The Cleveland Browns have clawed their way out of the NFL’s basement. Currently at 5-7-1, rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield has led the Dawg Pound out of the league’s basement and into playoff contention. Even with a foggy path, the Browns haven’t been eliminated from post-season contention just yet. They need some help from around the AFC, but January football is a possibility for Cleveland.
On the flip side, we have the Denver Broncos. Sitting at 6-7, Denver is coming off of a crushing 20-14 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Case Keenum hasn’t been what the Broncos were hoping for when they signed him, but the Broncos’ dominant defense has returned to form through this season. Steadily holding third place in perhaps the best division in football is impressive, but the Broncos need a push to have a chance in the playoffs.
The most important matchup here for the Browns is the offensive line and Baker Mayfield against the Broncos’ front seven. No. 5 overall pick Bradley Chubb is doing pretty well for himself since being drafted by Denver, and his 12.5 sacks on the year are a potent weapon for the Broncos. 29-year old pass-rusher Von Miller is still in the prime of his career, with 13.5 sacks and an interception on the season.
Cleveland’s offensive line will have a tough task ahead of them, especially on the road. Denver’s defense and home-field advantage are no joke, and at that altitude, they might cause problems for Cleveland. But, if there’s one offensive line that can fend off such a vaunted pass rush, it’s the Browns.
Baker Mayfield has only been hit four times since Freddie Kitchens took over as offensive coordinator. He has only been sacked once in the past month, at the hands of Carolina Pantherscornerback Captain Munnerlyn. The Browns have kept Mayfield’s jersey clean, and that’s in large part to coaching.
Flipping over to the other side, the Broncos will have to rely on rookie sensation Philip Lindsay to keep the ball moving this week. The Browns’ run defense is a bit worse than it was in 2017, but their secondary has been locking things down this season. Denzel Ward is a stud, Jabrill Peppers is coming into his own, and Damarious Randall has been everything Cleveland needed at free safety.
This will only be amplified by Denver’s injury-riddled receiving corps. Courtland Sutton is nursing a quadricep injury, and tight end Matt LaCosse is nursing a shoulder injury. Not to mention, they sold Demaryius Thomas off to Houston at the trade deadline. The Browns can hope to lock down Denver’s air game this week, and hopefully key in on Lindsay.
The Browns and Broncos are two desperate squads vying for a playoff spot, likely an AFC Wild Card berth. This game will probably be a knock-down, drag-out defensive affair. Despite the rising stardom of Baker Mayfield, the Denver defense may overwhelm him in Week 15. However, Mayfield has proved many doubters wrong before, and I’m personally inclined to never bet against him.
Final Score: Cleveland 17, Denver 14