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Thanks to a 28-18 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, the New England Patriots (6-1) own the best record in the NFL heading into their game with the Cleveland Browns (2-5) this Sunday.
At first glance, this looks like an easy matchup for the Patriots. The Browns are currently tied for last place in the AFC North division, and will likely start rookie Colt McCoy at quarterback for the third straight week.
The Patriots meanwhile, travel to Cleveland riding a five-game winning streak, and are currently in first place in the AFC East.
So beating the Browns should be a piece of cake, right?
The Browns’ record is a bit deceiving. They lost their first three games this season by a combined 12 points. In their last game, they defeated the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints 30-17, and have had a chance to rest up for the Pats coming off a bye in Week 8.
It will be tempting for Patriots’ players to look ahead to their Sunday night matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 10, but they can’t underestimate a very physical and determined Browns team.
The Patriots must make sure they minimize the number of mistakes they make this Sunday, and not turning the ball over must be priority number one for Tom Brady and the offense.
If they take care of the football, and don’t commit stupid penalties, there is a very good chance the Patriots will improve to 7-1. But If Brady has an interception returned for a touchdown, or BenJarvus Green-Ellis fumbles in the red zone, it will allow the Browns to hang around, and put the Patriots’ backs against the wall in a hostile environment.
The Browns intercepted Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees four times in Week 7, returning two of them for touchdowns. Browns rookie quarterback Colt McCoy passed for just 74 yards in that game, but the turnovers allowed Cleveland to escape with an upset win.
After holding Adrian Peterson under 100 yards last Sunday, the Patriots will face another beastly running back in Peyton Hillis.
Hillis may not be as explosive as Peterson, but he is extremely powerful and has made a habit of putting defenders on their back. The Browns’ running back, listed at 6-1, 240 lbs., has rushed for 460 yards and five touchdowns this season. He also has 27 receptions for 193 yards.
With the rookie McCoy likely starting at quarterback, the Patriots will surely get a heavy dose of the bruising Hillis.
Safeties Patrick Chung and Brandon Meriweather, and linebackers Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes, must make fundamentally sound tackles on Hillis to minimize the yards he gains after contact. He currently averages almost six yards after contact per reception.
If the Pats defense can keep Hillis under 100 yards, they will be in a good shape.