Browns aim to cling on in playoff race as postseason battle hots up

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Only one team has clinched a playoff place entering the final three weeks of the NFL season.

That is a reflection of the parity that has defined a fascinating campaign, with the Green Bay Packers the sole team already sure of their postseason place.

A host of teams will be looking to join them in Week 16 and give their fans extra reason to celebrate over the festive period.

But the likes of the Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots will have to negotiate extremely tricky matchups to do so.

Stats Perform previews the key matchups in another pivotal weekend in the playoff race.

Cleveland Browns (7-7) @ Green Bay Packers (11-3)

The Browns, who have been beset by injuries and coronavirus issues in recent weeks, can ill-afford any slip-ups as they fight to secure a playoff place in a hugely congested AFC.

However, history is not on their side, Green Bay have won five of the last six meetings between these teams, most recently getting a 27-21 overtime win in Week 14, 2017.

Baker Mayfield is expected to be back but has been largely inconsistent this season, and the Browns will likely lean on their running game and Nick Chubb to keep them in it against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

Chubb leads all running backs (min. 100 attempts) with an average of 4.54 yards on carries where a defender registers a run disruption. The Packers are allowing the eighth-most yards per rush (4.53) in the NFL, but their defense has seen plays ended by the first tackler on 93.4 percent of its snaps, the highest mark in the NFL.

If Green Bay succeeds in limiting Chubb's yards after contact, it will be tough to see a path to a Browns victory at Lambeau Field.

Indianapolis Colts (8-6) @ Arizona Cardinals (10-4)

Arizona's season is in danger of taking a severe downturn, with the Cardinals' hopes of winning the NFC West in jeopardy after back-to-back defeats that have seriously damaged their prospects of claiming the number one seed in the conference.

The Cardinals have allowed 30 points in each of their last two games, their first time doing so since Weeks 7-10 last season.

Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis Colts

On Saturday, they go against a Colts team that is 5-1 in their last six games. The Colts have scored at least 23 points in 11 straight games, their second-longest streak all-time. They did so in 13 straight games to begin the 2004 season when Peyton Manning was at quarterback in his second MVP season.

Stopping the Colts' latest MVP contender Jonathan Taylor will be critical to the Cardinals' chances of getting back on track. The Colts are 8-0 this year when Taylor runs for at least 100 yards, and 0-6 when he fails to do so.

Buffalo Bills (8-6) @ New England Patriots (9-5)

New England can all but lock up the AFC East title by sweeping Buffalo having prevailed in the reverse fixture on December 7.

Bill Belichick's team likely won't be short of motivation and they have the opportunity to avenge one of the worst losses of his tenure.

The Bills beat the Patriots, 38-9, in Foxborough in a Week 16 game last season. The 29-point margin is the second largest for the Patriots in a loss since Belichick became their head coach in 2000. New England's biggest loss under Belichick was also to the Bills: 31-0 at Buffalo in the 2003 season opener.

If it is a close game in the fourth quarter, then recent history suggests the Patriots will prevail.

The Patriots have the best fourth-quarter points differential in the NFL this season, +93 (135-42). The Saints (+74) are the only other NFL team that has outscored its opponents by at least 50 points in the fourth quarter of games this season.

Elsewhere...

The Rams are tied with the Cardinals for first place in the NFC West and could open up a lead on Arizona with victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Key to achieving that goal will be star wide receiver Cooper Kupp. With 1,625 receiving yards and 122 receptions so far this season, Cooper Kupp is the first NFL player to have 1,600+ receiving yards and 110+ catches through his first 14 games of a season.

Drew Lock will get the start in place of Teddy Bridgewater (concussion) for the Denver Broncos this week as they aim to boost their Wild Card hopes against the Las Vegas Raiders. Lock has not started a game for the Broncos this season, but he started five times for them in 2019 (4-1 record) and 13 times last season (4-9). His 75.4 passer rating in 2020 ranked him 32nd among the 35 qualifying NFL QBs. Lock lost both of his starts against the Raiders last season, and in the first of those two games he threw four interceptions.

Patrick Mahomes is on course to go down as an all-time great and, entering the Kansas City Chiefs' Week 16 clash with the Pittsburgh Steelers, has a resume to match a Hall of Famer born in the Steel City. Mahomes has passed for 18,204 yards and thrown 144 touchdown passes in his 60-game NFL career. His passing yards total is a record for a player's first 60 NFL games, and only Dan Marino (145) threw at least as many TD passes in his first 60 games as Mahomes.

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