Browns vs. Chiefs: Full Cleveland Game Preview
Kansas City is chasing the Denver Broncos for the AFC West title and playing meaningful games in the hunt for the postseason. They rolled to an easy win last week, their eighth in a row, despite amassing just 277 yards of total offense.
Two defensive scores didn’t hurt their cause.
That’s something their defense has been doing all season. The Chiefs are second in the NFL in turnover differential with a plus-15 mark.
Cleveland, on the other hand, has had its problems in the turnover battle. It has thrown just nine total interceptions this season, but it’s still minus-eight overall.
Quarterback Johnny Manziel has put together some decent showings at quarterback, prompting the Browns to continue starting him as the season winds down. They are playing for next season and trying to find out whether the quarterback will be their guy—for at least one season.
The results are mixed but encouraging to this point. His 60.7 percent completion rate and 85.9 quarterback rating are encouraging stats, and he has passed the eye test as an NFL quarterback, both in and out of the pocket.
We’ll see how he handles the opportunistic Chiefs defense this week.
Remember, ball security was a big problem for him earlier this season when he was pressured. His offensive line has done a better job of keeping the pocket clean, and his ball security has improved the more comfortable he has gotten.
Luckily, standout Chiefs pass-rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston are both questionable to play this week, per ESPN.com's Adam Teicher. Hali broke his thumb last week against Baltimore, and Houston has been sitting out with a hyperextended knee since the Nov. 29 matchup against Buffalo.
Without those two, there’s a much better chance Manziel and the Browns offense can find some success, even on the road against a likely playoff-bound team.
Location: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City
Time: 1 p.m. ET
Week 15 Results and Recap
The fight for the top of the AFC North continued in Week 15. Both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati won, which gives the Bengals the driver's seat over the next two weeks. All they need to do is beat Denver or Baltimore, and the division crown is theirs.
Meanwhile, the Ravens and Browns are battling for last place. Not just in the division but in the entire AFC. Baltimore’s losing streak now sits at three in a row after the Chiefs blew them out in Week 15. Losses to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati to finish the season might be enough to get that done.
But that’s only true if the Browns find a way to win one of their remaining games. Their schedule isn’t friendly, though. After being easily dispensed in Week 15 by Seattle, the Browns travel to Kansas City and will face a similar environment. Pittsburgh then visits FirstEnergy Stadium in Week 17.
That means the Browns will be playing against two more teams with playoff visions in their heads. We’ll see if they can scrape their way out of the AFC North cellar or fall deeper to the bottom of the entire league during these last two weeks.
AFC North Standings
News and Notes
Joe Thomas and Alex Mack Named to Pro Bowl Roster
The Browns announced offensive linemen Joe Thomas and Alex Mack were selected to the Pro Bowl again this season. It’ll be Thomas’ ninth straight appearance and Mack’s third overall in his career.
With the selection, Thomas tied all-time Browns greats Jim Brown and Lou Groza for the most selections to the yearly all-star game. He is also closing in on an NFL-wide milestone. He’s now behind just four others—Merlin Olsen, Mel Renfro, Barry Sanders and Lawrence Taylor—for most Pro Bowl appearances to begin a career. Olsen leads the pack with 14, while the others are all at 10.
Receiver Travis Benjamin, special teamer Johnson Bademosi and tight end Gary Barnidge have been designated as alternates for the game.
Thomas hasn't missed a snap in nine seasons, and now he won't miss a Pro Bowl. Years from now, if the Browns' misery continues, people might look back on his great career and wonder how his teams could never turn the corner.
And that's a shame.
Johnny Manziel and Mike Pettine Talk About Future
It may not seem like it from the outside, but Manziel and Pettine are supporting each other. Whether it’s just lip service or actual sincerity, the two have made it clear there is no “bad blood” between them after the rocky first two years of their Browns careers.
Manziel expressed his feelings on the incident that got him benched by his head coach a few weeks ago:
I have a ton of respect for him. Like I said earlier in the year when everything happened, whether I like the situation or not and like the outcome of what happened, I had a part in that, too. I had to take responsibility and own up to that. It was on nobody else but me. It wasn’t Coach Pettine’s fault that I did what I did.
That sounds like a player taking accountability for his actions and continuing to do—and say, at least—the right things.
