The third quarter of the 2020 NFL season wraps up in Week 13 and the playoff picture is beginning to take shape.
Cleveland travels to face Tennessee in a pivotal match-up as both teams are currently in the mix for a postseason spot.
How they get there is a different story.
Tennessee regained first place in the AFC South with a convincing 45-26 win against Indianapolis, while Cleveland won ugly at Jacksonville 27-25.
Once the calendar turns to December teams that can run the football typically succeed. Both of these offences are run heavy and this could lead to fewer possessions in total. Derrick Henry led the Titans to the AFC Championship last season with key complimentary play from quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Tennessee is replicating that formula this year and have a very favourable schedule to close out the season. The Titans last four opponents after the Browns have a combined record of 17-27, take out Green Bay and that mark goes to 9-24.
Meanwhile the road for Cleveland to make the postseason is much tougher. Undefeated Pittsburgh (11-0) is winning the AFC North, meaning the only hope for the Browns to make the playoffs is via wildcard. They host Baltimore next then go back-to-back in New Jersey versus the Giants and Jets. To close things out they face Pittsburgh at home; in short, for Cleveland to have a shot at the playoffs this game is crucial.
On paper these are the top two rushing teams in the NFL. Cleveland leads the league with 161.4 yards-per-game on the ground, while Tennessee is right behind them with 158.2 yards-per-game.
Henry is the reigning NFL rushing champ and leads the league again this year with 1257 yards, and is second with 12 touchdowns (Dalvin Cook, 13). While Henry is one of the few running backs that dominates carries each week, Cleveland has perhaps the best tandem in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
Rewind to 2019 and Chubb was actually in contention for the rushing title, leading Henry by 165 yards entering the final game. Henry exploded for 211 yards against the Houston Texans to capture the rushing crown.
Cleveland added the 2017 rushing champ Kareem Hunt to their backfield and his impact has been immediate. Hunt filled in admirably when Chubb missed four games earlier this year with a knee injury and each are within range to finish with 1000 yards for the season.
The Browns sport the NFL’s 9th ranked run defense, while the Titans are 17th. Both passing offences are near the bottom of the NFL statistically, however it may be the success of this group that determines the winner.
Ryan Tannehill (217/334, 2371 yards, 24 TD, 4 INT) has outplayed Baker Mayfield (180/294, 2108 yards, 17 TD, 7 INT) and has shown to be the steadier of the two overall. Beyond Jarvis Landry and Hunt out of the backfield, Mayfield does not have the same caliber of weapons that Tannehill does.
A.J. Brown is explosive and can take the top off any defense, while Corey Davis is a perfect second option on the outside. Add tight end Jonnu Smith (7 TD) to the mix and Tennessee should have just enough firepower in this match-up.
Prediction: Titans (-5.5)....Tennesse wins 27 – 20