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Patriots vs. Browns preview: New England faces a pivotal test in Week 10

Related: NFL playoff picture: Patriots are one of the hottest teams in the league right now

NFL: NOV 07 Browns at Bengals Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New England Patriots own a winning record for the first time all season thanks to a 24-6 victory over the Carolina Panthers last Sunday. At 5-4, they therefore find themselves in the middle of the AFC playoff race.

The upcoming game against the Cleveland Browns is therefore a pivotal one for New England and its playoff chances. While the result will not make or break the Patriots’ chances of making the postseason, a win would certainly help them stay ahead of their fellow competitors — the 5-4 Browns being one of them.

The game between the two projects to be a hard-fought affair: at the moment, the Patriots are listed as 2-point favorites by DraftKings Sportsbook.

With all that being said, let’s take a closer look at New England’s Week 10 opponent.

Offense

Points scored: 24.9/game (13th)

Yards gained: 3,421 (11th)

Passing offense: 172-for-261, 1,979 yards, 9 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 0.084 EPA (20th)

Rushing offense: 273 carries, 1,442 yards, 16 touchdowns, 0.052 EPA (1st)

The Browns’ offense had its ups and downs so far this season, with the passing game in particular remaining a work in progress. That said, the unit as a whole has performed well — largely due to a rushing attack that has gained 100-plus yards in seven of nine games, and 200-plus in two of them. Running behind one of the best offensive lines in football, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson have combined to gain a league-best average of 5.3 yards per carry.

Defense

Points against: 21.8/game (10th)

Yards given up: 2,878 (3rd)

Passing defense: 191-for-306, 2,024 yards, 17 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 0.125 EPA (20th)

Rushing defense: 216 carries, 763 yards, 8 touchdowns, -0.086 EPA (17th)

While not as statistically impressive as the defense the Panthers defense the Patriots faced in Week 9, the Browns still field a solid overall unit that is particularly good at limiting opponents’ ability to drive the ball down the field. The average drive against the unit gains only 29.7 yards. Only three teams are better than that. However, Cleveland’s defensive scoring numbers do not quite follow suit.

Week 1 at Kansas City Chiefs: L 33-29

Week 2 vs. Houston Texans: W 31-21

Week 3 vs. Chicago Bears: W 26-6

Week 4 at Minnesota Vikings: W 14-7

Week 5 at Los Angeles Chargers: L 47-42

Week 6 vs. Arizona Cardinals: L 37-14

Week 7 vs. Denver Broncos: W 17-14

Week8 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: L 15-10

Week 9 at Cincinnati Bengals: W 41-16

After starting their season with a loss in Kansas City, the Browns went on a three-game winning streak to establish themselves as a serious contender in a competitive AFC North. Back-to-back losses against L.A. and Arizona, however, dropped the team to 3-3. Since then, Cleveland won a close game against Denver — despite being led by backup quarterback Case Keenum — dropping one versus Pittsburgh, and eventually blowing out the Bengals on the road 41-16.

As the results show, the Browns’ season has been a rollercoaster ride so far.

Offense

QB Baker Mayfield; RB D’Ernest Johnson; WR Jarvis Landry, WR Donovan Peoples-Jones; TE David Njoku, TE Austin Hooper; LT Jedrick Wills; LG Joel Bitonio, C J.C. Tretter, RG Wyatt Teller, RT Blake Hance

Led by former first overall draft pick Baker Mayfield, the Browns offense features some serious talent across the board. The biggest question mark entering Week 10, however, is the state of the running back group: a Coronavirus outbreak has forced the team to send its lead rusher Nick Chubb onto the Covid-19 reserve list earlier this week, leaving Ernest Johnson as the only running back currently on the active roster. The team could bring back Kareem Hunt from injured reserve, but he has yet to officially return.

