Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is coming off back-to-back 200-plus yard receiving games. Credit: Getty Images
If the Patriots (9-3) need a crazy second-half rally this Sunday against the Cleveland Browns (4-8), then we can start to worry about their slow starts. Tom Brady and the Pats return home to Gillette Stadium – where they’ve been dominant since, well ... forever – in hopes of nabbing their 10th win of the season and in keeping the pressure on the No. 1 seeded Broncos (who host Tennessee Sunday).
Here are three things to watch for against the Browns (1 p.m., CBS):
All eyes on Gordon The Patriots have faced a number of superstar wide receivers this season in Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Andre Johnson and every receiver on the Broncos. But their hardest wide out matchup could come this Sunday against Cleveland’s Josh Gordon. Gordon is on an absolute tear this season with 64 receptions for 1,249 yards and seven touchdowns. In his last two games, he had 14 receptions for 237 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers, and 10 receptions for 261 yards and two touchdowns against the Jaguars. The silver lining? The Browns are just 1-6 in games Gordon goes over 100 yards receiving. He could get his yards again this Sunday, but he can’t beat the Pats by himself.
“He’s a great player,” Bill Belichick said. “He can attack all three levels of the defense. He can run through them, he can take the short plays, catch-and-run plays, crossing patterns, look patterns, plays like that, quick three-step drops and break tackles.”
Who's the quarterback? Speaking of Gordon, he’s probably wondering the same thing. The Browns have been on a QB carousel this season thanks to injuries, and both Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell could be out this Sunday recovering from concussions. The Browns signed two QBs – free agent Caleb Hanie and Cowboys practice squad player Alex Tanney – who will compete for Sunday’s start. The last regular season game Hanie played in was with the Bears on Dec. 18, 2011. Tanney? He’s never played in the regular season. He is, however, probably the best D-III QB in history, setting the NCAA D-III record for career touchdown passes (157) and passing yards (14,249) while at Monmouth. He’s also known for a YouTube trick shot video demonstrating his accuracy. The Browns should give Tanney a shot. What do they have to lose at this point?
Holiday cheer There’s no place like home for the holidays, and the Patriots have proved that over the last decade and beyond. New England heads into Sunday’s game with a 22-2 record at Gillette since 2002. But their success in the cold doesn’t end at home: the Pats’ 46-6 record in December since 2001 is tops in the NFL. The early weather report says low 30s for Sunday.