The Broncos season is in danger of being flushed down the drain as they head north to Cleveland for a Thursday Night Football matchup.
What can the Broncos do to pull the upset, and what can the Browns do to salvage their own season? Let’s take a look.
How can the Broncos win?
The team actually shows up: This Broncos team isn’t one of the five or so least talented teams in the NFL, but they have certainly looked like it the past two weeks.
They weren’t even competitive with the deeply flawed Steelers until the final 10 minutes of the game, only to watch the Steelers turn around and struggle mightily with a bad Seahawks team down Russell Wilson. The Broncos then flew back to Denver to face the coach-less Raiders, only to get embarrassed once again.
The talent disparity between the Broncos and teams like the Steelers and Raiders isn’t nearly as stark as those games made it appear.
We can see evidence of this in the first three weeks.
If the Broncos were to play like they have these last three weeks against the Giants, Jets or Jags, they might not win those games. They certainly wouldn’t be winning them by multiple possessions on the road, or force a shutout at home.
This is a different team from the one we saw at the start of the season. This is a team that has quit on its coaching staff.
Now, once that toothpaste is out of the tube, it seems rather unfixable. It’s hard to see this team suddenly gaining faith in Fangio and Co. after getting owned by Rich Bisacchia at home. However if this team can somehow rally, much like we saw the Raiders do this past week, the Browns are an extremely vulnerable team down numerous key contributors, and the Broncos could maybe escape with the win.
How can the Browns win?
Force the Broncos to pick their poison: At first glance, this Browns offense seems easy to neutralize.
Baker Mayfield is out, which means Case Keenum is starting at quarterback, and star running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are out, meaning D’Ernest Johnson is starting in the backfield.
However, considering how the Broncos have been playing lately, and their own injuries, one shouldn’t be quick to leap to that assumption.
Over the past three weeks, the Broncos have become one of the easiest teams in football to attack through the air. They rank 32nd in the NFL in expected points added per dropback allowed, and 31st in explosive-passing rate surrendered. In other words, they’re allowing opposing passing attacks to tear them apart on a down-by-down basis and with outlying explosive plays.
That’s a recipe for disaster, and if the Broncos continue to play like that, even Case Keenum should have success. Let’s not forget what that defense made Ben Roethlisberger look like.
The Browns should also be able to run the ball despite being down Chubb and Hunt.
The Broncos will be without both Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson, who play an integral role in the team’s ability to defend the run. Since Jewell left the lineup, the Broncos’ run defense has taken a step back, but losing Johnson could serve as the Jenga block that topples the tower.
Justin Strnad has shown a lot of promise this season, but an elite run defender he is not. Inserting special teamer Micah Kiser next to him doesn’t add much confidence as far as run defense is concerned.
If the Browns are able to efficiently pick up yardage through the air and on the ground, the Broncos won’t stand a chance in this one.
Final Thoughts and Score Prediction
The Broncos have the talent to beat this severely injured Browns squad. However they also had the talent to beat the Raiders and Steelers, and then they were thoroughly embarrassed by those two opponents.
Frankly, it looks like the roster has quit on the coaching staff, and it’s very unlikely that turns around this week.
When a team has quit like the Broncos have appeared too, it become a tall task to beat the Jaguars or Lions, let alone the Browns on a short week, on the road.
Browns win 24-13