December 16, 02012
This is no typo, and relatively hard to believe, but the Cleveland Browns still have the playoffs in their crosshairs. The most unlikely of postseason contenders will go head-to-head with the another playoff hopeful in the Washington Redskins on the waterlogged grass surface of Cleveland Browns Stadium. Only one team’s wild card dream can survive this mud bowl on Sunday.
NFLWeather.com forecasts a 60% chance of precipitation with a high temperature reaching near 57 degrees. However, what’s a Browns home game without the lake effect? South winds will be swirling around 15 mph under an ominous grey sky. This is typical Cleveland weather, yet surprisingly mild for mid-December.
The 'Skins have an uphill climb in front of them on Sunday.
December is a pivotal month where legitimate contenders rise and others fail. Cleveland can finish .500, possibly steal a playoff spot, and Pat Shurmur could save his job. Whereas, QB Robert Griffin III’s Redskins are only one game behind the NFC East division-leading New York Giants, but Washington holds the tiebreaker with a better divisional record.
In a bitter Lake Erie rain, the Skins are at a huge disadvantage if RGIII is unavailable. If RGIII plays though, he won’t be 100%. The team has announced he will be a game-time decision so rookie QB Kirk Cousins has been prepped as the potential starter. Last week, Cousins did lead the Redskins to a come from behind victory against their beltway rivals, Baltimores Ravens, in the closing minute of regulation and then in overtime going 2 for 2 with a touchdown pass and a two-point conversion run.
Washington shouldn’t have to stress too much over their starting QB when they have the league’s top rushing attack. Alfred Morris has been an absolute beast, averaging just under five yards per carry and seven scores on the season. Even if RGIII is under center, Morris is going to get a heavy load in a downpour, against a defense that surrenders over 120 yards per game.
However, the Cleveland defense has been tight during the team’s current three-game win streak, including forcing seven turnovers out of their rust belt rival Pittsburgh Steelers. Lockdown CB Joe Haden should shut down WR Pierre Garcon, leaving the battle in the trenches. When the Skins do drop back to pass, expect the Browns to relentlessly blitz either rookie QB.
On the other side of the ball, RB Trent Richardson hasn’t been quite as explosive of late. Look for RB Montario Hardesty to take the load off. Richardson has been dinged up all season and Hardesty is a versatile change of pace back who averages 4.7 yards per carry. Not that it’s time to give up on their prized rookie, but the 16 game regular season is obviously wearing on the first round pick.
According to NFLWeather.com historical analytics, the Browns are 1-0 in rain games this season, slogging out a 7-6 win at home against the San Diego Chargers. Of course, the Browns lost their previous seven rain games before the beating the Bolts. The Skins, on the other hand, are 0-1 on the year, losing to the Steelers in a light rain. It’ll be tough for Washington to walk into a stormy Cleveland and pull out a victory, but they did just that against Baltimore at home. Something’s going to have to give; just as long as it is not Robert Griffin III’s knee.