New England Patriots: Week 14 Preview, Prediction

This Sunday, the New England Patriots host the Cleveland Browns at Gillette Stadium. The game will be shown locally on CBS at 1PM EST, with commentary provided by Bill Macatee and Steve Tasker.

 

Alright so here we are. The Patriots have improved to 9-3 after a squeaker of a win over the Houston Texans, and clinched Bill Belichick’s 13th straight winning season. The defense didn’t look especially great last week (Ben Tate somehow looked like a superstar) but it was enough.

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This week, the Pats return home to take on the Cleveland Browns (4-8). I don’t really know what to think of this. On the one hand, the Browns are always a sneaky team, and have Josh Gordon tearing up opposing defenses, and a solid secondary helmed by Joe Haden. But on the other hand….wait who’s the Browns’ quarterback?

Brian Hoyer’s down, Jason Campbell’s down. Apparently Brandon Weeden has a concussion. That leaves the Browns with either Caleb Hanie (seriously go say “Caleb Hanie” to any Bears fan. Hilarious) or trick-shot king Alex Tanney. I mean that’s insane…but it’s also not Brandon Weeden. I don’t know what to think. Nothing worries me more than the unknown.

But let’s take a closer look:

 

Key Matchup: Josh Gordon vs. Aqib Talib

downloadBecause no matter who is throwing him the ball, if he has it, Josh Gordon will make plays. Josh Gordon has had two straight 200-yard plus receiving games, making his season totals 1,249 yards and seven TDs. I shudder to think what a real QB could have him do.

Not only that, but Gordon’s pretty confident for this week’s matchup with stud corner Aqib Talib:

(Per the Cleveland Plain-Dealer) “I’m pretty sure he’ll make some plays, but I’m definitely going to make more plays…He’s a real physical, scrappy player. But I’m going to come out there and do the same, go out there and make plays myself and try to make sure that nobody can stop me.”

After a sensational game against the Broncos, this past week, Talib’s skills were neutralized a bit by the Pats’ zone defense, and Andre Johnson had some big gains on slant plays in the middle of the field, exploiting Brandon Spikes’ pass defense. But don’t be surprised if Belichick decides to stick Talib on Gordon for the whole game, possibly even with Devin McCourty shadowing the talented receiver.

Gordon’s great, but this is his biggest challenge in his young career, by far: going up against a Pro Bowl caliber corner with a brand new quarterback throwing to him. If the Browns have an honest chance in this game, it all lies in him.

 

3 Things to Watch for this Week

  1. Will Brady continue his dominant streak?

Last week, Brady put in another great performance, going 29/41 with 371 yards, 2 TD, and 1 INT. Over his last four games, Brady has put up 361 yards a game, 10 touchdowns, and only 2 INT. Despite his early-season struggles, Brady is rounding back into MVP form.

download (1)This week, the Golden Boy (aka Ares, the God of War) faces a Browns defense that has allowed opposing QBs to throw at least two passing touchdowns in seven straight games. And yes, one of those QBs is Chad Henne. The Browns have two elite secondary players in Joe Haden and TJ Ward, so this isn’t a pushover defense, despite their giving up about 28 PPG in their last eight games. However, because the Pats’ generally play with more than two wideouts on the field, the Browns will have to start rookie Leon McFadden, a player Brady may exploit if he can. The Browns defensive line, while losing Desmond Bryant to a heart condition, is also a very strong unit.

The key to Brady maintaining his elite form this Sunday will be the offensive line’s ability to stand up to the pass rush, and for the Patriots’ running backs to play well in order to set up the deadly play-action. Speaking of which…

 

2. Will Stevan Ridley be let out of the doghouse?

The Patriots brass, as well as Tom Brady, have all said the right things about Van Riddles. He’s an integral part of the offense, they’ll need him come playoff time, but he needs to take a break, reset, and come back refocused and better than ever. But make no mistake, Ridley is not in the team’s good graces, per se. Last week, he was a healthy scratch, and the other three backs on the Pats’ roster split his duties. Still, Ridley has the most upside and explosiveness, it’s just a question of whether he can hold onto the ball.

The Browns rush defense has only allowed 5 running backs to rush for more than 75 yards this season (MJD, LeVeon Bell, Eddie Lacy, Reggie Bush, and Adrian Peterson) and is only giving up 3.5 yards/attempt. Now that could mean either the Pats will want to have all their best options ready to go, or they’ll wait for a cushier matchup to ease Ridley back into action. Either way, Ridley’s game day status will be one of the most talked about topics for this week’s game.

 

3. Is Chandler Jones an elite defender in only his second season?

To answer my own question, yes.

images (2)Chandler Jones, so far, has 10.5 sacks, 20 QB hits, and 28 QB hurries. He’s also forced a fumble, blocked a kick, and has performed admirably against the run. His insane athleticism and length have made him a nightmare for opposing tackles, and he’s being double teamed incessantly. The reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Month (when was the last time a Pats’ defender was actually commended?) has stood up for his team with the absences of Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo.

The Browns offensive line is 21st in the league in adjusted sack rate, and has allowed 43 sacks, second only to Miami. Now, Jones will be matched up against Joe Thomas, which means that he’ll probably have a quiet afternoon this Sunday. But his presence will help free up Rob Ninkovich, Chris Jones, and Joe Vellano to wreak havoc on whichever Browns quarterback starts. He’s a game changer, and, at only 23, he’s only improving.

 

Prediction: Patriots 28, Browns 16

Alright, so after last week and the Pats’ loss to the Jets, I’ve learned that being cocky just because New England’s facing a weaker team is a terrible idea. The Browns, in particular, have been a historically tricky team against the Pats. Josh Gordon is one of the scariest wideouts in the NFL, and there are some playmakers on the Browns’ defense.

That being said, either Alex Tanney, Caleb Hanie, or (by some miracle) Brandon Weeden will be starting for the Browns. That means turnovers. Logic says the Pats’ should win easily, but logic is stupid. I don’t see a blowout, but the Browns just don’t have the firepower to keep up with Brady and Belichick.

 

(Note: Browns have activated Jason Campbell to start this weekend. I’ll stick by my prediction.) 

  • William Adams

    Jason Campbell is starting for the Browns so Gordon should have a productive game.

    • Alex Peters

      Weirdly enough, Gordon’s stats aren’t that much better with Campbell throwing to him. Campbell targets Gordon 10 times a game, with an avg of 93 ypg. Weeden targets Gordon 10.3 times a game, with an avg of 132 ypg. Hoyer (small sample obviously) targeted Gordon 14 times a game with an avg of 108ypg.

      That being said, Jason Campbell is by far the “best” option for the Browns, no question.

  • Jamie

    Hey Alex. Love your writing by the way. Keeps getting better…don’t stop. Okay, so here’s the deal…about your reference to the Pats losing to the Jets. This is just a funny little thing I’ve noticed: look at the teams that Belichick used to work for, Giants, Jets, Browns. We all know how the Pats have fared against the Giants (still can barely mention the 2007-8 Superbowl with out getting weird), they seem to lose the odd game to the Jets – certainly games they should have won, and now, what about the Browns? Maybe there is nothing to this, probably not, but it makes me wonder…particularly about the Giants….