The 11-3 Denver Broncos have won nine straight games, and they’re coming off of an impressive first-ever win in Baltimore. In fact, the Broncos are going after their third double digit winning streak in franchise history as they take on the 5-9 Cleveland Browns in week 16. The Browns lost their first five games of the season, but they’ve swept the AFC West up to this point, and they’ve beat the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals. The Broncos own an 18-15 advantage over the Browns all-time including a 9-3 record at home. The Browns have only had two winning seasons in the past 14 years. They are the youngest team in the league with 17 rookies on the active roster. Kickoff is set for 2:05 p.m. MST on CBS with Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts calling the game.
Broncos: The Broncos are finding balance on the offensive side of the ball with backup running back Knowshon Moreno. Moreno was named the AFC offensive player of the week after rushing for 118 yards on 22 carries and one touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens. Moreno has been following his blockers, and he’s being patient in making his cuts up field. That will go a long way against the Browns who are better at stopping the run than they are the pass. Protecting Peyton Manning once again is task No. 1. The Browns are 10th in sacks with 36 on the year. Guard Chris Kuper is being held out again with an ankle injury. Look for Manning to have well over 300 yards against this 24th ranked pass defense. The Browns gave up 329 yards and two touchdowns to rookie Kirk Cousins last week.
Browns: The Browns’ one-two punch in the passing game and in the running game are led by two rookies. Brandon Weeden has the 3rd most interceptions this season with 17 picks. His 14 touchdowns on the year haven’s cut it either. Running back Trent Richardson is only putting up 64.1 yards per game, but he has 11 rushing touchdowns this season. Josh Gordon is the team’s leading receiver with 54.2 yards per game. The Browns struggle the most on 3rd down and in the red zone. Just 31.1% of their plays on third down bring them a new set of downs which is 30th in the league. They’re also 30th in the red zone, getting touchdowns just 41.7% of the time.
Broncos: With good pressure, turnovers will come against this young Browns’ team. First, the key is stopping Richardson in the run game. The Broncos have done a great job of that this season as evidenced by their No. 2 ranked run defense. The team is 8th against the pass, and they’re allowing 19.6 points per game. As long as the defense doesn’t let up, this is a Browns offense that is outmatched in all areas of the field. This game will be good practice for a defense that’s looking to put together a complete 60-minute game. Last week, the Broncos held the Ravens to 3 points up until the 4th quarter. Then they gave up a 31-yard touchdown and a 61-yard touchdown to tight end Dennis Pitta.
Browns: The Broncos’ coaching staff has praised the Browns defense plenty this week. They’re physical and aggressive, and right now, they’ve got nothing to lose. They’re giving up 22.1 points per game, they have the same number of interceptions as the Broncos (16), and they’ve forced 23 fumbles (12 recovered). D’Qwell Jackson is a tackling machine with 106 this season, and Juqua Parker leads the team in sacks with 6. Sheldon Brown and Joe Haden each have 3 picks. If the Broncos are careless, this is the kind of defense that will create turnovers.
Broncos: There have been highs and there have been lows for this special teams’ unit in recent weeks. We know that kicker Matt Prater and punter Britton Colquitt are solid tacklers, but that points to coverage issues. Prater missed another field goal last week in garbage time from 45 yards out.
Browns: Like Jacoby Jones last week, Josh Cribbs has some jets in the return game. He’s averaging 27.6 yards per kick return, and has a long of 74 yards this year. He also has a long of 60 yards in the punt return game. Prater absolutely needs to boot it out of the end zone every time this week. Kicker Phil Dawson has only missed one field goal this year.
Broncos: John Fox and Co. have worked wonders with the players they have on the roster. When one goes down due to injury, the back up steps up in a big way. Look at Dan Koppen, Keith Brooking, and Knowshon Moreno stepping in for J.D. Walton, Joe Mays, and Willis McGahee, respectively. It’s a testament to the way the Broncos practice and prepare players during the week.
Browns: Pat Shurmur is the Browns’ 6th head coach since 1999, and he’s trying to win with youth on his side. He’s basically a glorified college coach this season, but with the talent that this team has, the Browns could finally be on their way up in the near future.
Prediction: Broncos – 30 Browns- 14