Meanwhile, Pettine gave him a shining endorsement this week as they prepare for the Chiefs together:
If you just eliminate that incident where I felt like I was doing my job and doing what was best for the team and doing what was best for him—hopefully, he respects that. But I also know from an interaction standpoint, that when he is here, I have a ton of respect for him because of what he has gone through personally and how he has earned the respect of the guys around him. We all know what he did, but at the same time the players, when you hear other players come out and support him, it is because they see it.
Words are good, but we’ll have to wait to see what happens from here. Both have plenty of motivation not to burn any bridges in this situation. Whether both, one or neither of the two stays in Cleveland, they can’t be sure their paths won't cross again. It’s a small league with plenty of year-to-year turnover.
Latest Injury News
Duke Johnson Not Practicing
Coach Pettine said Johnson would be limited and that he didn’t know how many reps he would get because of a hamstring injury he suffered in Week 15.
Johnson didn’t practice Wednesday, according to the team’s injury report, per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal.
While it’s too early to tell if he’ll be ready to play, it won’t look good if he misses more practices leading up to Sunday’s game. Johnson has been a key weapon in an otherwise uninspiring Browns offense.
Desmond Bryant, Cam Erving and Marlon Moore All Limited
Marlon Moore continues to manage his ribs injury with limited practice sessions. He should be good to go Sunday as he was last week after being limited in practice. Cam Erving and Desmond Bryant joined him as limited participants Wednesday.
It’s encouraging these guys are practicing in any fashion. Hopefully, their outlook can improve enough over the course of the week for their coaches to give them the green light to play in Kansas City.
Andrew Hawkins and John Greco Placed on Injured Reserve
The Browns announced Hawkins’ concussion and Greco’s knee injury would end their seasons, freeing up roster spots while they recuperate and get ready for 2016.
DT Dontari Poe vs. C Alex Mack
The Chiefs pose a similar matchup problem as Seattle did last week. And just like the Seahawks, Kansas City has an imposing group of gap pluggers and penetrators who’ll test the new-look Browns offensive line all game.
Dontari Poe is the standout of that group of defensive linemen. He’ll play across from Mack but could move around to take advantage of the inexperienced likely starters such as Austin Pasztor or struggling rookie Cam Erving.
Mack has gotten better while recovering from surgery last season, but he hasn’t had a statement game. Let’s see him do that in this one, which will give the Browns at least a shot at winning.
WR Jeremy Maclin vs. CB Tramon Williams
After its wide receivers scored no touchdowns throughout all of last season, Kansas City made signing Jeremy Maclin a priority. Well, it took some time, but it seems to have worked. The former Philadelphia Eagle has six scores and is third in the NFL with 20 catches of 20 or more yards.
Tramon Williams will likely draw Maclin for much of the game. Depending on how his teammates play around him, Williams could be in for a long day. The Chiefs will take underneath routes all day, which means he’ll have to play more aggressive to try to jam the receiver to limit those easy completions.
In doing so, he'll need some help behind him from his safeties in order to be effective in that press-man role.
Browns X-Factor of the Week: WR Travis Benjamin
If Duke Johnson misses this game due to his hamstring injury, Benjamin is the de facto X-factor for the Browns. He has shown he has the ability to go deep. But he hasn't done that in more than a month and has just one touchdown since his early-season touchdown outburst.
Benjamin scored four times within the team's first four games.
It's worth noting the Chiefs have given up the second-most yards to receivers this season and have also surrendered 18 touchdowns to opposing wideouts, per ESPN.
If he can break another big one against a beatable Chiefs secondary or make an impact on special teams, Benjamin could play a role in a huge upset.
Prediction: Chiefs 23, Browns 17
The Chiefs have been impressive during their eight-game win streak. And they're certainly rolling with the playoffs on their minds as the Browns come to Arrowhead Stadium in Week 16.
But the Chiefs aren't at 100 percent, health-wise, with two of their biggest impact defenders uncertain to play. That gives the Browns a window that they can exploit against their West Coast-style offense.
If they can keep it close, anything can happen, and there's a good chance they can do that against a beatable Chiefs secondary. Without Hali or Houston, Manziel and the Browns should put some points up and hang around.
Prediction: Chiefs 23, Browns 17
All quotes and team news announcements obtained via press release emails from Browns communications managers Rob McBurnett and Dan Murphy.