Week 14 Preview: Beware the Cleveland Cataclysm

Can an underachieving team have a trap game?

That’s not a rhetorical question; I really want to know.

The Packers, by all conventional measures, have underachieved this year. Such is life when you lose your two-time MVP demigod quarterback. Nobody had this team pegged for 6-6 through 12 games, and yet hope remains. The playoffs, while a longshot, are not an impossibility. There is hope!

Rodgers’ return is imminent, so all the Packers have to do is navigate through one game against a winless opponent with a hapless starting quarterback.

Normally, such an “obvious” win scheduled just ahead a run of “more important” games would set off all the traditional trap game alarms. “Don’t sleep on the Browns!” the Sunday morning experts would chide, as their fellow experts nod along. One, doubtless a former coach or player, would exclaim “You can’t look past anyone in the National Football League!” being sure to enunciate every syllable of the league’s name, as per protocol.

Typically, such a game might bite a contender late in the season. They fall victim to a trap game, dust themselves off, and go about their business. But the Packers aren’t enjoying a season where their final few games can serve as a postseason tune up. This is no trap the Packers risk falling into. This is a potential cataclysm.

If the Packers lose to the Browns, not only will their season be over, but there may be no hope for anyone in the organization to survive. How could you come back from that?

Five Things to Think About During Sunday’s Game

1 - The Packers defense leads the NFL with at least one takeaway in 11 of their 12 games, but rank seventh with just 20 total takeaways. The Browns have given the ball away a league-high 30 times this season.

2 - Rookie running backs Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones have each rushed for more than 100 yards in a game this season. They’re the only pair of rookie teammates to accomplish that feat this season and just the second pair of rookie teammates in Packers history to do it.

3 - Speaking of Jamaal Williams, it’s been quite the month for the rookie running back. He’s started each of the past three games, and ranks third among running backs in yards from scrimmage over that span behind the Saints’ Alvin Kamara and the Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell.

4 - Cleveland may want to follow in the footsteps of the Packers’ other opponents this season and attack the Green Bay defense with screen passes. Browns running back Duke Johnson Jr. is an underrated weapon in the passing game. Per Pro Football Focus, Johnson Jr. ranks second among running backs this season with 20 missed tackles forced as a receiver.

5 - A Browns loss on Sunday would tie Cleveland for the worst 45-game stretch in NFL history. Since 2015, the Browns are 4-40. The worst three-year stretch belongs to the then-St. Louis Rams from 2007-09. The Rams went 6-42.

Who Could Be An X-Factor on Sunday?

Jon says Brett Hundley

The story has always been that this is supposed to be Brett Hundley’s last game as the Packers’ starting quarterback. Aaron Rodgers has always been supposed to return next week and slay the Panthers, Vikings, and Lions without trouble as he leads the Packers to the playoffs.

About that.

If Rodgers is going to make good on that storyline, the Packers have to beat the Browns. To beat the Browns, a team that excels in run defense but is weak against the pass, the Packers are going to have to make at least a couple plays through the air, and it’ll be up to Hundley to make that happen.

Gary says Blake Martinez

Asking a fellow Packers fan about Blake Martinez is a good test to see whether they see the world as a glass half-full or glass half-empty. While some have said Martinez has performed at a Pro Bowl level, others point to his struggles in pass coverage. Opponents have targeted Martinez 21 times in coverage on short passes, the most of any Packers defender. Because Browns running back Duke Johnson Jr. brings a lot to the table in the passing game, Martinez will have yet another opportunity to prove himself.

What Happened the Last Time the Packers and Browns Played?

The Packers started the 2013 season 1-2, but after a Week 4 bye, things started to click. Aaron Rodgers and company fine tuned their performances against the Lions and Ravens, then headed home to take on Cleveland in Week 7.

Judging just by the 31-13 final score, it looked like a Packers rout, and it was! But this game will be remembered for something else: the end of Jermichael Finley’s career.

Split wide to the left, Finley beat his man inside and snagged a ten yard pass from Aaron Rodgers, only to be leveled by a helmet to helmet hit from Browns safety Tashaun Gipson. Finley laid motionless on the field for several minutes before he was carted off, never to play again. It remains the lasting image of what was otherwise a nondescript Packers victory.

Who’s Going to Win on Sunday?

Jon says the Packers will win ugly again

This is less a prediction than a hope. I don’t think the Packers matchup all that well with the Browns. The Browns are terrible against the pass and strong against the run. Right now, the Packers are terrible at passing and good at running. It seems like the season could come down to how well two rookie running backs fare against a stout run defense. That seems like a precarious position to me, and while I think the Packers will ultimately prevail, I don’t feel good about it.

Gary says the Packers in a close one

At some point, the law of averages has to balance out for the Browns. Under head coach Hue Jackson, Cleveland is 1-27 and winless this season. Because Sunday’s game is in Cleveland and against an opponent in Green Bay that would seem to be looking ahead to the following week when Aaron Rodgers returns, there’s certainly a chance Green Bay could lose Sunday. The Packers will likely get the Browns’ best shot, but I believe Green Bay will be up to the challenge.

For Further Listening

This week on Blue 58, we talked about the Packers making the playoffs. Is it realistic? Are we rooting for it? Plus a deep dive on wide receivers.