Cleveland Browns vs. Denver Broncos

In this AFC wildcard spoiler game, the Cleveland Browns will travel west to the chilly high altitude of Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver, CO to attempt to eliminate the Denver Broncos from the playoff race and continue their own unlikely post-season quest on Saturday, December 15 at 8:20 pm., broadcasted by the NFL Network.

The 5-7-1 Cleveland Browns:

Against all odds, after going winless in 2017 and switching head coaches and offensive coordinators mid season, the 5-7-1 Hard Knock hero Cleveland Browns are still mathematically in the 2018 playoff race.

Credit rookie quarterback phenom Baker Mayfield, the Browns latest number one overall draft pick, who has with confidence bordering on cockiness and throwing accuracy tending towards extraordinary given his team 2,877 passing yards, 19 touchdowns with 10 interceptions and the whisper of a possible post-season appearance.

The problem is Cleveland is just 1-5 on the road and 3-5-1 against AFC rivals, so to beat the Broncos at Mile High would take some of the same magic they found on the road beating the Cincinnati Bengals 35-20 in Week 12 for their first road win in several seasons.  

The 6-7 Denver Broncos:

After suffering a win-streak ending 20-14 loss in Week 14 to the San Francisco 49ers where the 6-7 Denver Broncos couldn’t score a point until over halfway through the third quarter, the Broncos hope to take their frustrations out on the Browns at home where the higher elevation isn’t a factor for them.

Broncos quarterback Case Keenum is having a meh season compared to last year in Minnesota, currently ranked 16th so far throwing for 3,139 yards and 15 touchdowns with 10 interceptions.

Denver is beatable at home, their Mile High record is just 3-3, and against AFC opponents, they’re 4-5, so it’s very likely that they can be upset by a revamped Browns team that seems on a quest to prove they’re now winners.

What’s at stake:

These two teams have met 28 times (including 3 postseason games), with Denver winning 23 games and Cleveland winning 5 games. The Broncos have won the last eleven matchups, the most recent one being in October of 2015, the Broncos winning 26-23 in overtime.

If the Browns win this matchup, their record will be 6-7-1 and they’ll climb closer to the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, the current leaders of the AFC North, and meanwhile Cleveland will remain ever-so-slightly yet mathematically alive in the playoff picture.

But if the Broncos come out on top, they’ll be an even 7-7 and though they’ll still be too far behind the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West, they’ll remain in the hunt for the desirable 6th seed AFC wild card spot that’s still up for grabs.

Questions to answer…

Who’s favored to win this Week 15 Browns-Broncos matchup?

Which team has a better offense? Defense? Special teams?

Which team’s quarterback is more likely to lead his team to victory?

We’re going to compare the Browns and the Broncos and attempt to answer those questions and more.

The 2018 Browns offense ranked 15th in the NFL

Coming off a Week 14 upset win over the Carolina Panthers, Mayfield and his Browns are now 3-2 since defensive coordinator Gregg Williams became interim head coach and running backs coach Freddie Kitchens became offensive coordinator after the team’s Week 8 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Mayfield has told the media he believes the team already has all the tools it needs to win consistently, including his wide receivers veteran Jarvis Landry, rookie Antonio Callaway and  Rashard ‘Hollywood’ Higgins.

Definitely add to that list gigantic soft-handed tight ends David Njoku and Darren Fells, who offer Mayfield solid ball-catching targets and consistent blocking.

Browns rushing attack 14th and rising

General manager John Dorsey’s strategy was questioned when he got rid of running backs Isaiah Crowell in the offseason and Carlos Hyde mid season, but between rookie Nick Chubb, fourth-year back Duke Johnson and rookie Dontrell Hilliard, the Browns’ rushing attack has since proven Dorsey’s plan a solid one.

Chubb, in his first NFL season, is ranked 15th among running backs while he can also catch the ball and has 160 touches for 910 yards from scrimmage with 10 touchdowns and zero fumbles.

Johnson, who was kept mysteriously limited in game plans prior to the coaching changes, now has 66 touches for 487 yards from scrimmage and 3 touchdowns.   

Cleveland offensive Injuries

Listed as questionable for Week 15: Center J.C. Tretter (ankle), tight end Orson Charles (ankle), guard Austin Corbett (foot).

Tight end Pharaoh Brown (shoulder) was just put on injured reserve.

The 2018 Broncos offense ranked 16th overall

Keenum’s squad scores 22.3 points and moves the ball 358.6 yards per game, their passing and run games both currently ranked 21st in the NFL.  

With 868 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns, wider receiver Emmanuel Sanders is ranked 20th among his receiving peers.

