The Browns bring a decent defense and inexperienced offense to Denver, where they'll face a juggernaut Broncos team that is nearly unbeatable right now -- at home, or anywhere else.
The Broncos enter the game at 11-3, having won nine consecutive games. In that same span, the Browns actually have a winning record, going 5-4 in their last nine games after starting the season 0-5.
Meet the Broncos
What a difference a quarterback makes. In 2011, the Broncos mixed in some big-play ability with a solid defense and a great performance from its offensive line to sneak into the playoffs and steal a win from the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wildcard round. In 2012, with Peyton Manning under center, those same Broncos morphed into one of the league's most dominant teams, clinching a playoff spot weeks ago and now chasing home field advantage.
Manning has thrown for 4,016 yards and 31 touchdowns in his first season since undergoing several operational procedures on his neck. Demaryius Thomas has been the main beneficiary of the team's much-improved play at quarterback, catching 78 passes for 1,210 yards and eight TDs.
Meet the Browns
The Browns used two first round picks in the 2012 NFL Draft to attempt to revamp their offense, selecting running back Trent Richardson with the No. 3 overall pick, then claiming quarterback Brandon Weeden 19 spots later.
Richardson's selection has paid immediate dividends, as the punishing back has rushed for 897 yards and 11 touchdowns, despite gaining just 3.5 yards per attempt. Weeden has shown flashes of potential, but has struggled overall in his first season. The 29-year-old rookie has thrown more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (14), although he has already eclipsed the 3,000-yard mark with two games left to play.
Local Takes: Broncos
In evaluating the Browns' secondary, Scotty Payne from Mile High Report thinks it could challenge Denver's offense:
The Browns have a solid secondary. Joe Haden is one of the better corners in the league and veteran Sheldon Brown isn't too bad either. On the year Haden has 41 tackles and 3 INTs, and Brown has 58 tackles, 1 sack and 3 INTs. Slot corner Buster Skrine has 75 tackles. Manning may have a tough time against these guys.
Local Takes: Browns
Chris Pokorny from Dawgs By Nature gives the Broncos the advantage in most categories, making his hopes for a Browns victory very slim:
While I'm excited about the prospect of the Browns shocking the world, the injuries on defense, particularly at safety, are a major concern for me this week. I'm expecting Manning to finally snap his streak of mediocre games against Cleveland's defense, but the Browns will still make the final score appear respectable.
Follow the Fun
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
In 3 months, I have gone from being as excited about the #Browns as I have been in 15 years, to scared shitless about the future. Nuts.— Dawgs By Nature (@DawgsByNature) December 22, 2012
Been told Nick Saban has been interviewing guys for his 'Bama DB coach opening, not future #Browns assistants b/c he's not leaving Alabama.— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) December 22, 2012
The Broncos shouldn't have much of a problem getting past the Browns on Sunday. Cleveland does some things well, and as stated above, is a winning football team over the past two months. Still, it will take an elite-level team to beat Denver at home, and that's far from what the Browns are.
The pick: 34-17, Broncos
The Broncos are 11½-point favorites over the Browns on Sunday, according to OddsShark.com.
The Broncos close out the season at home on Dec. 30 against the woeful Kansas City Chiefs. That same day, the Browns hit the road again for a season-ending game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.