FOXBOROUGH – So is it or isn’t it a trap game?
The Patriots (9-3) host the Browns (4-8) with playoff implications on the line — for the Patriots, of course — and a game atmosphere reminiscent of a Week 4 preseason matchup.
The health and status of the team’s players afterward may be the only outcome that will actually matter.
So whether or not the Patriots play up — or down — to the Browns is quite possibly irrelevant in the grand scheme of the season. But given this team’s attitude toward preparation and Bill Belichick’s emphasis on mental resilience, we can expect a full throttle effort Sunday.
Here’s what we’ll be watching in today’s game:
1. Stevan Ridley — Stevan Ridley is active and will play today’s game. So now that we know that, what we’ll be watching for is how many touches the talented but fumble-prone running back gets Sunday.
2. Josh Gordon — The Cleveland wide receiver has had a couple of epic performances this season, including his 10 receptions for 261 yards and two touchdowns last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. More than likely, he’ll get to face Patriots corner Aqib Talib, who has had his fair share of matchups with the league’s elite wide receivers and has won more battles than he has lost. Hopefully, there will be fireworks.
3. Dolphins-Steelers and Ravens-Vikings — Because of the playoff implications, we’re going to keep a side screen up and follow updates in the Miami Dolphins game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. If the Dolphins lose or tie against the Steelers, the Patriots will clinch the AFC East with win today. The Patriots can also clinch a playoff spot if the Baltimore Ravens lose or tie against the Minnesota Vikings. In the latter scenario, a fifth straight AFC East title would have to wait.
4. How will Jason Campbell look? — The Browns quarterback is 0-2 all-time against the Patriots, and despite some down years in Oakland, has always been a solid player. Against the Patriots in those two games, he was 46 of 75 passing for 541 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions. He has the ability to make quality throws around the field and with the Patriots secondary nicked up, he has an opportunity to shine once again.
5. The Patriots run defense — The team’s run defense has been atrocious, partly because recent opponents have dictated a more passing centric defensive scheme. But when you’re 31st overall in yards allowed per game (138.2), it’s time to start putting the breaks on an obvious weakness. Today, we’ll see if the Patriots are interested in this particular area of improvement against a Browns team that manages only 82.3 yards on the ground per game.