Browns still lose.
Belichick is 4-1 as a head coach against his former team and 4-2 against his former assistant. Expect both trends to continue this weekend.
The Patriots enter the game with the NFL's best record (6-1), the best scoring offense (29.3 points per game), the NFL's leading tackler in Jerod Mayo and the best combination of coach and quarterback in the league.
The Browns' defense is better than people think, but their only impressive performance was a four-interception performance against Drew Brees. I doubt Tom Brady throws two picks to a defensive lineman.
Offensively, the Browns are one-dimensional. They run well with Peyton Hillis, but their passing attack is atrocious. Mangini is forced to pick his poison at quarterback when dealing with the blunder-prone Jake Delhomme and rookie Colt McCoy.
After holding the NFL's leading rusher Adrian Peterson under 100 yards, Mayo and Co. should be able to stymie Hillis. With so much uncertainty at quarterback, the Browns aren't much of an aerial threat.
Defensively, Belichick will focus on shutting down the run. Offensively, expect him to implement a balanced attack geared toward controlling the flow of the game and churning out first downs. The Patriots should have success on both counts.
Cleveland's offense presents the kind of opportunities defensive coaches salivate over and Belichick will leave no doubt as to the identity of the true master.