The Browns will host the Kansas City Chiefs as a host of familiar faces return to Cleveland Browns Stadium with plenty of reasons to play hard.
The Chiefs and Browns may be at the bottom of the NFL, but both enter Week 14 off victories that snapped lengthy losing streaks. Kansas City, just one day after the murder-suicide tragedy involving Jovan Belcher, beat the Panthers for their first home win of the season. And the Browns held on to beat the Raiders and snap a 12-game road losing streak that dated back to Week 2 of the 2011 season.
There are certainly plenty of storylines entering Sunday, as a slew of former Browns players and coaches will make the return trip to Cleveland Browns Stadium. Former head coach Romeo Crennel had an up-and-down tenure in Cleveland while offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was constantly under fire in that same role on Eric Mangini's staff. Peyton Hillis spent then entire 2011 season with the Browns embroiled in one controversy after another. And then there's former No. 1 pick Brady Quinn -- the Ohio native and one-time savior of the franchise who never made an impact as the team's starting quarterback. So while this game may not be a marquee matchup on the national stage, both sides will have plenty to play for on the shore of Lake Erie.
Meet the Browns
After starting the season 0-5, the young Browns went 4-3 over their next seven games. Pat Shurmur's club has been in every game but one, and their 4-8 record probably doesn't reflect how competitive they have been this season. The Browns are 3-3 at home, and enter the week looking for their third straight win as favorites against a 2-10 Chiefs team that many feel is the worst in the NFL.
The Browns are led on offense by rookies at the quarterback, running back and wide receiver position. Much of the hype and publicity was directed at first round picks Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden, but it's supplemental pick Josh Gordon who may be having the most productive season. Gordon had his first 100-yard day receiving last week, torching the Raiders for six catches, 116 yards, and a touchdown. He's emerged as the Browns best deep threat, hauling in five touchdowns so far in his rookie year. Some bad weather and two AFC North slugfests resulted in a mid-season drought for Gordon, but his big day in Oakland should have the Chiefs worried on the outside.
Richardson is getting plenty of opportunities out of the backfield in the second half of the season. Week 13 marked the fifth straight game where he got at least 20 carries, but the rookie is averaging just 3.6 yards per rush. He maintains that he is still not fully healthy, but don't expect the Browns to go away from him much against the Chiefs. They'll try to establish the run at home in some potentially ugly conditions, setting up the play-action for Weeden.
Weeden continues to break franchise rookie records through the air, throwing for a career-high 364 yards last week. But he's also been fairly shaky with the ball over the past five weeks, forcing it into tight spaces in the middle of the field and throwing interceptions with a higher frequency. He threw two picks early against the Raiders, and the Browns made an effort to keep the ball out of the middle of the field. But Weeden is still certainly an upgrade over what the team has had at the position in the past, and he seems to be staking his claim as the quarterback of the (near) future.
Despite the young offensive players' improvement, the strength of this Browns team is on the defensive side of the ball. In Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor, who are both now healthy, the Browns have a fearsome two-headed monster on the interior of their defensive line. Teams have struggled to get anything going on the ground against their impressive front-seven rotation -- a young group with a veteran leader and one of the league's best in D'Qwell Jackson.
The one weakness has been in the secondary, opposite Joe Haden. But even Sheldon Brown stepped up last week and can hold his own. Quinn will have to at least challenge the Browns down the field if the Chiefs are to have success moving the ball.
Meet the Chiefs
The Chiefs picked up their second win of the season amid unthinkable circumstances, playing a little more than 24 hours after Belcher murdered his girlfriend and took his own life at the team's facilities. Crennel said the team voted to play the game as scheduled, and after a moment of silence for victims of domestic abuse, the Chiefs took the field and went back to work.
Kansas City is a fairly one-dimensional team on the offensive side of the ball, riding Jamaal Charles and Hillis on the ground. This will be Quinn's third straight start as the quarterback has rotated with Matt Cassel for much of the season due to injuries and ineffective play. Quinn held his own against the Panthers last week, throwing for more than 200 yards and two touchdowns in the win. A Columbus native and Browns fan growing up, his time in Cleveland was not exactly marked by success, as he was yanked around in a QB controversy with Derek Anderson and failed to live up to expectations when he did get the call. He has some weapons as pass catchers, and he'll need to connect with Dwayne Bowe, Tony Moeaki, and Jonathan Baldwin in order for the Chiefs to pull off the upset.
But while Quinn's work against the Panthers was enough to earn him AFC Offensive Player of the Week, Kansas City is unquestionably a running team. They're fifth in the league with 146.7 yards per game, and Charles does much of the heavy lifting. The shifty back from Texas is already over 1,000 yards on the season, and that includes a couple games where he no-showed because of injury. It's been a nice rebound season for Charles, who is over 1,000 yards for the third time in his career. He has the ability to break off the big run every time he touches the ball, and against Cleveland's run defense, he'll need to work for running room.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Chiefs are near the bottom of the league in rush defense, allowing more than 129 yards per game on the ground. They can expect a heavy dose of Richardson and stopping him early will be crucial. Weeden does force it, and the Chiefs have held their own against the pass. Creating a couple turnovers would go a long way toward pulling off the road upset. Tamba Hali and Justin Houston will come off the edge and try to harass Weeden and force him to unload it sooner than he wants. The Chiefs lead the league with 32 turnovers, but Weeden will certainly create the opportunities for the defense to get some takeaways.
Local Takes: Browns
The big story that unfolded over the course of the week was the war of words between Joe Thomas and Peyton Hillis, and Chris Pokorny of Dawgs By Nature weighed in on the contretemps:
I know a player typically shouldn't be expected to take criticism without receiving the opportunity to deliver a jab of their own, but in this case, the best response for Hillis would have been something like, "There were some unfortunate circumstances with how things ended in Cleveland, but I've moved on to doing all I can for the Chiefs." Instead, he, in essence, proved the point Thomas was trying to make: Hillis never listened to the guidance players were trying to give him. It cost him in Cleveland, and when you think about it, it might have cost him in his original stay in Denver. If he's not careful, it'll cost him in Kansas City too.
Local Takes: Chiefs
Quinn is coming off that Player of the Week performance, but what is his future in Kansas City? Joel Thorman of Arrowhead Pride examines:
The only way I can see Quinn remaining with the Chiefs next season is if Romeo Crennel remains in town. A new regime always wants their new quarterback. They will have no loyalty to Brady Quinn.
Is it that far-fetched to have the Chiefs quarterback depth chart moving into next season show Brady Quinn and a first round pick? It may not be likely -- that would mean Quinn playing well over the next month, which past history tells us he will not do -- but I can envision the scenario where that happens.
Follow the Fun
So I saw this Chiefs GM rumor ... how about Bill Polian? sbn.to/TPtBY2— Arrowhead Pride (@ArrowheadPride) December 7, 2012
@NateUlrichABJ - Browns beat reporter
@AdamTeicher - Chiefs beat reporter
Here's story on Hillis and Thomas: bit.ly/TKhHkn. Too bad they won't be on field at same time. Maybe one of them will find a way— Adam Teicher (@adamteicher) December 6, 2012
From the Week 14 picks:
The Chiefs and Browns both had tragedy strike their franchises this weekend, so emotions will be running high. The Chiefs, despite playing well last week, have proven they're one of the worst teams in the NFL. The Browns are actually looking up, winners of three of their last five, which includes an overtime loss to Dallas.
The pick: 17-13, Browns
The 4-8 Browns opened as 4.5-point favorites, and according to OddShark, that has shot up to a full touchdown in many places.