Over the last few seasons, the most talked teams in the AFC have generally been the Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs. The topic of conversation shifted entering this season, due to the aggressive moves made by the Cleveland Browns (2-4) to improve their roster. Cleveland added mercurial wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. along with other stars such as Kareem Hunt, Olivier Vernon, and Sheldon Richardson to complement their young core of Baker Mayfield, Jarvis Landry, Myles Garrett, and Nick Chubb. Cleveland has fell short of their title expectations thus far, but their talent alone should make the Patriots worried about their matchup this Sunday.
Here are some things to consider entering this Week 8 contest.
1. Can Belichick’s defense outwit Freddie Kitchen’s offense?
Despite what Bill Belichick’s defense has achieved over the past seven weeks, there are still pundits who choose to dismiss their greatness due to the perceived weakness of their opponents thus far. Hence, playing the Browns’ talented offense should provide the Pats’ defense with a chance to silence their doubters. Following a dominant second half to his rookie season, Baker Mayfield has struggled to begin this season, as he leads the NFL in interceptions through seven weeks. The Pats will need to focus in on Mayfield’s top two weapons, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, who have the potential to wreck the game if given an opportunity. It will be interesting to see how Belichick opts to match up against Beckham and Landry, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine the Patriots double-teaming Beckham with a cornerback and safety, while matching Stephon Gilmore against Landry.
Facing Nick Chubb might be worrisome for the Pats’ defense, as they have been ever so slightly pervious against the run this season, with Frank Gore and Le’Veon Bell achieving success against them. Chubb has effective during Cleveland’s wins (such as their win in Baltimore a few weeks ago), and would help Freddie Kitchens take pressure off of Mayfield. The Pats’ defensive line and ‘Boogeymen’ linebacking corps will need to neutralize Chubb if they want to be successful.
I believe that the key to victory will be getting after Mayfield with an effective pass rush, which could force him to turn the ball over. Just this past week, the Pats intimidated a young quarterback in Sam Darnold with their pass rush and coverage, which caused him to “see ghosts” on the field. At the same time, limiting Cleveland’s weapons will put the Pats in a great position to remain undefeated.
2. Can Brady overcome Garrett and the Browns’ defense?
On paper, Cleveland’s defense promises to be the most talented unit the Pats have played since struggling against Buffalo in Week 4. The Pats’ offensive line will have their hands full against Myles Garrett who is tied for the league lead with 9 sacks. Brady’s performance has dipped when faced with consistent pressure, which could play into Cleveland’s hands if the offensive line cannot protect #12.
The Pats’ receiving corps underwent some upheaval this week with the addition of Mohamed Sanu, and the subsequent designation of Josh Gordon to the injured reserve (with the expectation that he will be waived as soon as he’s healthy). If Sanu does play, he should be a good addition to the normal lineup of Julian Edelman and Phillip Dorsett, with Jakobi Meyers also serving as a complementary piece. The Pats will face a good pair of cornerbacks in Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams, who haven’t been healthy at the same time since Week 3.
I think that it would be smart for Josh McDaniels to target Cleveland’s porous rushing defense which is amongst the NFL’s worst. If Sony Michel can get going, the Pats should be able to milk the clock and limit the number of possessions for the Browns’ offense.
Bonus: Color Rush!
The Pats will be suiting up in their popular Color Rush alternates for the second time this season when they take on Cleveland on Sunday. Hopefully they will be able to improve to 6-0 all-time while wearing these uniforms.
- Ryan Izzo (concussion) – Out
- Matt LaCosse (knee) – Out
- Rex Burkhead (foot) – Questionable
- Patrick Chung (heel/chest) – Questionable
- Julian Edelman (chest) – Questionable
- Shaq Mason (ankle) – Questionable
- Gunner Olszewski (ankle/hamstring) – Questionable’
- Damarious Randall (hamstring) – Out
- Kendall Lamm (knee) – Questionable
- Sheldrick Redwine (not listed) – Questionable
Prediction: Patriots 33, Browns 17
Here are my predictions for the NFL’s other Week 8 games (excluding Thursday Night Football)
Last week: 8-5
Seahawks at Falcons: Seahawks
Chargers at Bears: Bears
Giants at Lions: Lions
Jets at Jaguars: Jaguars
Bengals vs Rams: Rams
Buccaneers at Titans: Titans
Eagles at Bills: Eagles
Broncos at Colts: Colts
Cardinals at Saints: Saints
Panthers at 49ers: Panthers
Raiders at Texans: Texans
Packers at Chiefs: Packers
Dolphins at Steelers: Steelers