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Five things to watch — the Festivus edition

DENVER – It’s Dec. 23. Most of your calendars say today isn’t a holiday; contrarians among us insist that it is, because today is Festivus.

As Frank Costanza noted in the 1997 Seinfeld episode “The Strike,” there are a handful of tenets to this non-holiday holiday, all of which could be in play Sunday when streaking Broncos — nine wins and counting — face the 5-9 Cleveland Browns at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

THE MEAL

The centerpiece of the occasion, from which miracles and feats and grievances flow.

The Broncos would like nothing more than to devour — metaphorically speaking, at least — Browns running back Trent Richardson. Linebacker Wesley Woodyard said that stopping Richardson was the top priority for the Broncos’ front seven, and with good reason: Richardson alone has accepted for 41.4 percent of the Browns’ touchdowns this year (12 of 29); only Houston’s Arian Foster (16 touchdowns of the Texans’ 43) has scored more than a third of his team’s touchdowns.

Since Oct. 28, the Browns are 4-1 when Richardson scores, and 0-2 when he doesn’t. Stop him, and you stop the Browns.

THE POLE

“There’s a pole. It requires no decoration. I find tinsel distracting … It’s made from aluminum. Very high strength-to-weight ratio.”

The left side of Denver’s offensive line appears to have the same quality to it in pass blocking. According to Stats, Inc., left tackle Ryan Clady has allowed just one sack for eight yards, while left guard Zane Beadles has permitted just one sack for five yards. Clady allowed nine scacks last year, while Beadles gave up five.

Some of their massive improvement in 2012 is due to having a quarterback who gets the football out faster, but as much credit is due to their increased chemistry.

“I think I’ve had a great year, and I’m still continuing, trying to get better every single day, but I’ve been happy with my play so far and I want to keep it going,” Beadles said. “(It’s my) third year in the league, I’m getting more comfortable with how the game is played in the NFL, playing with the same guys for multiple years now is huge, and just getting more and more comfortable in the system. All those things combined definitely help.”

However, the right side remains a trouble spot, especially in game where Manny Ramirez starts at right guard. The Broncos have allowed one sack every 82.5 pass plays with Kuper in the lineup, that ratio is one every 19.4 pass plays with Ramirez there, including a sack at his expense last week. Ramirez been solid as a run blocker, but teams have attacked him when he’s played will likely continue to do so.

THE AIRING OF GRIEVANCES

“The tradition of Festivus begins with the airing of grievances. I got a lot of problems with you people! And now you’re gonna hear about it!”

Unless fans boo the offense for a third-and-16 audible into a Lance Ball handoff — as happened at the last home game — this part of Festivus will take the year off. But it’s happened before — just look at the booing of the last days of the Kyle Orton era, or the massive discontent and unannounced no-show count at the last home game of the Josh McDaniels era in 2010.

Someday, there’ll again be grievances for fans to air at Mile High. But only the most persnickety of Broncos fans could have any objection to how this year has transpired.

THE FEATS OF STRENGTH

“Until you pin me, George, Festivus is not over!”

If either Elvis Dumervil or Von Miller beats Browns left tackle Joe Thomas for a sack, that will qualify. Thomas appears destined for yet another Pro Bowl; he’s allowed just 3.5 sacks this season as the Browns have the 10th-best sack rate against them in the league.

Rookie right tackle Mitchell Schwartz might be picked on, but he’s been solid at protecting Weeden; he’s allowed just one more sack than Thomas. However, the 1-2 punch of Dumervil and Miller presents a greater challenge than Schwartz has faced, and the Broncos will likely try to exploit him and take a stalemate against Thomas.

THE FESTIVUS MIRACLE

ELAINE: “What are you doing here?”

BOOKIE: “Damnedest thing … me and Charlie were calling to ask you out, and, uh, we got this bagel place.”

KRAMER: “I told them I was just about to see you. It’s a Festivus miracle!”

There are two possibilities for a miracle:

1. The Broncos win and the Texans and Patriots both lose to the Vikings and Jaguars, respectively, which would clinch a bye week for the Broncos and keep them alive for the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

2. The Browns win as a 13-point underdog. Since 1993, playoff-bound teams at home favored by non-playoff teams in the last three weeks of the regular season are 33-5, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com. Of course, one of the five losses belonged to the Broncos — who fell 17-10 to Tampa Bay on Dec. 26, 1993 as a 13.5-point favorite.

If neither transpires, tiny miracles like the surprise appearance of a girlfriend and unwanted advances from unwashed OTB tellers will have to do for Frank Costanza’s rejection of “all the commercial and religious aspects of Christmas.”

PREDICTION: Broncos 31, Browns 13.

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