By Tony Grossi
What: Browns (5-9) vs. Denver Broncos (11-3), 4:05 p.m., in Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, CO.
TV: WOIO-TV 19 with Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts.
The set-up: The league’s hottest team with nine wins in a row needs to keep winning to lock up a first-round playoff bye, which every team covets. The Broncos are one of two teams (Houston is the other) ranked in the top 10 in offense and defense. After a home meltdown against the Redskins, the Browns are trying to avoid double digit losses for the ninth time in the past 10 seasons.
Series history: Broncos lead, 21-5, counting postseason.
Historical footnote: The Browns’ last win against the Broncos came in Denver on a Monday night in 1990. It was especially memorable to me. Here’s what happened: Amid almost daily reports of coach Bud Carson’s imminent demise, I filed a story before the game reporting that owner Art Modell had spoken to offensive coordinator Jim Shofner about taking over the team if Carson were fired. I reported, per a source, that Modell probably would make a final decision on Carson during the team’s bye, which was five weeks away. I was instructed by an editor to try to get a comment from Modell. I did not get that done. Unbeknownst to me, the editor inserted in the story, “Efforts to reach Modell were unsuccessful.” That line discredited the whole story. The Browns beat John Elway for the first time after three heartbreak losses in AFC Championship Games on a field goal as time expired, 30-29. When I returned from Denver, the Browns already had complained to PD editors. The PD removed me as Browns beat writer. Five weeks later, during the team’s bye, Modell fired Carson and replaced him with Shofner – just as I reported.
Broncos update: Everything on offense revolves around QB Peyton Manning, who helps with the game plan during the week and acts like a coach on the field. Manning’s amazing comeback season – his first year in 14 with a team other than Indianapolis, after sitting out the 2011 season because of three neck surgeries – has the Broncos poised for a run at the Super Bowl. Some believe this a stronger overall team than Manning’s Colts Super Bowl championship team in 2006. It may also be stronger than any of Denver’s six Super Bowl teams (two wins) because of its defense. The Broncos’ 42 sacks are second in the league to Cincinnati’s 43. The Broncos have an amazing scoring differential of plus-133 in the second half. The only team that has outscored them in the second half was San Diego on Nov. 18, 16-13.
Browns update: After three weeks of rare good health, they are down three key players in their secondary – SS T.J. Ward (out for the year), FS Tashaun Gipson (out) and CB Dimitri Patterson (waived). Also, LB James-Michael Johnson (out for year). Manning bases his play-calls and audibles at the line of scrimmage by examining the safeties. That makes Usama Young and Eric Hagg key players in this game. Because Manning’s no-huddle approach usually utilizes three wide receivers, the Browns will be in a two-linebacker mode much of the game. Those two LBs will be D’Qwell Jackson and Craig Robertson. Offensively, QB Brandon Weeden is trying to stave off rumors of his demise after a coaching shake-up. Weeden needs to put together outstanding performances in his final two games to restore front office confidence in him. Also, rookie RB Trent Richardson needs 103 yards to reach 1,000 on the season.
Injury report: Browns – TE Jordan Cameron (concussion), FS Tashaun Gipson (foot) and WR Mohamed Massaquoi (knee) are out; DT Ishmaa’ily Kitchen (calf), DE Frostee Rucker (shoulder, hip) and TE Alex Smith (illness, knee) are questionable. Broncos – OG Chris Kuper (ankle) is doubtful; FB Chris Gronkowski (ankle) is questionable.
Our take: On paper, this looks like a rout. But every time you think the Browns will get blown out, they hunker down and make a game of it. Manning is 5-0 against the Browns, but has never lit it up on them.
Prediction: Broncos, 24-9.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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