FOXBORO, Mass. — Mixed between a half-dozen high-profile games against some of the best teams in the NFL, the Patriots (6-1) head to Cleveland this weekend for an under-the-radar matchup with the Browns (2-5).
Yet, this isn’t a game for the Patriots to scoff at, and they’ll have to play well to beat this pesky Cleveland team, led by former Patriots defensive coordinator, head coach Eric Mangini.
The Patriots are 9-12 all-time against the Browns, including an 0-1 record in the postseason. Yet, the Patriots have won the last four meetings against the Browns, and six of the last seven. The Patriots are 4-7 all-time in Cleveland, including a 2-1 mark at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Browns’ playoff victory occurred Jan. 1, 1995, when Bill Belichick was the Browns head coach.
Tom Brady hasn’t always looked completely sharp this season, but Sunday’s game could give him an opportunity to break out. Cleveland’s secondary has some question marks, particularly with struggling cornerback Eric Wright, and the Browns are ranked 26th in passing defense and have 13 sacks (the same total as the Patriots).
Brady should have some time to work in the pocket, and it could turn into a good exercise for the passing attack, which is still a work in progress while trying to mix in the new faces.
Quarterback Tom Brady is 4-0 against the Browns, and he has completed 72-of-119 passes (60.5 percent) for 899 yards, four touchdowns and one interception in those games.
The Patriots are 53-30 in road games since the start of the 2000 season, which is the third-best road record in the NFL, behind Indianapolis (57-27) and Philadelphia (54-29-1), in that span.
Linebacker Jerod Mayo is the first Patriots player since Tedy Bruschi in 2003 to record four consecutive games with at least 10 tackles. Mayo has racked up 65 tackles over that stretch, an average of 16.3 stops per game. Mayo, who has 94 total tackles this season, is on pace for 215 this season.
Wide receiver Deion Branch has 14 receptions for 158 yards and one touchdown in three games with the Patriots. For the sake of comparison, Randy Moss had nine receptions for 139 yards and three touchdowns in four games with the Patriots, and he had 13 catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns in four games with the Vikings.
Defensive lineman Mike Wright has recorded a sack in four consecutive games. The last Patriot to do that was linebacker Rosevelt Colvin in 2005. Colvin registered a half sack in the fifth game to extend the streak.
Rookie quarterback Colt McCoy has a 1-1 record in two career starts — against the Steelers and Saints — and he has completed 32-of-49 passes (65.3 percent) for 355 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Running back Peyton Hillis is the first Browns running back since 1985 to score a touchdown in five consecutive games. Hillis leads the team with 460 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns, and he is second on the team with 27 receptions.
Tight end Ben Watson leads the Browns with 30 receptions, 336 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns. He has caught at least three passes in six of Cleveland’s seven games.
Earlier this season, the Browns and Eagles exchanged running backs Jerome Harrison and Mike Bell. Harrison, who was sent to Philly, has zero carries for zero yards with his new team. And Bell has seven carries for zero yards in Cleveland. That’s as even as it gets.
Rookie safety T.J. Ward, who was Patrick Chung‘s teammate at Oregon, leads the Browns with 54 total tackles and 39 solo stops. He’s also got a blocked field goal.
From Thursday’s practice report
Quarterback Tom Brady (shoulder) fully participated and will play. Running back Fred Taylor (toe) did not practice and isn’t expected to play.
Safety Jarrad Page (left calf) did not practice and isn’t expected to play.
Wide receiver Deion Branch (hamstring) was limited but is expected to play.
Safety Patrick Chung (knee) was limited and will likely be a game-time decision.
Wide receiver Matthew Slater (ankle) was limited and will likely be a game-time decision.
Quarterback Jake Delhomme (ankle) did not practice and won’t play.
Quarterback Seneca Wallace (ankle) did not practice and is not expected to start.
Defensive lineman Kenyon Coleman (knee) did not practice, and his status is uncertain.
Offensive lineman John St. Clair (ankle) did not practice, and his status is uncertain.
Defensive lineman Shaun Rogers (ankle) was limited, and his status is uncertain.
Linebacker Matt Roth (hamstring) was limited, and his status is uncertain.
Tight end Alex Smith (ankle) was limited, and his status is uncertain.
The Patriots have displayed a ton of mental toughness during some key second halves this season, but this weekend’s game will show whether or not they’ve got a different kind of that mental toughness. The Browns are a tougher team than their 2-5 record indicates, having lost three of their five games by one possession.
It doesn’t seem likely that the Patriots will take Cleveland lightly, but any type of overconfidence will absolutely hinder New England’s chances. Since that seems doubtful, look for the Patriots to win the game by 10-14 points.