The NFL has games on Saturday this week, including a primetime matchup between the Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns, two teams clinging to slim playoff hopes. The Broncos are currently listed as 2.5-point favorites at home.
Denver was looking good to make a surprise playoff push, beating the Chargers, Steelers, and Bengals in consecutive weeks. However, that changed last week with a stunning loss to the 49ers. The Broncos now find themselves a game behind the four teams tied for the final wild-card spot in the AFC. That leaves them with no margin for error the final three weeks of the season.
The Browns are in a similar boat, as they are even further behind in the wild-card race despite winning three of their last four games. However, if they win out and get a lot of help, they may have a chance to sneak into the wild-card picture. There’s even a chance Cleveland could win the division if the Steelers continue to collapse late in the year. Of course, Step 1 for the Browns is winning in Denver Saturday night.
Keep on Running
Baker Mayfield is coming off one of the best performances of his young career against a tough Carolina defense last week. However, Cleveland’s offense is still dependent on the running game and fellow rookie Nick Chubb. When Chubb has a good game, Mayfield and the Browns usually do as well. However, when the Browns struggle to gain yards on the ground and put too much on Mayfield’s shoulders, he tends to be turnover-prone.
The good news for the Browns is that Denver’s defense has not been particularly stout against the run this season. As long as the Browns can move the ball on the ground, they can prevent Von Miller and the Denver pass rush from teeing off and causing problems. However, if the Browns put Mayfield in positions in which he has to throw the ball, the Broncos have the kind of pass rush that can cause all kinds of problems for an inexperienced quarterback.
Missing in Action
The Broncos were hurt last week by the absence of several key players. The loss of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to a season-ending has been an even more crushing blow for the Broncos. Denver’s receiving corps without Sanders is incredibly young, and it’s not as if Case Keenum is the kind of quarterback who can overcome mediocrity at the wide receiver position.
For the most part, Denver’s running game has carried the offense this season. But without Sanders on the field, the Broncos don’t have any wide receivers that opposing defenses need to respect, making it easier to focus on stopping the run. That is exactly what the San Francisco defense was able to do last week and what the Browns will attempt to replicate this week.
End of the Line
The injuries that have piled up for the Broncos over the past couple of weeks seem like too much to overcome. Last week’s loss was also a serious blow to their confidence. Meanwhile, the upstart Browns are full of confidence with their recent play. They look poised for a big road win against a vulnerable team. Bet on the Browns to at least beat the 2.5-point spread on Saturday night.