Wide receiver Tim Patrick had a great game against the 49ers last week, catching 7 balls for 85 yards, while DaeSean Hamilton also caught 7 but for just 47 yards and a touchdown.

Denver’s run game

Phillip Lindsay, the undrafted free agent running back, continues to carry the team on his young back.

Lindsay has 9 running touchdowns and his 967 yards on the ground is ranked 4th overall, plus he’s caught 29 balls for another 210 yards and a touchdown.

Denver offensive Injuries

Listed as questionable for Week 15: wide receiver Courtland Sutton and tight end Matt LaCosse (shoulder).

Browns Defense ranks 31st in the league

Despite creating the second most takeaways in the league with 28, the Browns defense allows opponents to move the ball 411.2 yards and score 25.5 points per game.

That’s because Cleveland’s run defense is ranked 28th, while their pass defense is 31st, though they are tied for third most interceptions (15) but tied for 23rd in total sacks with 30.    

Browns Defensive Players to watch:

Outside linebacker Jamie Collins and middle linebacker Joe Schobert are the Browns biggest tacklers, Collins with 86 and Schobert with 80.

For pure football enjoyment, just keep your eyes peeled on defensive end Myles Garrett, who’s tied for third most sacks in the league with 12.5, plus 25 quarterback hits, 3 forced fumbles and 37 tackles.

Strong safety Damarious Randall ended the Week 14 Browns win over the Panthers with a pick, and he’s tied for sixth most overall with 4 interceptions on the season.

Browns defensive injuries

Listed as questionable for Week 15: defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (biceps) and cornerbacks Phillip Gaines (knee) and Denzel Ward (concussion).

Broncos Defense is 24th overall

The Broncos defense isn’t a whole lot better than the Browns, but they do allow opponents to move the ball less (383.4 yards) and score fewer points (21.7) per game than Cleveland does.

Denver’s run defense is 19th in the league while their pass defense is only 26th overall, but they’re tied for the fifth most interceptions (14) and tied for the fourth most sacks (40).

Broncos Defensive Players to watch:

If you want to see a tackling machine, watch inside linebacker Todd Davis, who is one of only fifteen NFL players to have at least 100 tackles or more before Week 15.

If Browns quarterback Mayfield can’t get rid of the ball quickly, Broncos outside linebackers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb will have a field day, Miller already with the second most sacks in the NFL (13.5) and Chubb tied for sixth most (12.0).

The Broncos secondary isn’t safe with cornerback Chris Harris and free safety Justin Simmons both tied for 12th most interceptions in the league with 3.

Broncos Defensive Injuries adding up

Listed as questionable for Week 15: defensive end Derek Wolfe (concussion), inside linebacker Brandon Marshall (knee), defensive back Tramaine Brock (ribs), linebacker Shaquil Barrett (hip) and cornerback Isaac Yiadom (shoulder).

Listed as out for Week 15: cornerback Chris Harris (lower leg)

Special Teams Stats Comparison

Punters:

Cleveland’s punter, Britton Colquitt is in his third year and has punted 73 times (second most in the league) for a net average of 38.0 yards per punt, ranked 33rd in the league.

Denver’s rookie punter, Colby Wadman, was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster in September following an injury to Marquette King.

So far, Wadman has punted 50 times for a net average of 39.9 yards per punt, ranked 17th in the league.

Placekickers:

Cleveland’s front office hired rookie placekicker, Greg Joseph, after the Browns initial kicker missed critical field goals and extra points in the first two games.

So far, Joseph is 13-for-15, his longest was a 51-yarder. He has missed three extra point attempts (18/21).

Denver’s placekicker, Brandon McManus, in his fifth season (all with the Broncos), is 16-for-20, his longest was a 53-yarder.

McManus hasn’t missed any extra point attempts (32/32), one of only ten place kickers who have been perfect in that category.

Punt Returners:

Cleveland’s punt returner, safety Jabrill Peppers, is ranked 26th in the league.

Peppers has returned 21 kicks for 198 yards and no touchdowns, averaging 9.4 yards per return, his longest being 33 yards.

Denver’s punt returner, wide receiver River Cracraft, is ranked 65th in the league.

Cracraft has returned 8 kicks for 37 yards and no touchdowns, averaging 4.6 yards per return, his longest for 20 yards.

Browns–Broncos prediction and odds

The oddsmakers have the Broncos favored over the Browns by 3 with an over/under of 45.5.

CBSSports.com has two final score predictions:

Pete Prisco goes with the under and has it Broncos 23, Browns 17

John Breech takes the under and predicts it Browns 19, Broncos 16

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