With three games remaining in the regular season, an upset loss could knock a team out of the playoffs. The Bears will attempt to avoid that this week when they travel to Cleveland to take on the Browns.
Chicago is currently tied for the NFC North lead with a road game against Philadelphia and a home game against Green Bay still on the schedule. Considering the race could come down to tiebreakers, the Bears can't avoid any setbacks, especially in what is perceived to be their easiest remaining game.
The Browns are just 4-9 on the season and have lost seven of their last eight games, but that doesn't mean they are a pushover. Cleveland nearly went on the road and knocked off New England last week. The Browns led 26-14 late in the game, but allowed two touchdowns in the final 61 seconds to lose, 27-26. Four of their nine losses have been by one possession.
Meet the Browns
Not much has gone right for the Browns this season, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Cleveland has the No. 27 offense based on Football Outsiders' DVOA measurement. Jason Campbell has been an upgrade over Brandon Weeden recently, but the Browns still struggle to throw the ball. The rushing attack hasn't been much better. Cleveland is averaging 3.8 yards per carry this season, the sixth-worst in the NFL.
In terms of just yards per game, the Browns are No. 7 in the NFL on defense. That hasn't equated to the scoreboard, however, where the Browns are No. 19 in points allowed. The Browns don't fare very well in the advanced metrics either, checking in at No. 23 in defensive DVOA. Cleveland has allowed at least 27 points in each of its last four games.
Meet the Bears
Chicago is coming off possibly its best game of the season, a 45-28 dismantling of the Cowboys. For years the Bears have been known as a defensive team, but that isn't the case this season. The offense has been among the best in the league at times and is No. 5 in DVOA. Whether it's Jay Cutler or Josh McCown at quarterback, teams have struggled to slow down the Bears. Alshon Jeffery is having a breakout sophomore season and pairing him with Brandon Marshall makes the Bears one of the harder teams to matchup with in the secondary.
The defense has had its issues this season and ranks 19th in DVOA. The biggest issues are against the run where the Bears are 31st in run defense DVOA and allow a NFL-worst 5.2 yards per carry. If there is a bright side for the Bears, the offense has proven the ability to win shootouts. Also, if Chicago can build a lead, like it did against Dallas, opposing teams run less.
Local Takes: Cleveland
The Browns' offense has been better recently, but the rushing attack is still an issue as Zach Miller of Dawgs By Nature wrote:
Subtracting the Gordon rush, and Campbell's rushes, the Browns running backs posted the following numbers Sunday: 22 carries for 47 yards (2.1 YPC) and no touchdowns. This was against a Patriots defense that has been decimated by injuries, so the rushing attack continues to be a concern.
Local Takes: Chicago
With how well McCown has played, there is a quarterback controversy brewing in Chicago. Lester Wiltfong Jr. of Windy City Gridiron weighed in:
McCown has been great, but who's to say that he wouldn't have had some growing pains had he been starting from week 1? It's not as though Cutler was terrible when he was starting early in the season, he had some very good moments while the team was feeling their way into the new system. And who's to say that Cutler wouldn't have been the benefit of the system's growth had he been starting these last few weeks?
If you believe in Trestman's system, then you should believe he'll start the better player at quarterback on Sunday. Whoever that is.
Follow the Fun
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
ESPN graphic: #Cowboys are 5-20 against teams .500 or above since 2011.— Dane Noble (@WindyCGridiron) December 10, 2013
@MaryKayCabot -- Browns writer
@BradBiggs -- Bears beat writer
With 3 games remaining, #Bears on pace to allow 2,512 yards rushing. Franchise record is 2,509 in 1973 (14-game season!)— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) December 11, 2013
None of the books are giving odds here because nobody knows if Marc Trestman is going to start Jay Cutler or Josh McCown. Marc Trestman is using his IQ to mess with the rubes, probably. Don't bet on this game. Well, bet the Bears to win straight up, but let's see what kind of spread they end up giving this one.
The pick: delayed
Despite the difference in record, the Browns opened as a 2.5-point favorite according to OddsShark.com.