Defense

DE Myles Garrett, DT Malik Jackson, DT Malik McDowell, DE Jadeveon Clowney; LB Anthony Walker Jr, LB Malcolm Smith; CB Denzel Ward, CB Greg Newsome II*, CB Troy Hill; SS Ronnie Harrison, FS John Johnson

*rookie

The Browns field two first overall draft picks along their defensive line, and they are leading one of the best pass-rushing units in the league: Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. The team also have considerable talent elsewhere, though, which has created a defense that has proven itself stout against the run and opportunistic when it comes to slowing down an opponent’s passing game.

Specialists

K Chase McLaughlin, P Jamie Gillan, LS Charley Hughlett; KR Anthony Schwartz, PR Donovan Peoples-Jones

With Demetric Felton joining Nick Chubb and others on the Covid-19 reserve list, the Browns have no clear option to return punts at the moment. The projection is that Donovan Peoples-Jones might handle the duty after leading Cleveland in punt runbacks last season.

QB Baker Mayfield: Now in his fourth season since getting drafted first overall in 2018, Mayfield has not established himself as a true top-tier quarterback. That said, he is in the middle of his most productive season to date: the 26-year-old has completed 66.7 percent of his pass attempts for 1,917 yards as well as 8 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions. He certainly has played some solid football so far this season.

RB Nick Chubb/RB D’Ernest Johnson: While running back Nick Chubb is leading the Browns in yards from scrimmage, his status for Sunday is uncertain after he was diagnosed with Covid-19. In turn, former rookie free agent D’Ernest Johnson might get the call as Cleveland’s RB1 again — a role he is not unfamiliar with: in Week 7 against Denver, when Chubb was out due to a calf injury, he carried the football 22 times for 146 yards and a touchdown. Johnson is an able back, but playing behind an impressive offensive line certainly helps.

DE Myles Garrett: The Patriots offensive line has looked a lot better over the last few weeks, but it will need to bring its A-game versus the Browns and the NFL’s leading sack artist. Myles Garrett currently has 12 of them on his résumé, and he has the ability to have a major impact on the game. With him aligning primarily on the right side of the defensive formation, New England left tackle Isaiah Wynn needs to play some mistake-free football — something he has not been able to do consistently this season.

CB Denzel Ward: Drafted three picks after Baker Mayfield in 2018, Denzel Ward has proven himself an able defender over the last three-and-a-half seasons — and a big-play threat even though he has only one interception on the season so far. That one, however, was big: he took back a Joe Burrow pass 99 yards for a touchdown last week against Cincinnati. Mac Jones, who has thrown two pick-sixes so far this year, needs to be careful with the football around the former first-round selection.

Head coach: Kevin Stefanski

Coordinators: Alex Van Pelt (offense), Joe Woods (defense), Mike Priefer (special teams)

Having led the team to 17 wins in a combined 27 regular season and playoff games since taking over last year, Kevin Stefanski is already the most successful coach since the Browns were reborn in 1999. The reigning NFL Coach of the Year went 11-5 last season with the first playoff victory since the mid-1990s.

While the 39-year-old is among the youngest head coaches in football, he has plenty of experience from his time with the Minnesota Vikings. He also features a staff that includes three seasoned coordinators — Alex Van Pelt, Joe Woods and Mike Priefer are all in their 50s.

The Patriots and Browns have met 25 times so far, with one of the meetings coming in the playoffs:

  • Patriots: 12 wins
  • Browns: 13 wins (including 1 playoff win)

The Patriots and Browns are no strangers to one another, but they have still met only 25 times over the last 50 years. Of those games, 13 were won by the Browns — including a playoff game in January 1995 that saw Bill Belichick lead Cleveland to a 20-13 victory over a Bill Parcells-led New England squad. Until earlier this year, the win remained the Browns’ most recent playoff victory.

Speaking of recent history, the Patriots have won seven of nine games against Belichick’s old team since he joined them in 2000. The last three contests in 2013, 2016 and 2019 were all won by New England.