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Cleveland Browns vs. New England Patriots: Matchups, prediction for a game with AFC playoff consequences

As we examine the matchups in this Cleveland Browns vs. New England Patriots game, what is our prediction for how it may turn out?

This Sunday’s Cleveland Browns vs. New England Patriots matchup has potentially huge AFC playoff implications, but what is our prediction for how these teams match up? Let’s go through the various matchups we will see on the field and discuss who will have the advantage when the two teams take the field.

Cleveland Browns vs. New England Patriots Predictions | Browns offense vs. Patriots defense

The Browns’ offense burst into life last week against the Cincinnati Bengals. After scoring a total of just 41 points in the previous three weeks, Cleveland put up 41 points in a single game against what was viewed as a generally solid defense.

The Patriots’ defense has some pretty statistical numbers this season. However, when you watch the tape, teams have been able to move the ball on New England at times — they have just been unable to convert in crucial moments. Will the Browns fall into the same trap, or can they have success this week?

Baker Mayfield vs. Patriots defense

It has been a mixed season for a clearly hampered Baker Mayfield. He has not had any “huge” weeks from a statistical standpoint, but he has been largely efficient with the ball. Pro Football Network’s Offensive Value Metric reinforces this, with Mayfield currently grading as the eighth-most valuable QB this season.

A lot of talk after Odell Beckham Jr.’s release was about how Mayfield would perform. He produced a solid performance without OBJ in Week 9, headlined by a handful of big plays. Mayfield was 3-for-4 with a touchdown on throws over 20 yards. He is going to need more of those types of explosive plays against the Patriots in Week 10.

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Mayfield needs to continue to take deep shots. Per Next Gen Stats, he’s been an above-average passer to all three areas of the field on passes over 20 yards. He has also generally been good on passes between 10 and 20 yards. With a good running game to lean on, Mayfield has had the time to make plays in the intermediate to long-range areas of the field.

However, he will have his work cut out this week against a tough Patriots pass defense. New England has been the second-best defense against opposing QBs, allowing just a 76.6 passer rating. They have given up just a 59.6% completion rate and have a league-leading 13 interceptions.

Advantage: Push

Browns skill position players vs. Patriots secondary

The departure of Beckham has left Jarvis Landry and Austin Hooper as the two recognizable names on the Browns’ offense. Landry is producing essentially in line with his career average in terms of yards per reception and catch rate. Hooper continues to struggle in Cleveland, as all of his numbers are down compared to his early-career production with the Falcons.

The potential difference-maker in this game is Donovan Peoples-Jones. Elevated into a starting role, Peoples-Jones played 60% of the offensive snaps last week. He was targeted just 3 times, but he made a big play on a 60-yard touchdown reception. Davis Mills and the Texans exploited this Patriots defense deep a few times in Week 5 — Peoples-Jones can be that playmaker down the field for Cleveland this week.

Cleveland needs to try to stretch the field because this Patriots secondary has played extremely well in 2021. J.C. Jackson has developed into an all-around cornerback. He is allowing completions at a rate of just 50.4% on 64 targets and has 5 interceptions to just 1 touchdown allowed. This defense is built around his skills as a corner.

Elsewhere, Devin McCourty has allowed just 7 completions on 17 targets in coverage. Adrian Phillips has kept opponents under a 60% completion rate when in coverage. Kyle Dugger has given up 3 touchdowns, but he also has 2 interceptions. At corner, Jonathan Jones has been a solid option. The weak point in the secondary has been Jalen Mills, who has given up 12.5 yards per completion and 4 touchdowns.

Advantage: Patriots

Browns offensive line vs. Patriots defensive front

If the Browns are going to win this game, it’s their offensive line that will make the difference. This group has absolutely dominated in the run game. Cleveland’s front office recognized that this week with extensions for guards Wyatt Teller and Joel Bitonio. They struggle a little more in pass protection, but if they can execute in the run game, the Browns’ front five can negate the impact of the Patriots’ front rushing the passer.

The absence of Nick Chubb is a concern. For as good as Cleveland’s line is, Chubb’s complementary element truly highlights how good they are. We saw D’Ernest Johnson have success against the Broncos when Chubb was absent, but there is no denying the run game sees a slight downtick without Chubb.

The Patriots have been mixed against the run this year. They allow just 4.1 yards per attempt, but we’ve seen teams move the ball on them on the ground this season. If the Patriots can disrupt the Browns’ running game, then they have a real chance to keep Cleveland to around 20 points.

The pass rush has been mixed for New England this season. They pressure quarterbacks at a league-average rate (24.7%) and are among the best teams in hurrying opposing QBs (13.1%). They have struggled to convert pressure into sacks at times (5.7%). However, given the way Mayfield has thrown the ball down the field this season, just hurrying him could be enough to get him off-target. The edge in this matchup is with the Browns, and this is the element the Patriots need to flip to win this game.

