NFL Preview – Cleveland (7-4) at Buffalo (6-5) (ET)

By Chris Ruddick, NFL Contributing Editor

( – The Buffalo Bills will return to the friendly confines
of Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday when they welcome the upstart Cleveland
Browns to town.

The Bills, of course, had to move their Week 12 tilt against the New York Jets
to Detroit because of heavy snow that hit the Buffalo area last week. When
they take the field this week it will be just the Bills’ second game on their
home turf in a span of 41 days.

“The best thing that I said — and I told this to the players, and I’ve been
dying to say it: I just want to go home,” Buffalo head coach Doug Marrone
said. “I just want to go home. It’s been a long week.”

Ford Field, though, was very accommodating to the Bills on Monday, as Kyle
Orton passed for 230 yards and two touchdowns to help Buffalo rout the New
York Jets, 38-3.

“We wanted to give the people back in our region a chance to smile a little
bit by the way we played,” said Marrone.

Boobie Dixon rushed for a touchdown and blocked a punt that was recovered in
the end zone for another score, helping the Bills keep their playoff
hopes alive.

Buffalo held the hapless Jets to a season-low 218 total yards and increased
its NFL-leading sack total to 46 with seven during its most-lopsided victory
since a 38-0 rout of Indianapolis on Sept. 20, 1992.

With six wins through 11 games the Bills have a winning record this late in a
season for the first time since 2008 and only the third time since they last
reached the postseason back in 1999.

Still, they enter this tilt one game back of the Browns in the AFC playoff

Cleveland, meanwhile, has playoff aspirations of its own following its fourth
win in five weeks. The Browns bounced back from a home loss in Houston in Week
11 to narrowly beat Atlanta this past Sunday, as Billy Cundiff kicked a 37-
yard field goal as time expired to lift the Browns to a 26-24 win.

Cundiff’s winner came after the Falcons took the lead on Matt Bryant’s 53-yard
field goal at the other end of the field.

But Atlanta left 44 seconds on the clock — Matt Ryan threw an incomplete pass
on third down to stop it before Bryant’s kick — and Cleveland had all three
of its timeouts.

Brian Hoyer, who threw interceptions on back-to-back possessions in the fourth
quarter — including one in the end zone — completed four passes for 61 yards
to set up Cundiff’s winning kick.

One of the passes was to Josh Gordon for 24 yards. Gordon returned from a 10-
game suspension to make eight catches for a game-high 120 yards.

Nobody was happier to have Gordon back than Hoyer, who leads the NFL with an
average of 14.04 yards per completion this season. He is also tied
for second in the league with 46 completions of 20-plus yards.

“This is as big a team win as we have had,” said Browns coach Mike Pettine.
“There were times we tried to give this one away and fought back and made
plays in the end. I told (our players) afterward I couldn’t be more proud.”

Cleveland has won four of its last six matchups with the Bills, including a
37-24 triumph last season. However, the Browns lost the last time they played
in Buffalo, but have taken two of the last three there.

This will be the seventh meeting in the last eight years between these teams.


Pettine is quite familiar with Buffalo’s personnel, having served as the Bills
defensive coordinator last season. Pettine had a profound impact on the
Buffalo defense in his lone season with the club and that has continued this
year under Jim Schwartz.

Buffalo sits fourth in the league in total defense, surrendering 312.2 yards
per game. But, teams have been able to run on this Bills defense, especially

After allowing an NFL-low average of 2.79 yards per rush through their first
six games, the Bills have surrendered a league-worst 5.25 per carry in their
last five.

That trend may continue against a very good rushing attack of the Browns that
is spearheaded by a pair of rookies in Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West.
Crowell leads all NFL rookies and stands third in the league with seven
rushing touchdowns. He stands fourth among rookies with 336 rushing yards,
while West is third with 470.

Cleveland is coming off one of their better rushing performances of the season
after rolling up 162 yards against Atlanta.

Still, with Gordon back in the mix look for Hoyer to try and find him early
and often. Hoyer, though, may have his work cut out for him against the
league’s best pass rush. In fact, the Bills have averaged six sacks in their
past three games and Hoyer has struggled under pressure, completing just 55.9-
percent of his passes such situations.

Both teams, though, will try to establish the run.

Buffalo rediscovered their ground attack against a very good Jets defense, as
it produced 116 yards and averaged four yards a carry against the leagues
fourth-ranked run defense.

Cleveland is ranked 29th against the run as their opponents choose to run
against them more than any other defense in football (46.7-percent) when it
comes to play selection.

Both teams have defenses with a penchant for taking the ball away. Buffalo is
tied for third in the league in takeaways (22) and Cleveland has 15 takeaways
in their last six games, good for most in the league over that span.


In all likelihood the loser of this game is probably out of the playoff race.

Cleveland seems to be playing way above its heads and Hoyer has started to
trend the other way, despite the team winning games. Having Gordon back in the
mix should only help. We all know that the Bills get to the quarterback, but
the Browns have done a good job of keeping Hoyer upright.

Still he has struggled under pressure and how he handles the Bills’ front
seven will ultimately decide this game.

Buffalo, on the other hand, is not as good as it looked on Monday. The Bills
will have a hard time not only containing Gordon, but may not be able to
handle the Browns’ neophyte backfield. If they can get to Hoyer they will have
a chance, but that may be a tall order against a very good Cleveland offensive

Sports Network predicted outcome: Browns 24, Bills 10