On the surface, you may look at the two teams set for an appearance on Thursday Night Football this week and be convinced that they are having similar seasons based upon their equally equal 3-3 records.
In actual fact, however, the two have got to their three wins in very different manors, with very different pre-season expectations, and despite all of that, with six games now in the books, the pair probably view their seasons in similar lights.
While the Cleveland Browns kicked off at 3-1 after four weeks, with a sole loss coming on the opening night to the Superbowl losing Kansas City Chiefs, the Browns now enter Week 7 with a pair of ugly losses in their rear-view mirror and a quickly extending injury list that threatens to derail their season entirely.
Their opponents and the visiting team come Thursday, the Denver Broncos, also started the season brightly with the accumulation of a 3-0 record, only to follow that up with a hat-trick of losses against three more competitive teams.
The best ability is availability
While much has changed in the NFL, the above saying by former NFL head-coach Bill Parcels will continue to ring true no matter the form with which the sport takes.
When the two AFC sides line up on Thursday, the result could quite possibly be determined by who has the most players climb off the injury list in time to suit up at FirstEnergy Stadium.
While the lists are at this stage unofficial and prepared to change ahead of the mid-week match-up, both the Broncos and Browns look set to miss some big names.
The Browns practiced on Monday, and prepare for a big list, without Odell Beckham Jr., Nick Chubb, Jack Conklin, Kareem Hunt, Baker Mayfield, JC Tretter, Jedrick Wills Jr, Jeremiah Owusu-Karamoah, and several others, as well as a “Limited” practice mark on Jadeveon Clowney, Malik Jackson, David Njoku and two more.
The damage sustained in the loss to the Arizona Cardinals was almost irreplaceable, with seemingly serious injuries occurring to several key players, and if Baker Mayfield and Jeremiah Owusu-Karamoah specifically are unavailable, things could be impossible on Thursday.
The Broncos, while not quite as decimated as their Ohio-based opponents, are also hoping for good news about several of their key contributors.
There was no full practice on Monday for Teddy Bridgewater, Melvin Gordon, Noah Fant, and Garret Bolles, as well as a number of other more minor players, all of which Denver will hope to have back with the team come game-time.
Advanced “Warding” of “Sutton” to watch out for
One significant match-up that will be worth keeping an eye on during Thursday’s game, pre-supposing of course that they both manage to stay off the injury list through the next two days, will be defensive back for the Browns, Denzel Ward, up against Bronco’s wide-receiver, Courtland Sutton.
Sutton has continued his efforts this season to be one of the league’s most underrated wide receivers, posting 471 yards and two scores for an average reception of 14.3 yards so far this year, becoming known for his dominating and physical style at the point of attack.
The SMU alum even boasts an incredible 51 targets and ZERO drops so far this season. Not one. Zilch. None. Sutton is a fantastic safety blanket for his quarterback, Teddy B, and will look to further prove his point on Thursday.
Up against him though will likely be Denzel Ward, the Browns first-round pick from Ohio State in 2018, and who has struggled through injuries over the first part of his career to flash glimpses of what the corner showed during his time in college.
Ward showed flashes against equally physical receiver DeAndre Hopkins last weekend, although was called on a couple of occasions for pass interference that he has later gone on to dispute on Twitter.
Overall, this game is incredibly hard to predict before the final list of game participants has been decided, and with the potential for Mayfield to join Owusu-Karamoah on the unable to participate list – the Browns will be missing arguably the most important pieces on both sides of the ball.
The Broncos have just slightly fewer injuries to concern about, but with a generally weaker roster, there’s no guarantee that this game doesn’t end up as a vaguely scruffy if hard-fought affair.
As it stands, I am going to choose the Broncos who I think have the potential to further upset what the Browns already have going on, especially with the promising if eventually disappointing result against the Raiders last weekend.
Broncos 20 – 17 Browns