Advantage: Browns

Cleveland Browns at New England Patriots Predictions | Patriots offense vs. Browns defense

It feels like we know exactly what this Patriots offense is. Outside of mauling the Jets in Week 7, New England has scored between 24 and 29 points in each of the last five weeks. That feels like what we can pencil in every single week, with the outcome of the game then being decided by whether the Patriots’ defense can keep opponents under 25 points.

The Browns’ defense has shown its class in recent weeks, and no more so than in Week 9. They have allowed an average of 15 points per game over the last three weeks. However, when facing some of the NFL’s more explosive offenses, they’ve struggled.

Mac Jones vs. Cleveland Browns defense

Mac Jones has essentially been what he was expected to be as a rookie QB. For the most part, he’s been a signal-caller the Patriots can lean on to make plays when needed. As many expected, he’s been capped in terms of his ceiling, with the odd mistake thrown in here and there.

Next Gen Stats demonstrates that Jones has struggled over the middle and on passes of 20+ yards. However, on short and intermediate passes to the outside, he’s been well above league average. Passes outside the numbers can be difficult for young QBs, but the signs are there for Jones to develop into a successful passer.

This week, he will be tested against the Browns, whose defensive style is not one Jones looks equipped to exploit. They have kept passers under wraps with the fifth-best completion rate allowed (62.4%). However, Cleveland has been much closer to league average (7.2 yards per attempt) when it comes to efficiency.

If the Browns can lock down those short and intermediate routes, they can force Jones to look deep. That will test a young QB who has not excelled in those areas of the field. If Jones consistently makes deep passes and the Patriots win this game, the Browns will likely hold their hands up and accept a good performance beat them. What they cannot allow is Jones to dink and dunk them with short to intermediate outside passes.

Advantage: Browns (marginally)

Patriots skill position players vs. Browns secondary and linebackers

The performance of the Patriots receivers this year has been largely mediocre. Jakobi Meyers leads the team in targets. However, Meyers is not explosive or consistent enough to be dominant in that role. Nelson Agholor is the explosive threat but has caught just 22 of his 42 targets. Meanwhile, Kendrick Bourne is the intriguing weapon New England needs to try and utilize more (29 of 39 for 422 yards and 2 touchdowns).

From a receiving standpoint, New England’s stars have been tight end Hunter Henry and running back Brandon Bolden. Henry is catching 71.1% of his targets for 11.7 yards per reception and 5 touchdowns. Bolden has pulled in 22 of 24 for 8.6 yards per reception. He has stepped into the role of James White beautifully.

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The Patriots’ lack of outside weapons makes for an intriguing matchup for the Browns. Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome are arguably the best starting cornerback tandem in the league, and if he is healthy, Greedy Williams is a superb third option on the outside.

At safety, John Johnson has solid numbers, but on film, you can see that he has been stepping off his assignments to try and make plays. That has led to him allowing 15.1 yards per completion. Targeting him is a risk, but the potential rewards are big. Ronnie Harrison (5 TDs allowed) and Cleveland’s linebackers have also struggled in coverage. If the Patriots can get Bolden, Henry, or Jonnu Smith matched up on those safeties and linebackers, they can potentially make game-defining plays.

Advantage: Patriots

Patriots offensive line vs. Browns defensive front

The Patriots’ offensive line is a strange one to judge. In terms of yards per rush attempt, they rank in the bottom half of the league. But on film, you can see New England is able to move the ball on the ground. That is reflected by them having 120+ rushing yards in each of their last five games.

In the passing game, it’s been equally mixed. Jones has not been ducking and diving on every play, but he doesn’t have a long period of time to just stand there and make plays. Jones has negated some of those concerns with a quick release. However, his issues down the field appear to be somewhat due to him having to throw from a messy pocket and not always stepping up and driving through the throw.

Cleveland’s defensive line is going to test New England’s offensive line. They are the second-best unit in the league in stopping the run. Opponents have averaged just 3.5 yards per rush attempt and have 100 yards on the ground in only three of nine games this season.

The Browns are also the second-best unit in the league in pressure rate (28.4%). The positive for Jones is that Cleveland has struggled to convert pressure into hurries (9.6%). The problem then is that they often bring him down when they hurry the QB, as evidenced by a third-best sack rate of 8.1%. The Browns’ defensive front should have the advantage in the trenches on this side of the ball as well.

Advantage: Browns

Browns vs. Patriots betting line and game prediction

The trenches are going to be so important in this game where the Patriots are 2.5-point favorites. If the Browns hammer home the advantage they appear to have, then the Patriots could struggle on both sides of the ball. However, if New England can disrupt the Browns’ run game (while also moving the ball consistently themselves), they have a great chance to win a close one.

The range of outcomes for this game includes everything from a close Patriots victory to a dominant Browns win. Bill Belichick offers a coaching advantage that should prevent this from getting too ugly for New England, but the talent advantage is clearly with the Browns in several areas. Most importantly, Cleveland should have the upper hand in the trenches on both sides of the ball.

Browns vs. Patriots prediction: Browns 27, Patriots 24

Ben Rolfe is a Senior Managing Editor at Pro Football Network and is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can find him on Twitter @BenRolfePFN.

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